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Saturday, December 12, 2009

I'm frightened. Of us.

Lord of the Flies by William Golding

Spoiler Alert: Plot Summary
Lord of the Flies is a story of adolescence. It tells the story of a group of British boys who are stranded on an island. There are no grownups, so one boy, Ralph, takes charge. He is elected chief of the group, despite the fact that another boy, Jack, wants to be in charge. Jack is the ringleader of a group of boys who are all in a choir together. Ralph is voted the leader, and he declares that two things are essential: smoke (for a signal) and shelter. Jack wants to hunt the pigs on the island, so he takes his crew out to hunt. After a while, a few boys announce that a beast is living on the island. This is debated for some time, and this 'beast' eventually forces the boys off the top of the mountain where they had been keeping up their fire. Eventually, competition rears its ugly head, and Jack forces a schism in the group. Ralph, Piggy, Simon, and a pair of twins (Samneric) are left with the 'littluns' and Jack and his crew turn savage, painting their bodies and hunting wildly. There's a moment of almost reconciliation between the two groups, but a frenzied dance and the bizarre approach of something that is assumed to be the 'beast' leads to a brutal murder. It turns out the unknown creature that frightened the group was Simon, and he was trying to tell them that the beast is simply an old corpse stuck in a parachute and pilot's clothes. After this, the group splits gain. The savages come in the night and steal Piggy's glasses (which are the only way to start a fire). Piggy, the twins, and Ralph go to the home of the savages (Castle Rock) to get Piggy's glasses back, but things don't go as planned. Ralph is attacked by Jack, the twins are captured and tortured into joining Jack's tribe, and Piggy is forced off a cliff to his death. The savages then focus all of their attention on hunting Ralph. They throw boulders at him, chase him, and eventually light the whole island on fire in an attempt to catch (and/or kill) Ralph. Just when we think Ralph is done for, he is saved by a navy officer, who has just arrived in a ship. The officer says he saw their smoke signal, and the boys are rescued.
Spoiler Over: Continue Here

This book was excellent, in my opinion. My opinion of the book was only enhanced by the fact that I work with middle school boys, all of whom could easily have slipped into the characters in this book. I especially see the connection between Piggy and Ralph with a pair of boys in my after school program, and it made me want to watch those boys very carefully from now on.

- I think it's interesting that the whole premise of the book is that there are no grownups. What would the story have been like if there had been one grownup? Two? Just a thought.

- Jack has a fascinating character development in the novel. He goes from saying things like, "I ought to be chief. I can sing C-sharp." to leading chants of "kill the pig, cut her throat, spill her blood", to suggesting that they use a "littlun" next time they need to re-enact the play of hunting a pig, to making his followers chant, "the chief has spoken", to ruling the island in a chaotic, despotic rule of violence. It's evident from the beginning of the novel that he seeks control, and that he is fiercely interested in killing animals, so it's not really that big of a jump to the end result, but he is just a teenage choir boy who ends up leading a guerilla gang. I guess that happens fairly often in other countries, actually. And though my students are all really good boys and girls, it's hard to know what would happen if they were stranded for such a long time and leadership and communication broke down.

- When Jack and his boys kill a pig, Golding writes that they landed "heavy and fulfilled upon her". This felt pretty intensely sexual, and was in fact the only reference to any kind of desire other than violent hunting desire, which is interesting considering we are dealing with a pack of adolescent boys.

- The "Lord of the Flies" turns out to be the head of the pig, which Jack and his boys leave on a stick as a gift for "the beast". It's ironic that the beast turns out to be nothing more than a deceased human. I suppose it speaks to the idea that the beast is within us, not some massive creature with claws and wings. The fact that Simon is killed when he runs up to the group in the dark trying to announce the news that there is no beast at all is upsetting and horridly ironic.

- The title of this post is a comment Ralph makes after what happens to Simon. Based on the way the book ends, Ralph should be scared of the boys.

- Piggy (who isn't really done justice in the synopsis, which I apologize for) is a pudgy boy who serves as the brains behind Ralph. He is really very sweet, but gets picked on for the majority of the novel for his size, his glasses, and his ass-mar (think asthma with a British accent). Piggy tries to reason with Jack and his gang when he goes to demand the return of his glasses, saying, "Which is better - to have rules and agree? Or to hunt and kill?" After which, a large rock sends Piggy off a cliff to his gruesome death. So, I guess they answered that question for him.

- Ralph is an extremely intriguing character, in that he's pushed to be chief by Piggy, and several times seems to want rather to follow than to lead, but he ends up being the hero of the book (along with Piggy and Simon, of course). He describes several times a "curtain in his brain" that keeps him from focusing on the idea at hand. I know exactly what he means! Sometimes, (and I find it happens quite often when I'm speaking with a student about having done something wrong) I feel a curtain slide across my brain, and I can't clearly elucidate what's wrong with the behavior I'm seeing. Don't worry! I don't think the students notice, as the curtain moment is never more than a split-second, but it feels just the way Ralph describes it.

- Ralph cries at the end when he's saved, and Golding says, "he wept for the end of innocence, the darkness of man's heart". Such a difficult lesson, truly learned "the hard way."

Again, I really loved this book. Dark, intriguing, extremely thought-provoking, and, I think, really insightful study of adolescent (particularly male adolescent) dynamics and behavior.

I will end with a quote from Ralph, Simon, and Jack, during their first hike up the mountain and after their first view of the island:


On to The Peaches of Vengeance. Oh, you know what I mean.

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