Title: Lord of the Flies
Author: William Golding (1954)
Capricorn Books, G.P. Putnam’s Sons New York, NY.
The story takes place on a tropical island. During WWII a plane with a group of British school boys from a private school is shot down and crash lands on the island. The pilot, the only adult, dies in the crash and the wreckage is washed out to sea by a storm. Two boys Ralph and a chubby boy nicknamed Piggy are the first two we encounter. They discuss what happened and Piggy, who is quite smart, finds a conch shell and tells Ralph how to blow it like a horn. The other surviving boys hearing it come to its sound. The boys range in age from 6 or 7 to 12. Among the survivors are a group of choir singers with a boy named Jack about Ralph’s age as their leader.
The story is about Ralph and Jack vying for control of the group and the quest for survival it shows how quickly people can revert when rules, structure and discipline vanish.
“Aren’t there any grown-ups at all?”
“I don’t think so.”
“We was attacked!”
“When we was coming down I looked through one of them Windows. I saw the other part of the plane. There were flames coming out of it.”
“What happened to it?” He asked. “Where is it got to now?”
“That storm dragged it out to sea. It wasn’t half dangerous with all them tree trunks falling. There must have been some kids still in it.”
After finding the Conch shell:
“Ralph grasped the idea and hit the shell with air from his diaphragm. Immediately the thing sounded. A deep, harsh note boomed……….”
“I bet you can hear that for miles.”
Piggy exclaimed: “there’s one!”
“What’s yer name?”
Signs of life are visible now on the beach. The sand, trembling beneath the heat haze concealed many figures in its miles of length; boys are making their way toward the platform through the hot, dumb sand. Three small children, no older than Johnny, appeared from startlingly close at hand where they had been gorging fruit in the forest. ……………………… More and more of them came. Taking their cue from the innocent Johnny, they sat down on the fallen palm trunks and waited. Ralph continued to blow short, penetrating blasts. Piggy moved among the crowd, asking names and frowning to remember them. The children gave him the same simple obedience they had given to the men with megaphones. Some were naked and carrying their clothes; others half naked, or more or less dressed, in school uniforms, gray, blue, fawn, jacketed or jerseyed. Within the diamond haze of the beach something dark was fumbling along. Ralph saw it first, and watched till the intentness of his gaze drew all eyes that way. Then the creature stepped from mirage on to clear sand, and they saw that the darkness was not all shadows but mostly clothing. Shorts, shirts, and different garments they carried in their hands; but each boy were square black cap with a silver badge on it. Their bodies, from throat to ankle, were hidden by black cloaks which bore a long silver cross on the left breast and each neck was finished off with a hambone frill. …………………….. The boy who controlled them was dressed in the same way though his Badge was golden. When his party was about 10 yards from the platform he shouted in order and they halted, gasping, sweating, swaying in the fierce light.
“Isn’t there a man here?”
“No. We’re having a meeting. Come and join in.”
“Choir! Stand still!”
“Wearily obedient, the choir huddled into line and stood there swaying in the sun.”
They decide to vote on a leader and the candidates are Ralph and Jack. Ralph is the more mature of the two and he is voted as “chief”. Jack is hurt and angry but goes along with the vote at first. They decide on building shelters and a fire with extra wood in case a ship goes by. They start a fire by using Piggy’s glasses as a magnifying glass focusing the pin point of light on dry tinder. Jack and his choir, with a type of paramilitary structure, became the hunters to provide food from the wild pigs on the island. The choir is a rank structured organization with Jack as unquestioned leader.
“Seems to me we ought to have a chief to decide things.”
“A chief! A chief!”
“I ought to be chief,” said Jack with simple arrogance, “because I’m chapter chorister and head boy. I can sing C sharp.”
“Let’s have a vote.”
This toy of voting was almost as pleasing as the conch. Jack started to protest but the clever change from the general wish for a chief to election by a claim of Ralph himself. None of the boys could have found good reason for this; what intelligence had been shown was traceable to piggy while the most obvious leader was Jack.
“All right. Who wants Jack for chief?”
With dreary obedience the choir raised their hands.
“Who wants me?” [Ralph]
Every hand outside the choir except Piggy’s was raised immediately.
“The choir belongs to you, of course.”
“They could be the Army –“
“Or hunters –“
“Jack’s in charge of the choir they can be – what do you want them to be?”
While three of them were exploring the island they came across a pig and Jack was going to kill it but hesitates
“You should stick a pig,” said Ralph fiercely. “They always talk about sticking a pig.”
“You cut a pigs throat to let the blood out,” said Jack “otherwise you can’t eat the meat.”
“Why didn’t you –?”
They knew very well why he hadn’t: because of the enormity of the knife descending and cutting into living flesh; because of the unbearable blood.
Later they did get a pig and the realization of not having a way to cook it hit them.
Ralph and Jack looked at each other while society paused about them. The shameful knowledge grew in them and they did not know how to begin confession.
Ralph spoke first, crimson in the face.
He cleared his throat and went on.
“Will you light the fire?”
Now the absurd situation was open, Jack blushed to. He began to mutter vaguely.
“You rub two sticks together. You rub –“
He glanced at Ralph, who blurted out the last confession of incompetence.
“Has anyone got any matches?”
Jack pointed suddenly.
“His specs – use them as burning glasses!”
Piggy was surrounded before he could back away.
Nevertheless, the northern European tradition of work, play, and food right through the day, made it impossible for them to adjust themselves wholly to this new rhythm.
At first they got along together but it becomes a battle for leadership. Jack was the military, authoritarian type while Ralph was more the democratic type and Piggy had the brains. Ralph and Piggy are allies on the side of majority rule while Jack is the dictator type. The younger kids are susceptible to imagination and fear of the dark. During the night while everyone is sleeping over the island two warplanes get in a dogfight and one is shot down. The pilot parachutes but is killed and his body descends in a parachute and lands on the highest point on island. His body is tangled in the chute and the chute is tangled in the trees. When the wind blows and catches the chute the pilot’s body sits up. Wearing his helmet he is a frightening spectacle that a couple of the boys see. When they bring the tale of a “beast” back to camp the tables begin to tip in Jack’s favor as he has the hunters which he claims will protect them from the beast. He talks of leaving a sacrifice for the beast with some of the meat from a pig they killed. When the lack of discipline in Jack’s group results in the fire they had going out they raid Ralph’s camp.
“We’ve got to talk about this fear and decide there’s nothing in it. I’m frightened myself, sometimes; only that’s nonsense! Like bogies.”
Jack stood up and took the conch.
“So this is a meeting to find out what’s what. I’ll tell you what’s what. You littluns started all this, with the fear talk. Beasts! From where? ……………………………. anyway you don’t hunt or build or help – you’re a lot of crybabies and sissies.”
“Serve you right if something did get you, you useless lot of crybabies!”
(Piggy):“I don’t believe in no ghosts – ever!”
Jack was up too, unaccountably angry.
“Who cares what you believe – fatty!”
“You got to be tough now. Make ‘em do what you want.”
Ralph answered in the cautious voice of one who rehearses a theorem.
“If I blow the conch and they don’t come back; then we’ve had it. We shan’t keep the fire going. We’ll be like animals will never be rescued.”
“If you don’t blow, we will soon be animals anyway. I can’t see what they’re doing but I can hear.”
A sliver of moon rose over the horizon, hardly large enough to make a path of light even when it sat right down on the water; but there were other lights in the sky, that moved fast, winked, or when out, though not even a faint popping came down from the battle fought at ten miles’ height. But a sign came down from the world of grown-ups; though at the time that was no child awake to read it. There was a sudden bright explosion and a corkscrew trail crossed the sky; then darkness again and stars. There was a speck above the island, a figure dropping swiftly beneath a parachute, a figure that hung with dangling limbs. The changing winds of various altitudes took the figure where they would. Then, three miles up, the wind steadied and bore it in a descending curve round the sky and swept it in a great slant across the reef and the lagoon toward the island. The figure fell and crumpled among the blue flowers of the mountainside, but now there was a gentle breeze at this height too and the parachute flopped and banged and pulled. So the figure, with feet that dragged behind it, slid up the mountain. Yard by yard, puff by puff, the breeze hauled the figure through the blue flowers, over the boulders in red stones, till it lay huddled among the shattered rocks of the mountaintop. Here the breeze was fitful and allowed the strings of the parachute to tangle and festoon; and the figure sat, its helmeted head between his knees, held by a complication of lines. When the breeze blew, the lines would strain taught and some accident of this pull lifted the head and chest upright so that the figure seem to appear across the brow of the mountain. Then each time the wind dropped, the lines would slacken in the figure bow forward again, sinking its head between his knees. So as the stars moved across the sky, the figure sat on the mountaintop and bowed and sank and bowed again.
As the situation deteriorates and confidence in Ralph diminishes Jack again tries to become chief. He again fails. One night a boy named Simon climbs up the mountain and sees the beast is actually a dead human tangled in a parachute. He runs back to tell the others who were feasting on a pig the hunters killed. They were doing a war dance and working themselves into a frenzy chanting about killing the beast. As Simon runs into the group to tell them he stumbles and the boys, in the dark with the eerie shadows from the fire and the mindless frenzy they were in, mistakenly stabbed him with the sharpened sticks they fashioned as spears killing him. During the following days Jack’s group grows and Ralph’s dwindles to just him and Piggy. Without adult authority the boys gradually become feral.
“He is like Piggy. He says things like piggy. He isn’t a proper chief.”
“He’s not a hunter. He’d never have got us meat. He isn’t a prefect and we don’t know anything about him. He just gives orders and expects people to obey for nothing.”
They still want Ralph as chief so hurt Jack takes off and a few follow him. Jack and the hunters kill a pig and raid the camp of Ralph and the others to steal fire.
Simon finds the pilot’s body.
The tangle of lines showed him the mechanics of this parody; he examined the white nasal bones, the teeth, the colors of corruption. He saw how piteously the layers of rubber and canvas held together the poor body that should be rotting away. Then the wind blew again in the figure lifted, bowed, and breathed foully at him.
Jack and his hunters are having a feast of the pig and doing a war type dance.
“Kill the beast! Cut his throat! Spill his blood!”
“Kill the beast! Cut his throat! Spill his blood!”
At night in the shadows and in their frenzy, mistaking him for the beast, they kill Simon when he comes to tell them of the body in the parachute. They raid Ralph’s camp to steal Piggy’s glasses to make fire.
Jack feels threatened over the possibility of Ralph regaining his authority and replacing him so he and hunters try to find him. Ralph and Piggy are the only two left in the original group. At the beginning of the hunt they end up killing Piggy by knocking him off a ledge. Unable to find Ralph Jack sets fire to the trees and bushes to smoke him out. In their increasingly feral state they set the island on fire. As Ralph is fleeing down the beach with Jack right behind him brandishing a spear he stumbles and hides his face in the sand expecting to be killed. It doesn’t happen and confused he looks up and sees a British naval officer. The officer tells them they saw the smoke from the fire and came over to investigate. Upon inquiry the officer finds out that two kids were dead. He is surprised and scolds them for acting so uncivilized. The story ends with the officer waiting for them to get together so he can take them aboard his gunboat which the officer gazes at in the harbor. As soon as he rescues them he will resume his role in the war of the adults.
He [Ralph] stumbled over a root and the cry that pursued him rose even higher. He saw a shelter burst into flames and the fire flapped at his right shoulder and there was the glitter of the water. Then he was down, rolling over and over in the warm sand, crouching with arm up to ward off, trying to cry for mercy.
He staggered to his feet, tensed for more terrors, and looked up at a huge peaked cap.
A naval officer stood on the sand, looking down at Ralph in wary astonishment. On the beach behind him was a cutter, her bows hauled up and held by two ratings. In the stern-sheets another rating held a submachine gun.
The officer looked at Ralph doubtfully for a moment, then took his hand away from the butt of the revolver.
“Are there any adults – any grown-ups with you?”
“Dumbly, Ralph shook his head. He turned a half pace on the sand. A semicircle of little boys, their bodies streaked with colored clay, sharp sticks in their hands, were standing on the beach making no noise at all.”
“Fun and games,” said the officer
“We saw your smoke. What have you been doing, having a war something? Nobody killed, I hope? Any dead bodies?”
“Only two. And they’ve gone.”
“I should have thought,” said the officer as he visualized the search before him,” I should have thought that a pack of British boys – You’re all British aren’t you? – Would have been able to put up a better show than that – I mean –“
The officer, surrounded by these noises, was moved and a little embarrassed. He turned away to give them time to pull themselves together; and waited, allowing his eyes to rest on the trim cruiser in the distance.
The message of the story is without rules and laws how quickly people revert to savagery. The question is the adults rescue the kids but who will rescue the adults? The island is basically a microcosm of the macrocosm that is the world. It is a good read and asks questions that need answers. It is also interesting to note that the boys that deteriorated the fastest were the religious choir singers, the ones organized in a rigid hierarchy. What happens to humanity without rules and laws? We all know what happens to humanity WITH rules and laws. Watching the world around us it is easy to visualize an above scenario. The US and the West have constantly injected themselves into world affairs to “make the world safe for democracy” or to aid business or to rescue this group or that group from whatever. I don’t think anyone ever thought about or asked “who will rescue us?”