Classic Children’s Books: Lord of the Flies
Have you ever wondered was actually goes on in a child’s mind? How do kids see adults…really? William Golding gave lot of thought to it in ‘Lord of the Flies’. Though it was not very popular when first published, it became a bestseller over time.
Author: William Golding
TIME Magazine chose this as one of 100 best English-language novels from 1923 to date. William Golding was at a loss to explain its popularity. He put it down to the fact that the book ‘never makes any excuses for society’.
Stepping Beyond the Protected World
The book seems like every child’s fantasy – a group of boys stranded on a faraway island with no rules, no parents and absolutely no authority watching over them. One would imagine that it would be a story of children running innocently free.
That is not what ‘Lord of the Flies’ is about, though. The children in this story turn wild, doing outrageous and unacceptable things. As an allegory of democracy and governance, it seems to mirror the adult world we live in. The children are not able to create a society in which they can thrive in unaided – instead they fight, bicker and even hurt each other.
A Remarkable Tale About Childhood
Based during the time of the Second World War, the story is about planeload of young boys stranded on a tropical island. On the outset, we meet the twelve-year-old future leader – the athletic Ralph – and bespectacled, fat, asthmatic, but wise ‘Piggy’. Together they find a conch and call the other boys across the island.
After some argument, Ralph is voted the leader of the group and Jack becomes the head of the choirboys. He, however, still covets the leadership. Piggy, though not popular, becomes Ralph’s lieutenant. In this meeting, a little boy with a birthmark speaks of the ‘beast’, which scares the little boys, Piggy tries to explain that there is no beast, but irrational fears have already caught on to the group.
After exploring the island, the boys start a fire. Piggy tries to warn them that this is folly, but instead they use his glasses help to light the fire. Soon the fire rages out of control, destroying most of the island. In the rush of events, the little one who cried ‘Beast’ goes missing. Ralph, the leader, orders that the fire be tended to help in their rescue.
Life on the island turns chaotic with Jack becoming the ‘tyrant’ of ‘Castle Rock’. A passing ship fails to rescue them because of the ongoing chaos and atavistic chanting. Ralph tries to bring in control with Piggy and another boy named Simon, but things are out of hand.
In the sky above, a dogfight ensues between two planes and a parachuting pilot dies. Seeing him in the dark, the frightened children think that he is the beast. Ralph, Jack and his assistant Roger climb the mountain to check it out, but their nerve fails them.
Jack calls for new election, but loses. This causes him to form a new group (in political terms, this could be seen as the opposition party). Eventually, most of the older boys leave Ralph to join this disorderly group. They go hunting and plan a grand feast to establish their presence and authority. Before the grand feast, an animal head is put on a stick as an appeasement offering to the ‘Beast. Simon hallucinates that the pig’s head is speaking to him – this becomes the ‘Lord of the Flies’.
He understands that the ‘beast’ is really the dead pilot. Rushing down, he tries to explain what he saw, but instead ends up frightening the little children, who kill him by mistake. Ralph’s tribe gets smaller, while Jack’s increases and becomes stronger. They steal Piggy’s glasses to make another fire. When Ralph and he go to ask for it back, Piggy dies in a struggle. A forest fire starts once again – a passing naval ship sees it and comes to the rescue.
On seeing adults after such a long time, Ralph cries. The stories of the children on the island shock the British officers. This is not what they expected… it is definitely not the ‘British Way’. One of characters, Percival, is unable to remember his name and address. This symbolizes their loss of identity. Throughout the book, he has clung to these all-important pieces of information about himself, chanting them when he wants to sleep or calm himself down.
Looking Beyond The Surface, Into The Child’s Mind
‘Lord of the Flies’ makes for disturbing reading, but it has some important clues to parents ingrained in its pages. Can we understand the message Golding sends out in his book in context with the present day? Can we perhaps better comprehend some children’s predilection towards scary stories and games, and perhaps even aggressive computer games?
Much of the children’s behavior on the island is a reflection of their impulsiveness. In ‘Lord of the Flies’, the author plays on these impulses and draws some conclusions. He examines children’s need for excitement, security and finally authority and makes a case of their reactions to each impulse. Probably the most important message in ‘Lord of the Flies’ is simply this – without some authority to control them, the children fight and hurt each other.
In an age where we are handing over more freedom to our children, what does this story tell us? As parents, we do not allow our children to ‘run wild’ – yet all human beings have to be given some measure of freedom. Responsible parenting is not easy, and whoever has been with children will know how close this book is to the truth.
Perhaps we can say that civilization helps in retaining the innocence in children. We need to be aware of and accept their primeval instincts. Only this will help us guide our children to civilized maturity.
Copyright © Shyama Dutta