Lord of the Flies

Lord of the Flies by William Golding

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is one of those long overdue books that I should have read as a teenager. Reading it now was a curiously detached experience. I could not find what made the book such a universal classic, and put it down in much the same mood as I picked it up. This is not what a novel is supposed to do.

Golding’s book is a parable for the savagery lurking in the breast of humankind. It shows how a group of English children, when stripped of their usual environment, revert to barbarism and cruelty; and this is supposed to show how our civilization rests on a precarious foundation that may crumble at any moment.

Unfortunately, I found that Golding’s parable did not quite illustrate his intended moral. If a group of young children were stranded on an island for months on end, and finally found still alive with only three or four casualties, it would be considered a miracle and not a failure of civilization. Indeed, I found myself more often amazed at the children’s resilience and organization than at their failure to work together and resist their more primitive impulses.

Perhaps I was relatively unaffected by the violence because, like Golding, I have worked as a teacher. Quite apart from the angelic image of innocent childhood common in media, any teacher knows that children can be remarkably mean-spirited and even cruel—not to mention the other vices. I bet that Golding had a similar experience, and this must have been a major influence on the book. The only people I can imagine being shocked by this book are those who cling to an unrealistically rosy picture of our nature—in other words, people who have never worked as teachers.

All jokes aside, any contemporary reader will note the socially questionable assumptions underlying Golding’s portrayal of the boys’ descent into barbarism. For Golding, painting one’s face and chanting is savage; building shelters and fires is civilized. Yet to my mind, the “hunters” of this book displayed capabilities that are just as crucial to civilization as the supposedly civilized children. Rather than coming across as a sane man in a madhouse, Ralph seemed to be a rather ineffectual leader with no grasp of the importance of ritual, recreational, and aesthetic activities within a society.

So much for the philosophy. As a novel, I also thought that the book was lacking. None of the characters is finely drawn; they emerge from and then lapse into a kind of generalized boyhood. The dialogue was choppy and unconvincing. Golding’s writing is on sturdier ground in his narration and description, though for my part his prose could be a bit stiff.

To sum up, I cannot see why this book has become such a permanent fixture in our popular reading lists.



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3 thoughts on “Review: Lord of the Flies

  1. The reason why I love this book it’s because we read it at the “instituto” -high school- our senior year for ethics.
    It’s the conversation, and the shock factor when the teacher flips it on us and we start to find who corresponds to the book characters in our class.
    As literature and as a metaphor, you are right, what a fiasco, as a tool to get teens to talk about behavior, ethics, survival, is there a Right and a Wrong? or are they dependant on situations?
    It has some captivating factor when you are young. I wasn’t a very experienced reader, I read at that age as an expedient to something else.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I think you’re right that the book can generate valuable conversation. And Lord knows it can be hard to get teenagers to have thoughtful conversations!

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      1. Tell me about it. I have been subbing since August at my daughter’s high school, and I am currently covering a Health Science class. It’s so hard to get them pass their usual interactions into something more serious.

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