Lord of the Flies – descending into savagery
author : William Golding
first published by Faber and Faber
1954 United Kingdom
The dark aspect of the human nature
A group of schoolboys marooned on a tropical island after their plane is shot down during a war. Free from the rules and structures of society, the boys descend into savagery.
Readers and critics have interpreted Lord of the Flies in varying ways since its publication. Some claimed that it dramatizes the history of civilization. Some believed that the novel explores fundamental religious issues, such as the nature of good and evil. Others approached it through the theories of Sigmund Freud, about the human mind and the constant battle among different impulses.
But one thing is for sure; the story is not confined to the microcosm of a group of boys, it explores problems and questions universal to the human nature.++
“One winter evening in 1951, in a rather ugly red-brick former vicarage, on a suburban road in Salisbury, there began the career of one of the most widely read twentieth-century English novels. A schoolteacher and his wife had just finished putting their children to bed. Exhausted, they sat either side of the coal fire and talked. Part of the bedtime ritual had of course included reading, and the book chosen – at least for the elder child, a boy of eleven – had told of children on an island, free from the presence of adults. Supposing, said the schoolteacher, I wrote the story of what would really happen …”
Judy Golding (William Golding’s daughter)
Since it was Golding’s first book, Lord of the Flies was met with little interest from the publishers. His daughter remembers :
“My earliest memory is not of the book itself but of a lot of parcels coming back and being sent off again very quickly; he must have been grief-stricken every time it returned. Even paying for the postage was a commitment.”
When finally published the book sold only 4662 copies and fall out of print shortly thereafter. Critical acclaim and the respect of the academic community steadily grew over and the novel eventually found enough of an audience that by 1962 it had moved 65,000 copies.
Don’t ask me why
Golding did not intend it as a children’s book, but he often received letters from children who wanted him to say what he had meant by the book.
In an audio recording published on Ted Ed, he said that “When girls say to me, and very reasonably, ‘Why isn’t it a bunch of girls? Why did you write this about a bunch of boys?’ my reply is … If you, as it were, scale down human beings, scale down society, if you land with a group of little boys, they are more like scaled-down society than a group of little girls will be. Don’t ask me why. And this is a terrible thing to say, because I’m going to be chased from hell to breakfast by all the women who talk about equality. This has nothing to do with equality at all. I think women are foolish to pretend they are equal to men; they are far superior and always have been.”
Golding wrote the book as a counterpoint to R.M. Ballantyne’s youth novel The Coral Island, and included specific references to it, such as the rescuing naval officer’s description of the children’s pursuit of Ralph as “a jolly good show, like the Coral Island”. His three central characters—Ralph, Piggy and Jack—have been interpreted as caricatures of Ballantyne’s Coral Island protagonists.
Lord of the Flies has for many years been a set text in schools and the writer was awarded the 1983 Nobel Prize in Literature “for his novels which, with the perspicuity of realistic narrative art and the diversity and universality of myth, illuminate the human condition in the world of today”