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Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Lord of the Flies, William Golding

I finally got round to reading Lord of the Flies a couple of weeks ago and even though it was perhaps one of the hardest books to read emotionally (up there with Lionel Shriver's 'We Need to Talk about Kevin' and Cormac McCarthy's 'The Road'), it was fabulous and a book that I really wished I had studied at GCSE.

It’s a fable that ultimately explores what humanity really bubbles down to when society and rules are peeled away. The book was written in 1954, a time when the world was still reeling after the horrors of the Second World War, a war that revealed the dangers inherent in racism. It showed thousands and thousands of ordinary civilians committing the most terrible of acts, leading to the almost liquidation of an entire race. Why? Research into social influence has tried to explain this, given reasons such as people acting in an agentic state, the idea of graduated commitment and the role of an authoritarian personality. It also suggests the combined importance of inter-group hostility, self-justification and blaming the victim, as well as motivational factors such as protecting their families. As well as World War Two, there was the growing threat of the atomic bomb and the extent of the destruction that it could cause. It seemed inevitable then that William Golding would have believed that humanity was ultimately destructive and would eventually turn on itself, even in a group of young schoolboys stranded on an island, with no adults, no authority, and no sense of society.

One of the best things about the book is the way that William Golding tells the story so simply yet so effortlessly beautifully – each thing takes on a meaning, from the conch being symbolic of the society that the boys try to bring into the island, to the imagery of the tree with fruit and flowers growing of it, making the forest representative of a Garden of Eden with its religious connotations of original sin and temptation. There is also the exploration of Freudian ideas of the id, ego and superego, all tying neatly into AS psychology.

I was talking with my friends about what would happen if instead of boys, there were girls on the island. We concluded that the girls would generally try to cling onto society more than the boys in the book and whilst they might turn savage, they wouldn't go so far as to kill each other - I suppose, linking to the quote that if girls ran the world, there'd be no war. Then if there was just one girl and many other boys, a concept which I think would have been really interesting for Golding to explore, the girl would probably be objectified to some extent and used as a status thing for the two boys competing for leadership and power.

If you haven't read it, you really must! It gave me a whole new perspective on life, as ultimately everything can be pared down to what it would be like on an island. Even a theme such as materialism can arguably lie in the use of shells for necklaces and the quality of houses that they build and fight over.

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