Sunday, April 8, 2007

Lord of the Flies by William Golding

Part I of an ongoing series called, "Books that everyone read in school but me."

Lord of the Flies is a sort of classic. It's about a group of boys whose plane has crashed on an island and the society that they create there. The principle actors are Ralph, a fair-minded boy who is elected chief, Jack, a rash and bloodthirsty boy who is his opposition, and Piggy, a fat, nerdly boy who is derided at first but later becomes Ralph's closest advisor. Throughout the course of the book, Jack begins to despise Ralph's power and fights for the allegiance of the other boy, seducing them away with the promise of wild, savage hunting and protection from 'The Beast' that the boys claim to have seen. It's an allegory of sorts in which Ralph represents a democratic society and Jack a barbarian, anarchistic one. In his review of the movie version, Roger Ebert calls Ralph a "little liberal humanist" and Jack a "little market economist," though that description really only underscores Ebert's hatred for free market economics. In truth, Jack represents the bloodthirstiness of fascism; it's not by coincidence that the book is set during World War II when Jack could be seen as an analogue for the Hitler or Mussolini regimes.

I was disappointed by it. First of all, the prose can be very clumsy--At noon, "floods of light fell more nearly to the perpendicular," for instance--and the characters are too archetypal to incur any sort of empathy. Piggy is too awkward, Jack too malicious, Ralph too bland. Golding's depiction of children is at times difficult to believe; kids at this age in any decade would be incapable of standing around naked with one another, for instance. The characters are simply sacrificed at the altar of allegory, and the symbols are hit too hard.

I do believe that Lord of the Flies is constructed from the pieces of a great novel--the darkness of it can be at times terrifying, especially after Jack and his followers split off from Ralph's group and become murderous, and the theme of what happens to man when social rules become null and void never fails the test of time--but it just doesn't come together. Brent swears by it, but then again, he's not known for his taste.


Nihil Novum said...

I suggest you go with Goodnight Moon next.

Carlton said...

I suggest The Hardy Boys Case Files: Final Gambit.

Christopher said...

This is like, two comments within two minutes of posting this review. Clearly, the two of you have nothing better to do than refresh this website every few minutes.

Carlton said...

Every couple of minutes.