A review of a book as iconic as Lord Of The Flies should surely only offer comment, not mere description. It is over 50 years since its publication in 1954 and, it should be remembered, the story is set in wartime. So, while the marooned boys apparently descend into a mould of pre-civilised behaviour, their adult compatriots are engaged in it full time in the world outside. Jack may paint his face and display an identifying insignia, but so, probably, does his father at that time, a display he might call a uniform, and the insignia a flag or regimental banner. It is perhaps coincidence that William Golding casts a casualty of the nearby war, dead, but re-animated by natural elements, the wind in his parachute, as the intruding beast that terrorises the stranded boys.
Where this imagery falls down, of course, is at the end, when a suitably British naval officer rescues the lads. We assume they will promptly be returned to their besieged wartime homeland, no doubt to live happily ever after. Of course, there is the question of who saves the adults, whose war is merely the same as the boys’ limited creation on their island. But this element of the book perhaps reads less convincingly 50 years on from its publication, when the general reader would have needed no reminder of how horrid an experience the recent war had been.
Ralph’s character poses something of a dilemma. He clearly believes he was born to lead. When he finds his authority both undermined and then by-passed, it appears he cannot cope with the demotion, his continued assumption of status blinding him to the obvious. At the time this surely would have been interpreted as a reference to the British class system. Fifty years on, the allusion is less than obvious.
If anything, Piggy presents the modern reader with the most problems. He is the epitome of the know-all, the swot, the annoying brat that always has something to say. But he is also the idealist and realist in one. He has few skills, perhaps fewer physical contributions to make to the group’s survival. But he has a technological vision. He is an inventor of ideas, ideas that others, under direction, may realise. Hence he is also the visionary, the philosopher who not only knows what should be done, but also why it should be done. Significantly, his spectacles provide the only technology the community needs since, unbelievably for the period, none of them seems ever to have been a boy scout and so they cannot make fire.
But it is eventually Piggy, for all his analytical and intellectual skills, who seems a total prisoner of stereotypical assumptions. He seems to assume that “British” is a synonym for “civilised” and that all black people are automatically savage. The reader is left in some doubt as to whether these opinions are sincerely held, satirical, representative of the society from which the boy hails or merely hyperbole promoted by the panic of their situation. To some extent, they have to be accepted and dealt with rather like an opera-goer must accept Wagner’s anti-Semitism as historical fact, rather than essential opinion.
Lord Of The Flies has weathered its half century remarkably well, but there are flaws which now seem more obvious than they would have been in the years that followed the book’s publication. The power of the book’s observation, however, remains. It is already iconic, its permanence assured.Powered by Sidelines