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By William Golding
New York: The Penguin Group, 2006
ISBN: 0-399-50148-7
208 pages

Comments by Bob Corbett
May 2014

As the novel open we meet Ralph and Piggy, each about 12 years old. They have just “found” each other after an airplane crash. They are on an island in the Pacific. Ralph is a fairly confident, strong, good looking fellow. Piggy is sensitive about his heaviness and the fact that he wears glasses.

While they are talking Piggy sees a conch shell in the water and Ralph retrieves it. When Piggy explains to him the potential to blow into it, he tries, learns and they are having a good laugh at the blaring sounds.

However, the conch alerts others who also survived the crash, that someone is about and soon there is quite a crowd, all boys, many of them quite young, many just five or six years old, who emerge out of the jungle-like bush.

Thus begins The Lord of the Flies. There has indeed been a crash, and after many boys gather and they keep blowing the conch, it seems that no adults survived the crash, just this group of perhaps 40 of so boys.

They do little for couple of days, just living off fruit for a while, but Ralph, Piggy and Jack are a bit older and recognize they are in a tough situation. Ralph decides that they really need to get themselves organized, and figure out how to survive until they are rescued. He has a real sense that they need two things:

  1. They need to create order in order to be able to cooperate and aid in the process to make rescue more likely.
  2. He says they will need to build a fire so that any passing ship will see the smoke and realize that someone is on the island. He even expects there will be a search for the missing plane going on.

To achieve order, the recently found conch, his conch, becomes the symbol for order. They will blow the conch to call all the boys together, and from then on, whoever has the conch will be given the respect of the others and listen to what that person has to say until he relinquishes the conch to another boy.

In their first meeting every one embraces this plan, and they easily elect Ralph to be their leader, though Jack is quite a strong figure too.

Like any society that sets itself up with some seemingly sane and simple rules, it looks like things will run smoothly. However, again like ever society in history, problems arise that are likely to be less in the “system” for order itself, than in the nature of human beings.

There is a real clash of personalities and ways to be between Ralph and Jack, the two strongest of the boys. Ralph is a believer in the rule of law, and is convinced that their only hope for long-term survival is to be rescued. He is also convinced that the only way to insure this rescue is to have a fire burning at all times. When any ship is seen, then they will hurry to put green bushes onto this fire which will cause lots of smoke and the rescue ship will know someone is there.

In the beginning virtually all the boys agree with this plan, and they work out the various responsibilities need to be attended.

However, there is a need for food for NOW. And Jack has more skills in this area. He can scrounge, is tough and energetic, and he is also, like Ralph, a leader figure. He takes on the primary responsibility of securing food. They do have a source of clean water.

From this point on, the story is an analogy of human society since the beginning of recorded history (at least). The plan is fairly decent, but the humans are exactly what they are, human. Jack is good at his primary job, hunting food. Ralph is fairly decent at inspiring confidence that they will be saved, if only they are disciplined at keeping the fire going. In order to keep the fire going, the relatively weak Piggy is essential. He wears glasses, and the use of his glasses is the only way to light the fire. The fire has also come to have a second primary function – cooking. Jack has discovered there are some pigs on the island, and he is put in charge of both keeping the fire going for the hoped for rescue moment, and to cook food.

Jack, however, is fully into the hunt and cooking of meat, and cares very little and believes very little in the need of the fire for signaling. This sets the stage for conflict, and the conflict not only comes but threatens the well-being of everyone.

Ralph, while a dreamer and planner, has come to rely more and more on Piggy, and recognizes that while he is physically unfit to do much at all, he is the best thinker among them and that he, Ralph, really needs Piggy to advise him and help him figure things out.

The primary difficulty is that Jack is much more of an alluring character to the rest of the boys. They love his macho character, his ability to hunt and provide the much desired meat, and his lack of the nagging that Jack does to keep order and, especially, to keep up the difficult job of tending the fire.

Slowly things disintegrate into the two factions, Ralph’s relatively small faction, but a faction that the bulk of the boys respect, yet aren’t as interested in. Jack’s action world and immediate results of cooked meat is very attractive. He develops a significant following and is quite unhappy with Ralph’s organized and conservative leadership.

The inevitable clash comes, and Jack formally rebels. He even arms his army of little people with sharp sticks, and in the face of Ralph’s insistence on keeping the fire going he eventually leads an attack to steal Piggy’s glasses, thus “capturing” the crucial fire, around which each ideology revolves.

As the rebellion spreads a couple of boys are killed, each in a sort of accident, whose occurrence is enhanced by the anger and fighting of the moment. After that Jack sees his way of life, and that of his followers is threatened by the more orderly life that Ralph demands, and he leads his boys to engage in a war against Jack’s small rump faction, coming down to there being only Ralph himself left alive.

William Golding has brought his story to its end. He has shown us the rise of society, the natural pattern of history that leads to rebellion and war, and the following collapse of the society. At that last moment, when only Ralph is left and he is hiding in a somewhat vulnerable place and Jack’s “forces” are closing in, and in the very nick of time to save Ralph’s life, a rescue boat from the British navy lands on the island and all the boys are “saved.”

Interestingly the captain takes all the war paint that Jack’s “army” had adopted and the spears and such as a game they were playing and laughs at the boys for the silliness of their games while waiting to be rescued.

I read even more into the author’s attitude. Perhaps Golding has taken no sides in this novel. There is an appealing attitude taken toward Ralph in much of the novel. However, we have to realize it was NOT the fire which saved the boys. What did? We don’t really know. It may have been that the British were searching for the remains of the plane on which the boys had been riding. Perhaps it was “the Lord of the flies”, himself who brought the British.

One evening, just before the main battle between the factions, the boys were gathered on the beach at about dark. They were feasting on a pig. Over them, but evidently not seen by most of them, and not recognized by any, a parachute passed. Evidently another plane, again, presumably British, had gone down and the pilot parachuted to the island and was killed in the fall. Another one of the boys stumbled upon this dead and decaying flyer, whose body was all covered with flies, and the boy tried to run, seemingly with the parachute and the flies pursued him, thus the name of the novel. If this is so, and the British were actually seeking THAT pilot, and not the boy’s plane (since no one knew where they actually went down), then Ralph’s position had nothing to do with their being saved, and even the IDEA of the fire wasn’t relevant.

I suspect that is more Golding’s position. He seems to have found Ralph’s ordered world as more attractive, and Jack’s flamboyant one less responsible, but neither of them led to “salvation.” Being saved came from a totally “other” power, the British, perhaps searching for the boys’ missing place, perhaps searching for this other flyer of a couple days earlier, or perhaps just a routine visit to the island. We really don’t know. I’d prefer to believe the latter, but rather suspect it was the search for the flyer who became “the lord of the flies.”

Bob Corbett


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