Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Lord of the Flies by William Golding

Another year, another time through Lord of the Flies. I read it in 2007 because I never had and in 2010 because I thought I was going to teach it; it turned out there wasn't enough time left in the semester. I thought I might be able to teach it this year to the sophomore class--but it turns out we're roughly fifteen copies shy of a full set. So, unless fifteen of my kids suddenly get suspended for the rest of the year (not unlikely), it's on to other pursuits.

What did I get out of it this time? Not considerably more. I am more comfortable with its flaws (the prose seemed more natural this time, perhaps because I am familiar with it) but less charmed by its charms. At its most significant level it still operates as a political allegory, and only afterward as a psychological novel, but the former--as it always does--tends to crowd out the latter. I did make some new observations about the nature of truth in the proto-society the marooned boys build on the island. Here is the passage that stuck out to me this time:

"What d'you want me to say then? I was wrong to call this assembly so late. We'll have a vote on them; on ghosts I mean; and then go to the shelters because we're all tired. No--Jack is it?--wait a minute. I'll say here and now that I don't believe in ghosts. Or I don't think I do. But I don't like the thought of them. Not now that is, in the dark. But we were going to decide what's what."

He raised the conch for a moment.

"Very well then. I suppose what's what is whether there are ghosts or not--"

He thought for a moment, formulating the question.

"Who thinks there may be ghosts?"

For a long time there was silence and no apparent movement. Then Ralph peered into the gloom and made out the hands. He spoke flatly.

"I see."

The world, that understandable and lawful world, was slipping away. Once there was this and that; and now--and the ship had gone.

This is surely a watershed moment for the young society. Ralph is right to have visions of the world crumbling, but he fails to understand that he is who delivered the blow. Ralph wishes to be democratic, and submit decisions to the democratic process, but he submits the very nature of truth to a vote, as if truth could be determined by majoritarian say. Truth has been devalued, become a thing of whim, and when Ralph's society struggles to maintain order whim shifts in Jack's direction. Not coincidentally, it is Jack's vision of society that benefits most from the devaluing of truth and the persistence of propaganda. Thus society, driven by human flaws, eats itself.

Let us note, then, that Ralph's democracy sets the stage for Jack's fascism. Ultimately, Lord of the Flies is bitterly pessimistic about man as a social animal; Ralph's mistake only hastens the inevitable decay into barbarism that is the result of barbarian hearts.

Other reviews:
So Many Books
Rebecca Reads
Buried in Print

1 comment:

Brent Waggoner said...

This must be your favorite book by now.