Lord of the Flies

by William Golding
“Maybe,” he said hesitantly, “maybe there is a beast.”
The assembly cried out savagely and Ralph stood up in amazement.
“You, Simon?  You believe in this?”
“I don’t know,” said Simon.  His heartbeats were choking him.  “But . . . what I mean is . . . maybe it’s only us.”

People write books for many different reasons.  Sometimes it’s to tell a story, sometimes to make a point about society.  Sometimes it’s because their first book was a best-seller and the publisher wants another one.  And then people read books for all sorts of different reasons–entertainment, learning, to expand their view on something, etc.  Most of the reasons make sense to me, but for the longest time, I couldn’t figure out why anyone would want to write or read a social commentary.  They were always so twisted and morbid, and for much of my reading career, I didn’t find anything interesting or entertaining about that.

Lord of the Flies is one of those social commentaries that many people read when they are teenagers.  I did not, and I’m actually very glad that I waited until I was older to finally read this classic.  It is a dark tale about a group of British schoolboys, stranded on an island after their plane is shot down during an evacuation effort.  They realize they are the only ones who survived the crash and elect Ralph to set up a system of chores, rules, and survival until someone rescues them.  But Ralph butts head with Jack, the boy he assigns to lead the hunting group, and the fragile balance of leadership quickly disintegrates when rumors start spreading about a mysterious beast living on the island.

Golding writes with that elusive style that makes anything (even stranded, fighting children) enjoyable to read.  And there’s also something gripping about how closely he toes the line between fiction and reality.  There is truth to Golding’s idea that when given total freedom, humans don’t create beautiful utopias.  We more readily digress into selfish, lazy people who follow the mob mentality.  Watching that scenario play out in the safe environment of your imagination is eery and gripping.  What starts as an interesting but slow story quickly develops into an I-don’t-care-how-early-I-have-to-get-up-I-must-finish-this-tonight type of book.

Golding’s story is full of symbolism and allegory.  It’s pretty morbid and disturbing, and it could be easy to become disgruntled by the surface of the story and never delve into the deeper points that Golding is making.  He questions the morality of men and how structure can mask atrocities as just part of the system.  These are ideas that I doubt I would have been able to appreciate when I was a teenager.  Let me be clear that I do not think teens shouldn’t read or couldn’t appreciate this book.  I just know that I would not have liked it had I read it when I was younger.

This book is pretty easy to read, but very difficult to digest.  Whether dissecting how we act when under peer pressure or examining how we confront fear, Golding doesn’t shy away from the ugly aspects of society.  I don’t think you can enjoy it when you’re forced to read it or appreciate it when you expect something purely entertaining.  But if you’re prepared for a dark  depiction of man’s depravity, then you are in for a treat.  The Lord of the Flies thrills from the first pages to the closing paragraphs.


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