sunnuntai 22. helmikuuta 2009

William Golding: Lord of the Flies

"Can't they see? Can't they understand? Without the smoke signal we'll die here? Look at that!"
A wave of heated air trembled above the ashes but without a trace of smoke.

"We can't keep one fire going. And they don't care. And what's more--" He looked intensely into Piggy's streaming face.

"What's more, I don't care sometimes. Supposing I got like the others - not caring. What'd become of us?"
Piggy took off his glasses, deeply troubled.

"I dunno, Ralph. We just got to go on, that's all. That's what grown-ups would do."

We're all familiar with stories of people being shipwrecked on an uninhabited island and having to survive in one way or another until they - inevitably - get rescued. Children read classic adventure stories like Coral Island, Treasure Island and Swiss Family Robinson. These are relate light-hearted, exciting and happy adventures that children encounter when they find themselves on an idyllic paradise island in the middle of the ocean. But William Golding decided to write a novel about what could really happen if a group of children were to be left to survive on their own on an island. He gives a realistic depiction of the degeneration of a group of English schoolboys, stranded on a desert island.

Spoilers below:

I first read Lord of the Flies for English class in 8th grade and wrote on essay comparing Ralph and Jack as leaders. At that time, I completely failed to understand the significance of the ending of the book, as I remember concluding my essay with a naïve comment on the "happy end" when the boys are found and rescued, ready to be taken back to "civilization".

/spoilers end.

The second reading was for English class again, about 7 years ago. Even then, I don't think I fully grasped the underlying allegorical implications of the "society" on the island and its bleak connections with the adult world. Now, after the third reading, I'm finally beginning to understand the novel more thoroughly and actually find some more interesting aspects in it.

The thing that struck me most this time is the seeming absence of female characters or femininity in the novel. All the children on the island are boys and no female characters actually appear. However, although stereotypical masculinity clearly dominates the island (emphasized through action, hunting, violence and killing), it does not exist without its feminine counterpart. Some of the boys (most obviously Piggy, as well as Ralph occasionally) are portrayed as somewhat feminine - stereotypically staying at "home" and looking after the smaller children, the "littluns". In their urge to colonize and dominate the island (the society) around them, the other boys symbolically kill the only real female creature they find - a sow with piglets.

Lord of the Flies is mandatory reading in a lot of schools for a good reason. Although many young readers may not fully understand the incredibly bleak worldview of the novel, it will certainly give everyone something to think about. What is human nature when it is stripped down to the core, its basic elements: hunger, power, greed, survival...

William Golding: Lord of the Flies. Faber & Faber. 1974.

Wikipedia: Lord of the Flies
Wikipedia: William Golding

See also:

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