'Lord of the Flies' Review

Lord of the Flies Re-Covered
Timo Meyer timohmeyer/ Flickr CC

"Lord of the Flies," a 1954 story of savagery and survival by William Golding, is considered a classic. Modern Library rates it the 41st best novel of all time. The story, which takes place during an undefined war, begins when a group of English schoolboys survive a plane crash and find themselves stranded on a desert island without any adults. This might seem like an enticing opportunity for any teen seeking freedom, but the group soon degenerates into a mob, terrorizing and even killing each other.

The Plot

Without the usual authority figures to direct the boys, they must fend for themselves. Ralph, one of the boys, takes on a leadership position. He knows little more than any of the others, but he manages to gather them in one place and is voted leader. At his side is the compassionate, clever, but fatally clumsy Piggy, a nicely rendered character who serves as Ralph's conscience.

Ralph's election is contested by Jack, a cool customer with his own squadron of followers, a former choir under his leadership. Jack is a force of nature with intentions of leading hunting parties deep into the primordial jungle. With Piggy's planning, Ralph's reluctant leadership and Jack's energy, the castaways establish a successful, thriving village, at least for a day or two. Soon, the few sensible efforts -- such as keeping a fire burning at all times -- fall by the wayside.

Jack grows bored, restless and resentful of Ralph's leadership position. With his hunters in tow, Jack splits off from the main group. From there, the rest of the book consists of the descent of Jack's tribe into base brutality. As Jack successfully recruits more boys, Ralph becomes more isolated. Then, Jack's tribe kills Piggy -- his glasses smashed in a moment of symbolism, signaling the end of rational thought and civilized behavior.

Pig Worship

Jack's tribe hunts and kills a real pig, and sticks the head of the animal on a spear. Group members paint their faces and begin a frenzied worship of the pig's head, including sacrifices to the beast. Golding later explained that the pig's head -- the "lord of the flies" -- is literally translated from the biblical Hebrew, "Beelzababug," which is another name for Satan. During this satanic worship, the boys kill one another of their own, Simon.

The Rescue

Jack's troop having honed their hunting skills move in on Ralph. There is no use appealing to their better nature now. They have abandoned all compassion. Ralph is cornered and seems a goner when suddenly an adult -- a naval officer -- arrives on the beach, with his uniform gleaming. His appearance puts everyone in a state of shock.

The officer is disgusted with the savagery of the boys, but then he eyes his cruiser in the distance. He has saved the children from their violent world, but he's about to pile them onto a military vessel, where savagery and violence will ostensibly continue. Golding's description on the final page of the novel clarifies the symbolic overtones: "The officer ... prepares to take the children off the island in a cruiser which will presently be hunting its enemy in the same implacable way. And who will rescue the adult and his cruiser?"