Lord of the Flies, by William Golding, tells the tale of a group of young boys stranded on a desert island. With fine weather and a plentiful supply of fresh fruit and water they initially relish the freedom from adult control and enjoy their tranquil surroundings. A leader, Ralph, is elected from among the older boys and basic rules are agreed. Shelter must be constructed and a fire lit in an attempt to attract the attention of a passing ship. They wish to be rescued.
As time passes it becomes clear that teamwork is required if tasks are to be completed but the boys are easily distracted. They start each assignment with gusto but are soon drawn into games with their peers. Thoughtlessness results in a large swathe of forest being set alight. One young boy vanishes.
Ralph is frustrated by the other’s inattention, especially to the fire that should be their beacon. Another of the older boys, Jack, believes that hunting for meat is more important and starts to challenge Ralph’s authority. Meanwhile the younger boys are suffering nightmares, spreading fear of monsters.
When Jack succeeds in organising a group sufficiently to kill a pig he expects to be lauded. Instead his achievement is overshadowed by Ralph’s anger at inattention to the fire which was not burning when a ship was spotted on the distant horizon. There is a schism between the boys that will lead to tragedy. The order brought to the island by a lifetime of following rules starts to break down.
“Roger stooped, picked up a stone, aimed, and threw it at Henry – threw it to miss. […] there was a space round Henry, perhaps six yards in diameter, into which he dare not throw. Here, invisible yet strong, was the taboo of the old life. Round the squatting child was the protection of parents and school and policemen and the law. Roger’s arm was conditioned by a civilization that knew nothing of him and was in ruins.”
The monsters exist but not in the forms dreamed of. They are a thirst for power, a demand for validation, a freedom to indulge the worst aspects of human nature. The boys have been raised to obey, often by coercion. With just a few exceptions, they follow the pack.
As would be expected from a winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature the writing flows. The story has a breadth and depth belied by its length. The tension builds towards the denouement, disaster inevitable. It was challenging to read.
Although this story is of a group of young boys it is an allegory for society. Dictators come to power by sewing seeds of fear and then promising a solution in exchange for loyalty. There will always be those hungry for power, unwilling to work for the benefit of wider society. History teaches that they will not be daunted by morality, that they will do whatever it takes to mould the world around their greed and selfish desires.
This book is my March read for the 2016 Classics Challenge.