Book Nook: Lord of the Flies by William Golding

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“I’m scared of him, and that’s why I know him. If you’re scared of someone you hate him but you can’t stop thinking about him. You kid yourself he’s all right really, an’ then when you see him again; it’s like asthma an’ you can’t breathe…”

LORD OF THE FLIES, written by the Nobel laureate William Golding, is a frightening and influential work of fiction. The macabre maestro Stephen King wrote in his introduction to the book, “Flies always represented what novels are for…not just entertainment, but life and death… The writer’s imagination becomes the reader’s reality.”

First published in 1954, Lord of the Flies is an allegory of man’s descent from cultured, rational thinking to primitive, bloodthirsty savagery. The story took place at the dawn of an atomic war. A plane was shot down, and it crashed on an uninhabited tropical island. The survivors, all schoolboys, were scattered around until the loud, deep blasts from a conch called them together.

Led by Ralph, whom they later voted as chief (unanimously because he had the conch), they formed an assembly and discussed on what to do in the island, how to survive and get rescued. But “the delight of a realized ambition” overcame them—the freedom of having “no grownups” around. This sudden liberation from adult supervision made it difficult for their chief to manage the group, and even himself.

Days of blistering heat and cool, dark nights passed; the boys went on with their daily tasks: playing, building shelters, hunting, keeping fire. Then the littluns (little ones) experienced terrors from imaginary monsters and nightmares the island evoked at night. There’s a “beast” out there, but the biguns (big ones), though anxious, said there was none and even sought out to kill it.

Turmoil stemmed from juvenile misunderstandings. Jack (the head of the “hunters”) grew vehement toward Ralph’s leadership. Thus disorder broke out, splitting the boys into two groups, which soon led to brutality and Ralph’s weeping for the “end of innocence.”

Lord of the Flies’s theme is an attempt “to trace the defects of society back to the defects of human nature.” The story is an experiment—a group of schoolboys stranded in an island without the guidance of adults—and what’s exposed is the basic wildness lurking within man’s heart, a dormant savagery awakened by the warm spilling of blood; this is what the Freudians call Id, the perpetually repressed “anarchic, amoral” unconscious drive.

Cunningly crafted by the author, the title Lord of the Flies is a translation of the Greek Beelzebub, a name for the devil.

With its dense naturalistic imagery and layers of symbolisms, Lord of the Flies is a masterwork, a modern classic, though an infinitely cynical portrayal of human condition.

(Published on Sunstar Cebu ’ZUP Page Book Nook: October 25, 2015)

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