Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Amongst the many things I undertake now is to inspire a love of reading and language in young people. For many, particularly teenage boys, this is killed at school. One of the profound novels that is often done to death in the hope of getting a good exam result is Lord of the Flies by William Golding.
During World War II, the author fought battleships at the sinking of the Bismarck, and also fended off submarines and planes. Lieutenant Golding was even placed in command of a rocket-launching craft. Of his World War II experiences, Golding has said, “I began to see what people were capable of doing. Anyone who moved through those years without understanding that man produces evil as a bee produces honey, must have been blind or wrong in the head.” Like his teaching experience, Golding’s participation in the war would prove to be fruitful material for his fiction, particularly Lord of the Flies.
The central theme in Lord of the Flies is that of things breaking down. This is shown in a number of ways. Violence replaces peace, friends turn into enemies, life ends in savage death. Everything degenerates.
War is another running theme in the novel, starting from plane the boys were travelling in. This is shown in various ways including the fact that the boys are on the island because the plane that was evacuating them from Britain during a fictional nuclear war was attacked and crashed. The reader is told the civilisation from which they were trying to escape is being destroyed. Also, the dead parachutist who lands on the island was gunned down during an overhead battle. Somewhat ironically, the naval officer who comes to their rescue is himself involved in the war.
Violence is always present. It starts as a game, but grows more horrific throughout the novel and all the friendships and good relationships on the island break down, either through bullying and violence or death. Even the island slowly degrades as the story goes on, reflecting the break down of the boys’ relationships.
The title of the novel comes from the Arabic for one of the manifestations of the Devil. Baal-Zebub – or Beelzebub – means ‘lord of the flies’. In the novel, the pig’s head on a stick is covered in flies, and provides a horrific symbol of how far the violence has come. The pig was killed by Jack and his hunters and the head is put on a stick as an offering to the ‘beast’. Only Simon really appreciates that the ‘beast’ is actually the evil inside the boys themselves and it is that which is breaking things up.
So, the title of the novel reinforces the idea that we all have something of the ‘devil’ within us – and that the ‘devil’ can be released all too easily. Lord of the Flies is a short novel, but it deals effectively with the concept of evil within mankind. If you have not read it since you were a child, I recommend you read it again with adult eyes. It will shock you.