Lord of the Flies is a dystopian, survival novel written by William Golding in 1953. Living through the bloodiest war in human history, Golding had witnessed humanity’s great capacity for inflicting cruelty and brutality on one another. This greatly influenced his pessimistic view of human nature; he believed that the natural human propensity is violent unless restrained by societal influence. The book opens on an island, now inhabited by a group of unsupervised British schoolboys that survived a violent plane crash. Some of the main characters are Ralph, Piggy, Jack, and Simon. Ralph and Piggy find a conch shell and call for an assembly of all the survivors on the island. The assembly results in the appointment of Ralph as chief. Ralph believes that maintaining fire on the island is the most important task, as it will signal to the outside world that they need rescue.
Meanwhile, Jack is focused on hunting. During this conflict, the boys find a mysterious creature called “the beast,” which they believe is following them, and planning to harm them. Simon tells the group that “the beast” may be them; that the human is the most dangerous animal on the island. As the debate on the existence of “the beast” continues, Jack and Ralph split into two separate tribes. Simon finds the head of a pig, left behind as a sacrifice to “the beast.” This head is the Lord of the Flies and gives Simon a vision. Simon is soon killed by Jack’s tribe, and as the conflict escalates, so is Piggy. Ralph is now targeted by Jack’s tribe and tries to fight them off as best he can. Just before Ralph is killed, a naval officer on a nearby ship reaches the island, alerted by their smoke signals, and rescues them.
This book demonstrates a zeitgeist held by many authors and philosophers during this time period. Golding’s use of British schoolboys as his characters shows that anyone, regardless of age or perceived innocence and civility, can surrender to the brutal proclivity living within all human beings. The boys are a mirror image of the warring adults surrounding them, and the island becomes a microcosm of World War II itself.
Lord of the Flies by William Golding is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available for download from Overdrive.
George Orwell’s 1984 is a dystopian novel read by countless high school students each academic year. It tells the story of a futuristic society(Oceania) under the rule of an elite group called the Party and the symbolic, mythical figurehead Big Brother from the perspective of an Outer Party member named Winston Smith. In this society, the population is divided into three main classes: the Inner Party (upper-class minority), the Outer Party (middle-class minority), and the Proles (lower class majority). Through the use of fear and mind control, Big Brother ensures that all citizens worship him, his administration, and his existence.
Excessive surveillance through telescreens and the Thought Police discourage rebellion and opposition. Individuality and basic human emotion and instinct are extinguished, and the citizens of Oceania have lost the ability to love and form familial loyalties. Techniques such as doublethink and crimestop are ingrained into the minds of citizens that prevent thoughtcrime, or having thoughts against Big Brother and the Party. Throughout the story, Winston battles with thoughtcrime in his brainwashed state, and struggles to become “conscious.” He falls in love with a fellow rebel, Julia, and tries to join the mythical anti-Party group known as the Brotherhood. However, this bliss soon comes to an end when Winston is caught by the Thought Police. He experiences both physical and psychological torture that transforms him into a devout follower and worshipper of Big Brother and the Party once again, and he sinks back into a brainwashed state as he waits for inevitable execution.
Orwell published this book in 1949 as both a prediction and a warning of what the year 1984 would have in store for human society. Although Orwell did not live long enough to see this fated year, his predictions create a shocking parallel with 2019. This book was not written as a simple story, but rather as an exemplar of our future and a passionate remonstrance against the direction it is taking. A message written to implore future generations to avoid bringing the world written in these pages to life. 1984 should be read by all voting Americans in 2019. We must understand that our actions have a power that can be used for better or for worse. Will 2019 become 1984? Only time will tell.
1984 by George Orwell is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.
S.E. Hinton is an American author we are often introduced to in school. Her classic novel The Outsiders remains one of the most popular books in youth literature to this day. The Outsiders tells the stories of the lower class (Greasers) and the upper class (Socs) from the perspective of narrator Ponyboy Curtis. The novel explores hostile interaction between social classes and is often seen as Hinton’s greatest work due to its stark realism and relatability.
Rumble Fish is another one of Hinton’s greatest works. Rumble Fish follows the life of teenager Rusty James who struggles to live a life in his brother’s shadow. His brother, the Motorcycle Boy, had taken a trip to California and left behind a notorious, criminal reputation that Rusty James tries his best to embody. Unbeknownst to Rusty James, Motorcycle Boy never truly made it to California and was battling his own mental strife. In the end, Motorcycle Boy’s life is ended by his final, fatal encounter with the police as he tries to steal “rumble fish” from a local pet store. Possessed by grief, Rusty James decides to make his own trip to California and reaches the ocean in honor of his lost brother. Through this intense story, Rumble Fish teaches readers that the world becomes less dark if we know where to find the light.
One of Hinton’s lesser known works is That Was Then, This is Now. That Was Then, This is Now contains many of the same elements as The Outsiders and Rumble Fish, but takes place a few years later. Now, social classes are less defined, and violence between Greasers and Socs is less frequent. The current omnipotent issue is no longer gang fights; it’s drug abuse. Main characters Mark and Bryon are close friends, and consider themselves brothers. When Bryon’s mother is hospitalized and needs surgery, the two scramble to find sources of necessary income. Bryon finds a job at a supermarket, while Mark supplies money without an obvious source. During this time of financial stress, their friend M&M goes missing until Bryon finds him under the influence of narcotics. M&M is hospitalized, and Bryon finds out that Mark has been selling drugs in order to help pay for his mother’s surgery. Bryon must choose justice for M&M or Mark’s life. In the end, their brotherly bond is severed when Bryon reports Mark and Mark is sent to prison. This story shows readers that the world is not divided into black and white, or good and evil. The most difficult decisions are often made in the area of divergence between the two extremes.
S.E. Hinton’s is one of the greatest authors of the 1900’s, and her books have remained popular, years after publication. Her didactic novels continue to teach modern youth crucial life lessons that will never die with age.
The works of S. E. Hinton are available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.
“The difference between fiction and reality? Fiction has to make sense.” Tom Clancy’s analysis on the divergence between the realm of fantasy and the confines of the real world shows us that reality and fantasy are really not as different as they may seem. One example of this is Clancy’s Jack Ryan series, which centers around the trials and triumphs of a former U.S Marine lieutenant turned history teacher as he becomes entangled in the world of international espionage and warfare.
The series’ first book, Patriot Games, depicts Ryan’s chance encounter with Ulster Liberation Army terrorists in England and sets the tone for how this will alter the course of his career and family life in the books to follow. Although this book was written for entertainment purposes, it does give us a window into the international political climate at the time of the book’s release(July 1987). The Provisional Irish Republican Army was fighting to end British influence in Northern Ireland and reunite Ireland at the time of publication. This book was not based on a true story, but it does allude to the real-life political climate in the UK at the time, which helps readers gain a greater understanding of a time period that they may not have experienced.
Another author who drew inspiration from the world around him is John Steinbeck. Steinbeck’s famous Of Mice and Men is a book many read during high school English courses. It tells the story of two close friends, George and Lennie, as they attempt to seek work in California during the Great Depression. This story is categorized as fiction, though some of the characters and events Steinbeck described were people and things he met and experienced during his time working on a ranch in central California. Of Mice and Men’s setting helps readers understand the desperation that unemployed Americans faced in trying to find jobs during the Great Depression. Lennie’s character also shows the rejection, stigmatization, and ignorance of mental illness during this time period, which was a very real and prevalent issue in the real world. Many believe that books categorized as fiction are simply nothing more than stories created to entertain literary enthusiasts on a rainy day.
History, politics, and social structure are all topics that are traditionally reserved for textbooks or newspapers. However, Clancy’s series and Steinbeck’s works are some of the many examples of how fiction can give us a glimpse into the past or present reality. It is interesting to see just how much we can learn about a past time through our favorite novels and fantasy stories and may encourage those who stick to the world of non-fiction to branch out into other genres.