Lord of the Flies (1954) -- Book Review

Roger stooped, picked up a stone, aimed, and threw it at Henry— threw it to miss. The stone, that token of preposterous time, bounded five yards to Henry's right and fell in the water. Roger gathered a handful of stones and began to throw them. Yet there was a space round Henry, perhaps six yards in diameter, into which he dare not throw. Here, invisible yet strong, was the taboo of the old life. Round the squatting child was the protection of parents and school and policemen and the law. Roger's arm was conditioned by a civilization that knew nothing of him and was in ruins. -- from Lord of the Flies by William Golding 

By William Golding

I had heard about Lord of the Flies many times but fortunately, I knew nothing of its plot. The first and main source of my hearing about it is the Iron Maiden song named after Lord of the Flies. I heard this song many times, but to this day I couldn't tell you what the lyrics deal with and that probably saved me from spoilers. My mother went to see a theatrical performance of Lord of the Flies and when I asked her what she thought, she answered that it was "bizarre". When I went through our book shelves, I saw Lord of the Flies and I felt it was time to take the matter in my own hands and explore what it was all about.

The story starts on a what appears to be a deserted island, stranded by an airplane crash, where the survivors are all young British boys. Little is known about the reason of the crash, but it seems there is a war going on. The boys start meeting each other and soon enough the need for a certain organisation rises. Ralph and a boy who is simply called Piggy, for his round stature, discover a conch. Piggy has heard about them and he remembers that if one blows in it, it will make a sound. The conch becomes their sign of rally.

The first attempt at having a semblance of order fails miserably when the children start speaking and interrupting at all times. It is then decided that the one who holds the conch is the only one that can talk and thereafter the conch becomes a symbol of power and leadership. Most of the boys being too young or uninterested in being a leader, the role of leader is only disputed by two: Ralph and Jack. Jack, who is a violent bully, thrives in a place where he is physically the strongest.

The birth of this new political civilization attempts to regulate everything on the island and the reader witnesses the boys struggle to keep alive a fire which Ralph focuses most on as he reckons it would be the only way for a ship to notice them, or building shelters for the night--which most of them lost patience doing--or the need for meat, which Jack craves for after he realizes there are pigs to be slaughtered on the island.

My first reaction was shock when I discovered the book was about children. I wasn't expecting that at all. However, it turns out that it is that way so we can learn more about human nature, we have a fresh start and human beings in becoming who will have to live together. The characters are all derived to recreate a society.

I found it quite good, although I was annoyed at first by the stereotypes, for example the bullying of Piggy, or the constant reduction of all the young one to the "littluns", it ends up working well. At times, I found there to be a little too much foreshadowing and I'd feel a sense of disappointment when things did turn out to be as hinted. Maybe it is simply that human behavior is in fact quite predictable, even more so when there is nothing to hold it back anymore, even more so when it concerns a small community where the numbers and majority are always right, whether they do the right thing or not.

The loss of innocence is a small process in the book and is not mentioned until the very end when the process is complete and we realize we have witnessed it unfold. Some of the most confusing aspects of the book to me were the descriptions of heavy vegetation that covers the island, and the scenes where the boys have to run though its labyrinthine ways. As a reader, in those scenes I felt as lost as the boys.

Some of the more metaphysical scenes of Simon's hallucinations of a dialogue with the Lord of the Flies are interesting but I wasn't entirely convinced by them, although I loved the gruesome descriptions of flies on a pig's skull, metaphorically reminding everyone of the very organic nature of everything, including humans.

What I really enjoyed about the ending of the book is that though we are given facts,  the conclusions are ours to draw. There is very little commentary on what has transpired, except for the introspection of some of the children. As I enjoy dystopian novels, I really liked this book. It had a fresh look at society in most of its aspects.

All in all, the book holds a grim statement about human behavior and one should not mistake those for childish behaviors but reflect on how much of the exact same debacle would have happened to adults as well. The loss of innocence can also be extended to include the idea that Ralph understands, at the end, that the same would have happened to adults, because they are mere humans.

I liked: Society from the ground up. Group behaviors. Influences and fears while interacting in a stranded area. Social critics.

I disliked: Stereotyped characters. Confusing through child-eyes descriptions at times.

The book manages to feature exclusively children and deal with very mature themes. I can now see why it is considered a classic.


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