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Lord of the Flies
I think we can all remember what it felt like the first time we weren’t under the watchful eye of our parents. I remember these were Friday nights for me. My parents would drop me off at the mall. And for at least three hours, they didn’t have to worry about every little thing that I did, or every little thing that I said. It was complete exhilaration.
I imagine is a lot like what the boys on the island in Lord of the Flies must have felt like, when they realized there weren’t any adults there. Well it’s important to be able to visualize the setting of Lord of the Flies, and also to be able to understand how the characters feel. It’s also important to take a look at the author’s background, and understand the questions that he asked as he wrote the novel.
Let’s take some time to explore William Golding’s background, and the questions that guided his writing. William Golding wrote Lord of the Flies in about 1945, right at the close of World War II. Before we get talking about the actual story though, it’s important to note some things about Golding’s background, so that we can better understand what message he’s trying to communicate to his readers.
So the first thing we need to know is that William Golding grew up in England. His parents sent him off to college. It was there that he started studying Science. However, that only lasted for a couple of years, because he realized he had a love of literature. At that point he switched his major to Literature, and Philosophy.
After college, he became a school teacher at a Prep school which gives us an idea of why he might have used British prep school boys as the characters in this novel. He taught for a couple of years. Then he was actually drafted into World War II himself. He served with British Royal Navy for five years.
It is important to know that while he was serving with the Navy, he was decorated for bravery, and for valor. He was a very, very successful soldier when he was with them. However, it was those very experiences during those five years that really changed the way he viewed humanity, and caused him to question why people do the things that they do.
Essential questions are essentially questions that really can apply to both the book, and our lives. It helps give the book deeper meaning, and guide us through the reading. The first thing that Golding really plays into the book is the question why go good people do bad things? We’ve all been there. We’ve all known people that maybe they’re even our friends, but they get tempted to do something bad. Maybe they want to shoplift something from a store. Maybe they want to break a rule, and stay out late. So Golding really wondered why do these people that we would consider to be good people sometimes get tempted to do bad things.
Another question that he was wondering about, was what motivates people to behave, or even to misbehave. In this case Golding had a lot of experiences in the war. Some people played by the rules, some people didn’t. He wanted to know what caused people to make the decisions that they did about their behaviors.
Finally, he really kind of played into this idea of what roles do rules and laws play in human behavior? Golding was thrust into a circumstance of war where really our everyday rules of society go out the window, and suddenly things that weren’t allowed before are allowed. So he wanted to explore this idea of what would happen if we took rules and laws away. Would people behave, or would they misbehave? Or what influence do rules and laws have on the way that people act.
Now that we've taken a look at Golding’s motivation for writing this book, and some of the issues that he’s going explore in it, it’s important to get down some of the details that we need to know about the actual plot of the book.
The first thing you need to know, is that when you sit down to read this book, you’re not going to meet any female characters. In fact the book’s comprised completely of male characters. It’s set in a war time. We can assume it’s a projected World War III. These boys have been flown off from their prep school in England to an undetermined location. However, they don’t make it there as their plane is shot down. They find themselves on a deserted tropical island with no adults.
What you’re going to do is you’re going to meet the main characters. The boys that really are followed on the island are Jack, Ralph, Piggy, and Simon. Golding really follows them around to see what their reactions are to the situations, and to the fact they’re trying to establish a society, essentially on this island. There are struggles along the way.
The boys first elect Ralph to be the chief, but soon you’ll see that there’s a developing antagonism between Jack and Ralph about who would best lead the island, and how to best lead these boys. They’ll have to figure things out like how do we organize these boys? How do we get them to behave? What kinds of rules and laws should we have? How are we going to find food? Who’s going to find the food? Who’s going to be responsible for trying to help us get rescue.
Along the way, you’ll also see that the boys discover a beast of sorts. This also stirs up fear in them. So we’ll see a little bit of Golding exploring what fear does to people, and how to best control it. The book ends up at its climax where the boys have to make a decision. Do they really want to have fun? Or do they want to be rescued?
Now that we’ve talked about some of the nitty-gritty plot details in the book, it’s important to realize that Lord of Flies is also what we consider an allegory. An allegory is a type of extended metaphor where the characters, the objects, the settings, have a meaning other than just their literal meaning. They have a deeper meaning. They’re trying to communicate a deeper message. Essentially, allegories are created in order to communicate a moral, a political, a social, or a religious point of view to the reader. So what we need to know about allegories, in Lord of the Flies is you’re going to get two stories essentially. You’re going to get a story about boys on the island, but it’s really important to go back to that story, and pick it apart so that we can see what it means on a deeper level.
There are some famous allegories out there. Consider the ‘Chronicles of Narnia’ specifically The Lion, the witch, and the Wardrobe. The life of Aslan in that movie, Chronicles, the life of Jesus Christ. Same thing with the novel, ‘Animal Farm’ by George Orwell. We see on the surface a book about a bunch of barnyard animals, but essentially what it’s doing is communicating to us the struggle between the capitalist, and the communist sides of government.
So it’s really important as you go back to Lord of the Flies, and as you start to read it, to think about it on two levels. Think about it not only those plot details that we discussed, but also go back to those essential questions that Golding was asking, and start to think what is he really trying to communicate to me?
In this episode, we discussed the author of the book, Lord of the Flies, William Golding, and how his life experiences, especially the experiences that he had as a soldier in World War II, led him to pen his masterpiece. Remember, that those experiences he had more, caused him to ask essential questions about human nature. They led him to wonder about how rules and laws impact people’s behavior, why good people do bad things. So in turn he decided to pen an allegory.
As you read, remember that an allegory has two sides. A literal side; a story about boys on the island. A figurative side; one that explores the answers to those essential questions about human nature.