Renowned for its masterful portrayal of a Hobbes-inspired misanthropic view of human nature, William Golding’s Lord of the Flies serves as one of the greatest novels to come out of World War II, despite being published nearly a decade after it. It chronicles the tale of a group of young boys stranded on a remote island, and depicts their struggle to maintain peace and civility without any authority, which eventually culminates in the creation of two radically different tribes – one for violence, one for rationality.
Lord of the Flies opens with the crash of an airplane containing a class full of British schoolboys. Ralph and Piggy, two of these unfortunates, use a conch to summon the rest of the boys who have crashed on the island, who have ranging ages and needs. Initially, Ralph and Jack, the power-hungry leader of the school choir boys, get along with each other in order to be rescued, but as the time drags on with no sign of civilization, the boys begin to crack, and turn to the darkness for salvation.
Over the course of the novel, the bright light of civilization begins to flicker and die in the face of the overwhelming darkness brought about by the boys’ belief that there is a “Beastie” watching over them, waiting to kill them all. Using the fear to his advantage, Jack turns the group against Ralph, Piggy, and those allied with them, and the majority of the boys become savage hunters, and violence becomes their only means of communication.
Overall, Lord of the Flies is a classic read, and definitely raises some interesting points. It reveals that despite humanity appearing to be a civilized group, beneath that mask lies violence and savagery, which is only uncovered when people are distanced from established civilization. In a way, even in a civilized environment, the beast in man continues to rear its ugly head, and unless humans are able to control their violent urges, humanity will end up exactly as Hobbes predicted in Leviathan, living lives that are “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”
Lord of the Flies by William Golding is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available for download from Overdrive.