There will be spoilers in this review, because I want to discuss the philosophy behind this book rather than the plot.
Since most people know the general plot of Lord of the Flies, I’ll be very brief: A group of British boys crashes on a deserted island. The boys are forced to survive there until they can be rescued. Rather than focusing on physical survival of nature, Golding concentrates on what happens to people when they are left without laws to govern them.
This is a reread for me. I read it back in late middle school or early high school. I must admit, as a parent of three little boys, two of whom would be “littluns” and one who would probably be one of the younger “biguns,” this was much more disturbing for me to read now than then. That’s not to say I didn’t get anything out of it as a teenager – I actually probably got more because I wasn’t blinded by some of the horrors. I enjoyed the book more then. Even though I didn’t enjoy it as much this time around, I still feel like this was an excellent book and one I’m glad I’ve read twice now.
There are many different interpretations and readings of Lord of the Flies, but the one that has always resonated with me is the contrast of civilization versus human nature. In college, we studied some of Thomas Hobbes’ works, which discussed how people were the same as animals if you stripped all the strictures of civilization away (that’s really oversimplifying, but go with me – it’s a book review). Golding said pretty much the same thing in Lord of the Flies. Without rules, without someone to govern, the boys turn into animals. They become less than human. The littluns run around naked, using the bathroom wherever they want, forgetting who they are by the time a rescue ship arrives. The majority of the biguns become obsessed with hunting, until they kill the two characters who represent peace and intelligence before going on a hunt for the character who represents rational order.
Unfortunately, the natural descent into savagery does seem to be inherent in human nature. People don’t want to admit this, but history has shown us again and again that this is true. Take for example the first thing that comes to my mind: last fall, when that crowd of shoppers in New York killed that poor man when they stampeded the store. The shoppers paid no attention to the guy dying beneath them. They were all too interested in buying cheap stuff. A man died, people were injured, and the building was damaged because of some good sales. Good sales. Really, a whole crowd of people lost their inhibitions and their humanity over material possessions. Imagine, then, what would happen to civilization if there was suddenly no food. We all have the potential to turn into little beasts.
Of course, the kids on the island didn’t turn into beasts out of necessity. They weren’t starving and killing each other for food sources. Their savagery came from greed, power, bloodlust, and mob mentality (here, I’m reminded of the Stanford Prison Experiment, another good example). In a group, the boys chanted and hid behind war paint and freed themselves from all inhibitions. They stopped seeing each other as human beings, which of course brings up a whole other topic: the way people can treat each other with savagery when they don’t respect each other. Think of the slave trade, or Nazi Germany. I will leave that as food for thought because if I start discussing all of these avenues, my review will be a million words long, but feel free to comment on the subject if you wish. I’d love to discuss it. What I’d really love is to have a good book club discussion about this book. It would make an excellent discussion work.
People don’t like to hear about their inner beast. They don’t like the idea that deep down, they too might be savages. We have so many things to guide us into being humane: governments and societal constraints and religious faiths and more. But even if we don’t want to acknowledge it, our inner beast is recognized by religions, by psychological theories, by philosophers. It doesn’t matter if it’s called Satan, the Id, or simply the Human Condition – we each of us have a Lord of the Flies within us that needs to be tamed and beaten down. I, for one, hope I’m never in a situation where society has disintegrated so far as to awaken those beasts.
Of course, this is only one interpretation. Lord of the Flies can be interpreted biblically, or with regards to the losing of innocence as one grows up, or any number of other things. Have you read this book? How did you view it?
Note: Review date is only an approximate of when this book was read/reviewed in 2009.
Note: Originally read in ~1993-ish.