Lord of the Flies
At the risk of losing one of my highest scoring books for the academic game Humiliation (a mythical game describe in David Lodge’s Changing Places) I decided to read William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. It seems like every else read this book when they were in high school and somehow I missed it. Like Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye (my other good Humiliation book), I don’t see many adults reading these books.
I can see why people read it in high school. It seems to have been perfectly crafted for advancing the interpretive reading skills of young adults. The narrative is clear, engaging and easy to follow. It is not weighed down with the ponderous devices of literary modernism. It is not encumbered with fragmented chronologies, dense symbolic webs or unreliable subjectivity. From a narrative point of view it is pretty straight forward.
From an interpretive point of view it is also fairly straight forward as well. The allegory (if it can even be called that) sits pretty close to the surface. Ralph and Piggy clearly represent liberal democracy with their egalitarianism, rationalism and parliamentary procedure. Jack and the “hunters” represent the totalitarian approach with their charismatic and authoritarian leadership, ritualistic bonding and violence. It is not hard to make the jump to the larger crisis in adult society. This is ever present at the fringes of the story. The crisis, whether war, nuclear holocaust or environmental cataclysm, is responsible for the boys being stranded on the island and is related to the possiblity, or impossibility, of their rescue. It is ever present, but always in the background and never clearly defined. While the interpretive challenges are light enough for young readers, the difficulty of the issues should provide adults with plenty to think about.
It is much easier to see and follow the breakdown of rational critical discourse and democratic governance when expressed in terms of little boys stranded on a deserted island. A different part of your brain reads adventure stories on tropical islands than the one that reads sociological studies or watches partisan ranting on cable news. As much as I love analysis, it often seems abstract, distant and impersonal. It may be important but it’s no personal. In Golding’s Lord of the Flies the warning and danger are visceral, immediate and personal. We see how easy it could be for “everything to break down.“ As adults this could apply to many aspects of our lives: not just our national politics but also our projects at work and our home and family relationships. Our style of interaction and communication has profound effect our success and happiness even in small ventures. And these are not always easy to balance. And perhaps most importantly, unlike Lord of the Flies, there won’t be a deus ex machina arriving just in time to save us from ourselves and the cataclysmic nightmare we’ve created.
It’s certainly a great book and I’m glad I waited until now to read it.
- The Humiliation Game (academiccog.blogspot.com)
- Variation on Humiliation (reassignedtime.blogspot.com)
- Great Books We’ve Never Read (ricochet.com)