A guide to the classics: Lord of the Flies
|July 19, 2011||Posted by Jess Kadow under guide to the classics|
For all those of you who want to spend your summers lounging around on beaches or curled up in bed enjoying the freedom of the holidays, or if you just enjoy reading inspirational books, this column is for you. I’ll be hunting around the dusty bookshelves of libraries and the dark depths of my own home to bring to you a personal opinion on some of the most famous and loved books of all time, and whether they are worth treasuring forever or sticking on the shelf with the trashy teenage fiction you got for Christmas which no one bothered to ask if you’d like.
When I say “classics” I don’t just mean period drama however. You cannot claim to have read all the classics without delving into the realm of the Brontës or Jane Austen, for example, but there are plenty of different styles, genres and periods encompassed by the term, and my aim is to provide a broad selection. So, allow me to take you on a journey of discovery through literary history starting, for no particular reason, with The Lord of the Flies by William Golding.
This novel is only just 200 pages long, but those 200 pages are packed from start to finish with action, emotion and dilemma. The first scene begins just after a plane full of English schoolboys, aged around 6-12, crashes onto an uninhabited island. From here, the realisation begins that the child’s fantasy of a world without parents has been fulfilled; yet the boys must build a life for themselves with no support, no system of authority and no obvious way to escape, and this becomes harder than was first imagined.
The beauty of this novel is the way Golding constructs a completely enclosed society in which to examine human nature and study how man’s destructive qualities undermine their efforts to keep control. At first a strict system is established, providing the island with a leader, a fire signal in case of ships, shelters and a pack of hunters to gather food. Yet this organisation slowly descends into anarchy. Personal feuds between certain individuals, in this case Ralph and Jack, two of the older boys, cause friction and arguments that have devastating consequences, and the incessant bullying of the poor boy called “Piggy” conveys the cruelty of the young boys, as well as their need to feel more superior than others. It is emotionally raw and I found myself feeling true anger and possibly even hatred towards some of the characters, despite the fact that none of them appear to be more than twelve years old.
In fact, this makes it all the more disturbing, as the violence depicted does not match with the image of the fearful children which Golding establishes by the consistent child-like quality in the narration. The scenery is described in a very observant fashion and ritual names are given to objects or places that are not recognisable from the children’s old lives, for instance the path of destruction left when the plane crashed is called the “scar” and the rocky cliff at the back of the island is the “Castle Rock”. The playful excitement of the boys and the slang they use highlight this further, as they describe objects and feelings as “wizard” or “wacko”, a constant reminder of how young they really are and of the era they live in. It immerses the reader in a child’s world, with their mixed emotions: at first joy, then worry, anger, pain, and fear. Therefore, the society is thrown from a children’s desert island adventure, transgressing quickly into the pains of adulthood and the cruelty of life itself, plagued by fear of the “Beastie” and whatever other unknown horrors await them in the dark.
In my opinion, the characterisation and the way the boys interact with one another is what makes the novel so effective, because the reader begins to fear the children. We cannot escape from their cruelty and their violence, mirroring that of the real war being waged in the planes above their heads, nor can we protect them from each other and stop the suffering. We become helpless and must agonisingly watch the story pan out, hoping for justice in the end. The final pages had me too hurtling through a dark forest towards unknowable danger; an exhilarating ride from beginning to end and a book well worth an exciting summer read.