‘Lord of the Flies’ is a GCSE classic and perhaps one of the most influential reads in instilling my passion for novels, as well as persuading me to study A Level English Literature. I was first introduced to Golding’s well-renowned, contemporary classic in year 10, when my English teacher marched into the classroom, her arms brimming with a stack of fresh copies of the novel, only to be met with the beady eyes of her new GCSE class (we were all clearly enthused at the prospect of hard work, motivation and the important exams ahead of us). Dubiously grabbing a copy, I peered down at the novel, without any prior knowledge of the book itself, and I was rendered rather curious at the cover staring back at me.
‘Lord of the Flies’- the novel we all know to be about those savage private school boys stranded on an island, right? As I stared down at the cover, giving a sideward glance towards the rest of the class, then turning my attention back to the novel, I sharp gathered that all of our initial thoughts were probably something along the lines of ‘What the bloody hell is this?’. Oh wait, sorry for my language and ignorance, “After all, we’re not savages. We’re English, and the English are best at everything.”. So what I meant to say was, we all thought ‘Wow, what a brilliant classic that we have the privilege of studying. My mind is already overflowing with insightful ideas, regarding this enlightening front cover’. The cover of our copy was a burnt orange comprised or tribal drawings of boys, one of which is holding a spear, surrounded by fire, creatures and leaves. As you can imagine, we were all already preparing ourselves for our literary adventure through the dangers of the island and the not-so-civilised events we could gather that the novel would entail.
Golding begins with a plane, evacuating a group of private school boys from war torn Britain, plummeting to the earth. They are left abandoned and alone, yet surprisingly unscathed. Our young protagonist Ralph with “fair hair” and “golden body” soon encounters an unknown peer, whom we shortly discovered to be called Piggy by the other boys at school. As they swim through the lagoon, Piggy discovers a conch shell. In turn, Ralph blows into the conch as it sounds like a trumpet, thus summoning a group of choirboys, lead by their leader Jack (*queue boos*). Anyhow, the boys hold a democratic election, selecting Ralph as their leader, much to Jack’s dissatisfaction. However, Ralph being a fair and just leader, nominates the seemingly dictatorial Jack as the leader of the hunters- wow this clearly isn’t an early indication or foreshadow of which one is the bloodthirsty nutter of the posse…
Upon establishing their roles within their micro-society, Ralph, Jack and Simon (I’ll have to discuss him later because, despite the fact that he’s a more minor character and rather overlooked, Simon is quite possibly my favourite!) explore the island and Ralph arrives at the conclusion that the next stage of progression is to build a fire. Intuitively using Piggy’s glasses, the boys successfully light the fire. However, due to their ignorance and immaturity, the forest goes up in flames, thus ending in the death of the poor littlun “Percival Wemys Madison, The Vicarage, Harcourt St. Anthony, Hants”- a name that, to this day, I will never forget because of its incessant repetition. To summarise their time on the island, the boys hunt, play, argue, experience nightmares of a “beastie”, who actually turns out to be a dead parachutist but they are beginning to let their imaginations run wild, and miss a passing ship, in their failure to maintain the fire.
Ralph and Jack continue to argue (what a surprise) and Jack storms off like a little baby unable to get his own way, in his attempt to overthrow Ralph. There is now a division between the original party and the hunters. Then, the hunters promptly decapitate a sow, placing its head on a stake, as a sacrifice to the “beastie”, demonstrating that they are the less civilised of the two groups and conveying the fact that Jack finally grew a pair and killed something. Next, Simon has a trippy little epiphany in the forest (which I’m sure my teacher described as an ‘epileptic fit’ but it’s funnier to see it my way), succeeding his encounter with Miss Piggy and discovering the dead parachutist to be the “beastie”, as he regains consciousness. Simon, infused with his newfound knowledge, emerges from the forest to tell his peers of his revelation. However, the boys, caught up in their ritualistic dance at Jack’s hunting feast that even Piggy and Ralph have succumbed to, mistakenly take Simon for the “beastie” and violently murder him like wild animals.
Following the brutal theft of Piggy’s glasses the next day, the savages now direct their focus towards hunting down Ralph and his allies. Sporadically aggressive and psychotic Roger, who is one of Jack’s hunters, rolls a boulder over the cliff, killing Piggy, as “the conch exploded into a thousand white fragments and ceased to exist.” (if there’s any quote to memorise from the novel, this is the one- it will be engraved in my brain until the day I die and I can 100% guarantee that I analysed this in my exam because it’s just such a brilliant quote). Anyone who has studied the novel will know the symbolism of each character, the fire, the glasses, the “beastie”, the conch etc, so I’ll spare you the details of the close analysis of words like “exploded”, “white” and “fragments”, but as you can gather this is the ultimate destruction and loss of innocence, as their society and civilisation becomes irreversibly “fragment[ed]”.
The death toll is at an all time high and we can see the dramatic juxtaposition of the once civilised British school boys dressed in their pristine uniforms, to the now dilapidated, savage monsters that the children have become, as the hunters chase Ralph through the forest. It is still notable that these boys are children, as Golding hits us with the startling reality of an actual “grown-up”, as they appear through the forestry in a frantic spurt, crashing into a naval officer, who asks an overwhelmed Ralph to explain their running around, only to be met with weeping and wailing. Gosh, I feel out of breath after all of that, don’t you?
Clearly, I got carried away with the plot ‘summary’ but I couldn’t eliminate any details because everything in Golding’s ‘Lord of the Flies’ is just so significant and symbolic. For example, recalling a revision lesson in year 11, I discovered that the interpretations of this novel are neverending. My teacher sparked a lively and heated discussion with the question “Do you think anything or anyone on the island is female?”. We were all obviously aware that all of the characters in the novel are male, therefore typical responses were ‘the sow’ or ‘Simon’, considering his androgynous nature. However, our teacher prompted us to think of something outside of the box or not necessarily living and that’s when it dawned on me that she was alluding to the island itself. As you’re all aware by now, I’m rather keen on my feminist interpretations, as initially inspired by my teacher (shoutout to Mrs C), so when she presented us with the opportunity to discuss such a topic, I jumped at the chance to play with the idea. So here it is: if the island is a symbol of women and the boys took it upon themselves to explore, destroy and inhabit the island, killing and disrupting as they pleased, is Golding then trying to imply that men without rules would descend into primitive instinct and socially unacceptable possession of women, as conquered through brute force, as a result of their liberty presented by an unrestricted society? What do you think?
Finally, Simon is the unsung hero of ‘Lord of the Flies’ in my eyes. What can I say? Possessing an ethereal, religious and androgynous aura, Simon is notably a Christ-like figure, particularly as he guides the littluns, picks them fruit and has an epiphany in the forest (perhaps a symbol of the Garden of Eden). As a result of Jack and Ralph stealing the spotlight of ‘Lord of the Flies’, it’s easy for Golding’s character Simon to go unnoticed. Well, I’ll acknowledge you Simon! Golding suggests that Simon can recognise the inherent flaws of humanity and the corruption in knowledge, reality and adulthood, especially as he prematurely pictured the “beastie” as “human” (I see what you did there Golding, is there really any difference in today’s society?) Alongside my love of the conch quote, Simon’s death definitely tops my list of not only beautiful quotes from ‘Lord of the Flies’, but most devastating fictional deaths. As “the water rose farther and dressed Simon’s coarse hair with brightness”, Golding depicts his “silvered” cheek and his “sculptured marble” shoulder, surrounded by “the strange attendant creatures, with their ﬁery eyes and trailing vapors, [who] busied themselves round his head” (*queue crying because only in death is Simon rightfully crowned with his halo*).
What was the most memorable part of ‘Lord of the Flies’ for you and who was your favourite or most significant character? Do you agree with Golding’s primal portrayal of man and its irreversible flaws? Who can you most empathise with? Personally, I’d like to think I possess certain intuitive characteristics of Ralph, unfortunately the nerdiness of Piggy and hopefully some characteristics of Simon, who I believe falls into Aristotle’s characterisation of those who love contemplation- the philosphers and thinkers.
Comment: I have realised that this review is extremely long compared to normal and perhaps less analytical. I guess I just got taken away by the plot because I found it so captivating in my reading of it in both year 10 and again in year 11, therefore recalling it brought back all of the memories of the events, symbolism and moral messages. Also, here’s an image of me quite-obviously loving ‘Lord of the Flies’:
The great wave of the tide moved farther along the island and the water lifted. Softly, surrounded by a fringe of inquisitive bright creatures, itself a silver shape beneath the steadfast constellations, Simon’s dead body moved out toward the open sea.