William Golding’s Lord of the Flies is a novel that needs no introduction- it’s surely a classic. Everyone knows at least a relative idea of what it’s about. Originating in the 1950’s, the language in the novel takes you back to that era. While only 67 years ago- that time is now worlds away. The story begins with a boy traveling around in the forested area of a deserted island. We soon learn that he is not alone. It becomes evident that this small tribe of boys found themselves here via plane crash. Instinctively, the boys mimic adult behavior and decide to figure out a way to govern themselves. The boy we meet first- who goes by Ralph- volunteers himself. It seems intentional that we meet him first since he rose to power.
Because there is power to be won, of course our main character- Ralph- was not without a rival, which is where Jack came in. These two are two sides of the same coin; their inherent inner leader bringing them together. Ralph values going home over thriving at the island, while Jack would rather thrive on the island rather than prioritize going home. This causes a rift between the boys, and because of this, readers realize that a person’s fate relies entirely on how they react through seeing how each boy’s decisions cause their survival or demise despite their wanting to think otherwise.
The boys attempt to govern themselves by using a ‘conch’ method, where each boy may talk if they hold the conch. This plan seemed fool-proof. Ralph and Jack were given respect when they had the conch but as the saying goes, “Everyone is equal but some are more equal than others,” Piggy was never given the time of day when he had the conch. We see this in many aspects in life, how everyone has a voice but some people don’t get to use it seems like a prominent idea in our current affairs. The two lines of, “We’ve got to have rules and obey them. After all, we’re not savages,” (pg. 42) and later boasting the chant of, “Kill the pig, cut her throat, spill her blood.” (pg.152) are the two lines that should stick in your mind from this book if nothing else. We all imagine ourselves to be these great, moral beings- but when left alone, how long does it take for those morals to diminish? How long does it take us to simply fall apart into savages like the boys did?
It’s an unnerving thought that your next-door neighbor could even turn savage in the right circumstances. While this book has a childlike storytime feel in the beginning, it seems there is somewhat more of a sinister more realist vision to the tale as well. This realization can make a person wonder, “Would I turn savage? No, of course not.” Is this just a lie we tell ourselves? Can everyone eventually turn savage? For me personally, these are the questions I asked myself after finishing this book. I believe many people would lie to themselves because we all want to believe we are going to be the hero, but in reality, not everyone is going to be the hero. The boys come to this revelation when the boys begin to question, “Maybe,... Maybe there is a beast… maybe it’s only us.” (pg. 84) A monumental turning point in the story; that the fire to be rescued burnt out, and they realized what they were. They were even, at that point, comfortable with what they were, despite the fact that their pre-island selves would be appalled at their evolution.
Part of the reason this story became so mainstream is the feeling of relation we all get from it. This feeling of social hierarchy; Alpha and Omega- everyone’s felt it before. The setting being an island only magnifies this because when we think island we think raw; unrelenting, and an island offers sincerity because no one will hold back, I mean, their parents aren’t there, so why should they?
There isn’t a single uniform reaction to this new situation of being alone on the island, each way the boys react to this immediately seals their fate. Jack becomes unapologetically savage, Piggy cannot find a way to take up for himself, and Ralph never earns the power that his inner leader was craving. Did the fact that Piggy and Ralph were never fully supportive of the savage ideals cause their exile from the rest of the group? Was it now social norm to be a savage?
I believe we see these kinds of reactions in real life, of course on a less-thrilling-not-life-and-death scale, but we do see Ralph-types, Piggy-types, Jack-types… This is what people should relate to because this feeling of need for dominance and survival at any cost constructs the backbone of the story. It’s true, the way we react rather than the cards we’re dealt determines our fate much more. If Piggy had just taken up for himself would he have lived? If Jack had stayed true to himself would he have turned savage, or was he always like this?
We see that Lord of the Flies isn’t just a novel about children being stranded on an island, but a novel about humanity and survival. Despite the boys having vastly different reactions to being stranded there, they all end up rescued by sailors; a metaphor that we can always be redeemed. Even though the fire burnt out, even though some of the boys reverted to primitive, savage rituals, they still relished in the reward of staying safe and ending up being able to go home. Did the sailors’ arrival symbolize the last remnant of childish innocence they had left?
In conclusion, Lord of the Flies presents itself as a simple, unmemorable story about children being stranded on an island, but quickly turns into a story about moral crisis and survival over decency and human values. It’s hard to believe boys would actually do what they did in the story, however this was their eventual possibly inevitable reaction. If they had invested more time in the fire, maybe they would have been rescued sooner, however their savage tendencies took over and the only thing that mattered in the end was “killing the beast”. Their reaction and choices of disregarding the effort to get rescued left them unoccupied so that they had no choice but to end up savage. Lord of the Flies forces us to ask the question, how would we react now if put in those boys’ situation?