Nobel Laureate Sir William Golding’s Lord of the Flies(1953) has become a compulsory stop on the route of any surveyor of the English novel published in the second half of the twentieth century. During an atomic war, an aeroplane carrying a group of young English school boys is shot down and the party is marooned on an island in the Pacific. The boys, with no elders around, initially try to organize themselves by laying down rules and calling assemblies by means of a conch. Their leader at this stage is Ralph, symbolizing the good, helped by an obese, asthmatic Piggy, symbolizing practical commonsense. But the group slowly regresses to savagery led by the hot-blooded choir leader Jack Merridew, symbolizing evil. There ensues a spate of killings by Jack and his hunters who have let loose a reign of terror and work on fear psychosis. Just at the moment when Ralph is about to be killed by Jack, a naval officer arrives on a rescue ship and escorts the boys back to civilization. However, the Edenic island is on fire and in this realistic novel, Golding shows symbolically the fall of man; democracy is made to bow down before dictatorship; evil wins at the expense of good; and civilization loses at the hands of barbarism.
Lord of the Flies is indeed a demonstration under laboratory conditions of the forms assumed by human behaviour once the restraints of civilization have removed. It is with a definite purpose in mind that Golding lands his characters on an uninhabited island and not on an inhabited one. This island is at a distance from civilization which restraints humans from doing what they would naturally enjoy doing. “Man”, as Rousseau said, “is born free but is everywhere in chains” (The Social Contract, 1762. Web. N.pag.).These chains arrest us and we cannot be our natural selves living within the precincts of civilization where everything is dictated and where man as an individual is sacrificed at the altar of the wielders of executive power. Individual opinions do not matter; it is the majority who controls the oars and rows the boat where they will.
Writing in the aftermath of World War II, Golding deliberately experiments in a refreshing and realistic mode. His is not the romanticized utopia or the escapist bliss of Ballantyne’sCoral Island of which the novel is an anti-thesis. His group of boys is intensely alive and real. They talk as real school boys would do and their actions do not have a single tinge of artificiality.
When they arrive on the island, their pilot is already dead but they try to make up for the absence of grown-ups by attempting to frame their own laws under the guidance of the democratically elected Ralph, who wields the conch, the symbol of authority and Ralph’s comrade Piggy. But this society is destined to remain a dream because Jack and his hunters unleash terror on the island and with the ceremonial chant “Kill the beast. Cut his throat. Spill his blood” (86), they hunt both beasts and humans.
Helped by Roger...