Saturday, September 12, 2009

25. “Lord of the Flies” by William Golding

Year of first publication: 1954
Genre: novel, adventure novel, allegorical novel
Country: England

In italiano: Il Signore delle Mosche di William Golding, edito da Mondadori nella Collana Oscar Classici Moderni (1980), € 8,40

Nobel Prize for Literature 1983

About the author: William Golding was born in 1911 in Cornwall, England. After graduating from Oxford, he worked as a teacher actor and director, then became a schoolteacher. He participated in the Second World War and became aware of the evils of which humanity is capable. After the war, he resumed teaching and began writing novels. His first novel, Lord of the Flies (1954), after having been rejected by more than twenty publishers, became a best seller in both Britain and the USA. Golding retired from teaching and published several other novels, notably Pincher Martin (1956), and a play, The Brass Butterfly (1958). He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1983.

Plot: A group of English schoolboys crashes on an uninhabited tropical island during a raging war. Free from the rules of society and civilization, they descend into savagery. The boys divide in two factions: a group works together and tries to achieve common goals, while the other seeks only violence and conflict. The novel is an allegory of the conflict between the civilizing instinct and the savage nature of humanity.

Some thoughts: Quite a few classics of contemporary English literature are passing in my hands in this period. This novel didn’t grab me as it should, considering its reputation. Maybe it was the writing style: Golding uses a non-poetical, straightforward language that is good for young adults (as a matter of fact, this book is widely read in secondary schools all over England) but it didn’t work well with me. Apart from this, I appreciated the philosophical interludes and the symbolisms of the novel (the shell used by Ralph to ask for an assembly, for example, represents order and democratic power; Piggy’s glasses are a symbol for science and rationality etc.).
Whether the story of Lord of the Flies is a symbol of the evils of which humanity is capable or whether it is a representation of the history of civilization until the Second World War (humanity had just come out from the horrors of war when Golding wrote the novel), it is much more than the story of a group of boys crashing on an island and trying to survive (LOST, anyone?).
The central problem of the novel is the savage instinct that lurks within every human being: the monster feared by the boys, the Lord of the Flies, is not a physical beast, but rather this evil impulse that prompts every human being to enforce one’s will with the use of violence. The novel shows how different people feel the instincts of civilization and savagery: Piggy and Ralph almost don’t have a savage instinct, even though they are briefly tempted by the savages, whether people like Roger and Jack cannot even understand why the other group want to preserve their civilization. Simon is the only truly good character, because his moral code is not forced by society. Unlike Ralph, who keeps repeating that they are all English (read civilized) boys, Simon is naturally good to everyone and in fact he gets killed, meaning that the savage instinct is far more widespread and common among people. Simon is the first one to understand that the beast doesn’t really exist but it’s rather something that’s inside them. The beast, the Lord of the Flies, physically represented by a severed sow’s head that Jack had impaled on a stake, becomes the totem of the savages. Jack learns to use the fear of the beast to scare other people and turn them to his will, a reminder of how religion and superstition can be used to manipulate people and gain power.
I would recommend this book especially to students in secondary schools, maybe when they are studying the reasons that led to the Second World War, one of the periods in history when humanity lost sight of his civilization and descended into savagery.


  1. I am preparing a list of 100 books I have to read and i think this is one. thanks for the comment. I love it...

  2. Yes, it's definitely a must read!