Lord of the Flies was the book chosen for me by the recent Classics Club spin. Somehow, I managed to make it through all of secondary school and an English Literature A-Level without having to read this book, and it's always felt like a bit of a gap in my reading history. The story centres around a group of English schoolboys, mysteriously stranded on a desert island. In the absence of adults, they set about electing a chief and dividing up the chores necessary for survival in a fair and democratic way. At first everything goes well, but gradually the society they have attempted to build starts to break down as their more savage natures and desires come to the forefront.
I really liked Lord of the Flies. It's a short, easy to read classic that explores a particular theme (the darker side of humanity) very well. Golding does a great job of showing the gradual decline of the boys into violence; at the beginning of the novel none of them can stomach even killing a pig for food, but by the end they think nothing of performing extremely violent acts against each other. There's a lot of talk of rules, and of rules being what holds societies together, and as soon as someone breaks the rules, things do start to decline. Lord of the Flies exposes how thin what we call civilisation really is, something that we see all too often in real life in the event of civil wars and genocides.
Something I was interested in as I read the book was the whole issue of belonging to a group, and how it can make you act in a certain way. When Ralph is chief at the beginning of the novel and clearly in charge, the other children responded the way he wanted them to. But when Jack forms a rival group, complete with war paint, the same children act completely differently. Their costumes become a mask that lets them act in ways they would never have acted back in England, and their actions are sanctioned by being part of the group. Again, this is something we definitely see in real life, so Golding's analysis is spot on.
I didn't find Lord of the Flies as shocking as I thought I was going to. I knew the basic idea of the story before starting, but not the specifics, and I knew that the thought of these nice middle-class English boys being so violent caused a stir at the time. But it didn't shock me, as their decline into 'savagery' just made perfect sense in the novel. We do all have a darker side and impulses that we would never normally act on, and history is full of examples of groups of people taking things too far.
Still, Lord of the Flies was a thought provoking and enjoyable read. I think it's more of an 'ideas' book than a story, although the plot does move along at a brisk pace and the events are engaging. The characters fit the ideas first and foremost, which meant that I didn't have an emotional connection with them, and this stopped Lord of the Flies from becoming a favourite of mine.
Source: Personal copy
First Published: 1954
Edition Read: Penguin Modern Classics, 1964
Score: 4 out of 5
The Classics Club: Book 27/72
My full list of classics to read can be found here.