William Golding, Lord of the Flies

avon

Forum Staff
May 2008
14,253
#1




Simon looked now, from Ralph to Jack, as he had looked from Ralph to the horizon, and what he saw seemed to make him afraid. Ralph said nothing more, but waited while the procession came nearer. The chant was audible but at that distance still wordless. Behind Jack walked the twins, carrying a great stake on their shoulders. The gutted carcass of a pig swung from the stake, swinging heavily as the twins toiled over the uneven ground. The pig’s head hung down with gaping neck and seemed to search for something on the ground. At last the words of the chant floated up to them, across the bowl of blackened wood and ashes.

“Kill the pig. Cut her throat. Spill her blood.”

William Golding, Lord of the Flies, 1954.


Sunday, 10 October, 2010.

Text available at: http://www.zbths.org/165310818145034323/lib/165310818145034323/_files/LOTF.pdf
and
http://gv.pl/index.php/main/szkola/e-books/pdf/lord_of_the_flies.pdf
 
Last edited:

Pedro

Forum Staff
Mar 2008
17,151
On a mountain top in Costa Rica. yeah...I win!!
#2


So much has been written about the symbolism, meaning, and philosophy of ‘Lord of the Flies’ that I feel there is little I can add. Therefore, I will take my own hint and leave those areas open for Historums more agile minds. Instead I will make this introduction about the roots of Goldings literary background by focusing (or musing might be a better word) on the western literary tradition of island literature.

It is said the first novel to be set on a desert island was Philosophus Autodidactus written by one Iban Tufail (1105-1185). Like Golding’s novel it concerns children (feral in Tufail’s novel) living in seclusion until they eventually come in contact with castaways from the outside world.

Obviously the use of island, as metaphor and/or symbol has a long history. Its roots going further back than the novel form itself. It will be found world wide in the most ancient of myths. For example most of Homer takes place on islands.

Historum book discussion has already discussed two works that have had an island setting. [Utopia and The Island of Dr. Moreau.] And that happened not by design but mostly because the power of the image leads a writer to its use.

I did a bit of googling and put together this list of works that Golding was certainly familiar with at some time in his life. Although Lord of the Flies was an earlier work he was certainly conversant with most of this list. One can hear the faint echoes of acquaintance with past authors as you read his works. It is what writers do. There is no other way to make a book.

i.e. That last was a echo of the following written ages ago by Hippias of Elis:

“Some of these things may have been said by Orpheus, some by Musaeus, briefly in different places, some by Hesiod and Homer, others by other of the poets, some in the prose writings of the Greeks. I have put together the most homogeneous of these, and shall make this speech of mine something new and variegated.”

And the roman Martial spun it this way: “This book you are reading has some good things, some indifferent, and many bad. There’s no other way, Avitus, to make a book.”

To simplify the vast selection I’ve arranged a sampling in the following categories:

Islands as Utopia

(The island as an idealized place): Islands as a focus for dreams and fantasies or for projects to build a purer world (More’s Utopia). And the fantasy of the deserted Island: The desert island as the ideal for meditation and the exploration of the self or as release, to get away from the pressures of civilization.

Hindu doctrine tells of an ‘essential island’, golden and rounded, whose banks are made of pulverized gems, giving rise to its name of the ‘island of the gems’. Sweet smelling trees flourish on the land, and in the centre is a palace…the oriental equivalent of the lapis philosophorum. Inside the palace more jewels. What can we make of Golding’s dystopian island? Whose first description directs us to a scar.

There is a sub-category known as island of the blessed. Originally Greek it meant Island of the Dead. In spite of that association it is something to be sought out, that is something to conquered. This is the basis of the tale of Juan Ponce de Leon searching for the fountain of youth. Sometimes the literature divides this into upper and lower. More duality again. Even the zodiac is conceived as 12 islands. The island of the blessed as a symbol of earthly paradise reaches it best expression in the legend of St. Brendan, who according to mediaeval legend visited an island with a huge tree growing by a fountain and in the trees branches lived many birds. Two rivers flowed across the island; one was the river of youth and the other of death. Here is a clear example of landscape symbolism in which the terrestrial substance is integrated into a cosmic pattern by means of the essential elements of traditional symbolism. How does this relate to Lord of the Flies? Remember in the very opening the mention of a scar. Why or what it is we are not immediately told. It is of course the dry river of death carved out by the fallen airplane.


Islands as Culture


(The island as a cocoon): Human habits and customs have always been easier to preserve in isolated areas such as islands; is this a positive or negative point? Is it pure escapism? Are there disadvantages to geographical isolation and its cultural effects? Is isolation still possible in an era of travel and globalization? One thinks of John Bulls Other Island, and Robinson Caruso.

There is a little Danish island called Tunø. Ø is the one letter Danish word for island. I throw that in to see what kind of symbolism you can make from a crossed out zero.

In 1885 Robert M. Ballantyne published a novel (The Coral Island) about the adventures of three British boys, Ralph, Jack, and Peterkin, who survive a shipwreck and create their own society on a pig infested island. Golding acknowledged that he based much of his plot and characters on Ballantyne’s book.

Islands as Laboratory


H.G. Wells Island of Dr. Moreau. (Well…we’ve done that one.)

Pincher Martin by William Golding. Very weird. A man shipwrecked on an isolated rock. An obsessive read. If you like Lord of the Flies you may like Pincher which is more allegorical. It could also be classed as a survivalist novel as Pincher Martin is cast on an island after his boat is torpedoed. (sound familiar?) And nearly drowns but wakes in complete darkness submerged in the inlet. Note that in the beginning of Lord of the Flies, before anything else, the boys ‘bathe/swim’ in the lagoon. Baptism for the new life to be entered?

Islands as Penitentiary and Exile


(The island as punishment): Here the darker side of islands (i.e. the human mind) - as places of banishment and exile from thieves to lepers and the rest of societies misfits. The amount of volumes in this category would overflow the average city library. I bet that as you read this ‘Devils Island’ came to mind. I rest my case.

Islands as psychic images

The good Swiss doctor Carl Jung borrowed a Hindu belief that the island represented the psyches refuge from the menacing assault of the ‘sea’ of the unconscious. A sort of coming together of the conscious and the will. Which can also be seen as the psyches awareness of isolation, of solitude, of death. In fact most island-gods have something funereal about them; Calypso for instance is one. On the other hand it can also represent ‘point’ and ‘counterpoint’ as in man/woman and monster/hero. Some of this may apply to the study our current book. The main reason to bring up Jung is to take a vacation from all the Freud in my previous intros. Thank the island-god for small favors. Right?


Childhood Islands (Imaginary islands): of course Stevenson’s Treasure Island first comes to mind, then Swiss Family Robinson followed by Swallows and Amazons, by Arthur Ransome set on "Wild Cat Island" in a lake of the Lake District in England. And of course that all time favorite Anne of Green Gables (Lucy Maud Montgomery)


Certainly Lord of the Flies is not to be classed among childrens literature, yet is there not some connection with the authors inner child inviting us to play along.


To sum up:

As a literary theme the island is microcosm

for that puny island we call earth,

that precious stone set in the starry sea,

that third pebble from the sun,

that other Eden, demi-paradise,

that irritating grain of sand in the cosmic eye,

but yet this as is world is our cherished figment. . .

god forbid a grief should wash it away.

 

okamido

Forum Staff
Jun 2009
29,885
land of Califia
#3
The Island, which Ralph and the boys never knew for certain if it was an island or not, is the world, then the boys show quickly the imagery of man overrunning the earth and dividing it for his specific purposes. The mountain, the pool, the area of platform, the beach, and the reef. Each could represent an aspect of the natural world as man expanded in its infancy to control his surroundings and varying natural resources.

The splitting of the original group, developing into two nations that eventually results in war, directly mirrors the real world that the boys arrived from, one wrought with conflict and in the middle of another World War. Is this Golding's way of saying that war is the natural state, that ultimate cooperation is fleeting, and that there is no help forthcoming for mankind?
 

Pedro

Forum Staff
Mar 2008
17,151
On a mountain top in Costa Rica. yeah...I win!!
#4
The Island, which Ralph and the boys never knew for certain if it was an island or not, is the world, then the boys show quickly the imagery of man overrunning the earth and dividing it for his specific purposes. The mountain, the pool, the area of platform, the beach, and the reef. Each could represent an aspect of the natural world as man expanded in its infancy to control his surroundings and varying natural resources.

The splitting of the original group, developing into two nations that eventually results in war, directly mirrors the real world that the boys arrived from, one wrought with conflict and in the middle of another World War. Is this Golding's way of saying that war is the natural state, that ultimate cooperation is fleeting, and that there is no help forthcoming for mankind?
Nice observation and all very valid and good points. To answer your question it may be enough to quote Golding from the notes at the end of the book, "The theme is an attempt to trace the defects of society back to the defects of human nature."
 

avon

Forum Staff
May 2008
14,253
#6
To sum up:

As a literary theme the island is microcosm

for that puny island we call earth,

that precious stone set in the starry sea,

that third pebble from the sun,

that other Eden, demi-paradise,

that irritating grain of sand in the cosmic eye,

but yet this as is world is our cherished figment. . .

god forbid a grief should wash it away.
The Island, which Ralph and the boys never knew for certain if it was an island or not, is the world, then the boys show quickly the imagery of man overrunning the earth and dividing it for his specific purposes.
[Golding:]"The theme is an attempt to trace the defects of society back to the defects of human nature."
Whilst all these possible metaphors are apt and plausible, I can't help thinking that the island is Ralph and Ralph is the island. (Sounds cliche when I put it like that, but that's the simplest way to make the point! Sorry.)

Ralph’s name is derived from the Anglo-Saxon word for "counsel." Ralph is the embodiment of democracy, of the establishment. In short, Ralph is the only character in the book – all the others are mere facets of his personality. Ralph is introduced to us as the ideal physical being. He is strong and mature for his twelve years: ‘You could see now that he might make a boxer, as far as width and heaviness of shoulders went, but there was a mildness about his mouth and eyes that proclaimed no devil.’

  • *Piggy is a rational, but subservient character; whilst,

    *Jack: from Hebrew ‘Jacob’ meaning ‘supplanter’; likewise,

    *Simon: also comes from the Hebrew meaning ‘to hear’;

    *Roger: derived from German for ‘spear’, represents all that is cruel within humanity. Then there’s:

    * Sam and Eric. Sam and Eric versus ‘Samneric’: a device used to measure civilization and individuality. Piggy is at pains to recognise Sam and Eric as two people recognising their individuality whereas Jack has no interest and simply sees them as one entity ‘Samneric’.

Once Ralph has been outlined, it is no accident that Piggy is introduced to us first. He is the voice of reasoning and intellect. He communicates by way of imitating adults, but in a grammatically poor manner. He represents scholastic learning and reflection, but his ‘knowledge’ clearly lacks the experience of practical application thus he has read about reality but does not have any experience of his own. (He thus has some parallels to Dr. Pangloss.) He is almost immediately instructed: ‘Now go back, Piggy, and take names. That's your job.’ It is the job of the intellect to name things and to put labels on everything. When he acts, he does so stereotypically: he rubs his glasses during crises and decision-making episodes; thus his glasses come to represent his role. And it is his glasses that are the most practical aspect of his character for his asthma stops him from physical activities (hunting, building, fire maintenance) which increasingly sideline him as Ralph’s quest for adulthood is supplanted by Jack’s taste for blood indicating that his conceptual knowledge is progressively rendered inoperable without practical or experiential knowledge. This is why Piggy is destined for certain death from about the second chapter.

After Piggy, we are introduced to childhood imagination as personified by Johnny who later cries over the images of the imaginary beastie.

Next comes emotion, marching along the beach ‘approximately in step in two parallel lines’, in the form of the toy-soldier chorus. But Ralph’s youthful emotions are subdues beneath full-length black cloaks. When they are given permission to uncover, they emerge as powerful drives. This is seen when they begin to run wild to fetch wood for the fire and "their black caps of maintenance were slid over one ear like berets". The leader of the emotions is pride – Jack is the embodiment of pride.

Coming next, we are introduced to Maurice who is described as ‘broad and grinning all the time’. He is joy. If so, then Roger is hate. He is ‘a furtive boy whom no one knew, who kept to himself with an inner intensity of avoidance and secrecy’. But we – along with the rest of the boys - get to know him later when he ably teaches the others to use their spears. He killed Piggy. Of the others, there is one member of the group whom Jack hates because he is shy and ‘always throwing a faint.’ Simon, IMO, represents innocent love. On the first expedition, Ralph takes Simon and Jack to investigate the island. Ralph remarks, ‘If Simon walks in the middle of us, then we could talk over his head.’ Simon discovers the candle bushes which may symbolize church rituals. Jack swipes despondently proclaiming their uselessness: ‘Green candles ... We can't eat them. Come on.’ Pride rebels here against the immaterial claiming that if it is of no immediate use, it has no value.

After intellect, imagination, emotion, pride, joy, hate and love ... we get ‘original sin’. The little boy with the mulberry-coloured birthmark 'warped out of the perpendicular by the fierce light of publicity, and he bored into the grass with one toe.' This boy is the first one who wants to know what Ralph is going to do about the snake-thing. With one hand on the shell, Piggy interprets what the boy with the mulberry-coloured birthmark whispers, 'He says the beastie came in the dark.'

And before I forget, we should add memory. When Ralph requested his name, he replied: ‘Percival Wemys Madison, The Vicar-age, Harcourt St. Anthony, Hants, telephone, telephone, tele-‘. He is memory; he holds on to the past – more specifically, his past identity. But memory fades. At the end of the novel, Percival is greatly changed and he ‘sought in his head for an incantation that had faded clean away.’
 

Pedro

Forum Staff
Mar 2008
17,151
On a mountain top in Costa Rica. yeah...I win!!
#7
avon: Very impressive post. All very plausible yet I am a bit guarded. Only a bit. How shall we place Jack as 'fire maker'?
 

avon

Forum Staff
May 2008
14,253
#8
avon: Very impressive post. All very plausible yet I am a bit guarded. Only a bit. How shall we place Jack as 'fire maker'?
Mmm, do you mean in terms of his stealing Piggy's glasses therefore 'emotion' progressively gaining the upper-hand on 'intellect'?
 

Pedro

Forum Staff
Mar 2008
17,151
On a mountain top in Costa Rica. yeah...I win!!
#9
Mmm, do you mean in terms of his stealing Piggy's glasses therefore 'emotion' progressively gaining the upper-hand on 'intellect'?
No, I was looking for an opportunity to use the term post-modern Prometheus in a sentence. It seemed so elegant. As in he might be one.:D