David's Reviews > Lord of the Flies

Lord of the Flies by William Golding
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Aug 02, 07

Recommended for: cynical, pessimistic people, and students in English boarding schools
Read in January, 1983

I just don't buy it.

This book is famous for unmasking what brutes we are, just under the surface, but, well, for all the hype, it just isn't convincing. People--even teenage boys--just aren't as savage as Golding seems to want us to believe, and nothing in this book persuades me otherwise.

Perhaps if I'd gone to English boarding school I'd feel differently--but then that's the real irony of this book, that the brutality from which the British Empire was supposed to save so many people and cultures was in fact the Brits projecting their own savagery onto others.

But the rest of us, no, we aren't monsters underneath. A little messed up, maybe, a little more raw, but nowhere near the kind of brutes that Golding wants us to believe.

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message 1: by Luv (new)

Luv "But the rest of us, no, we aren't monsters underneath."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanford...
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milgram_...


David Interesting counterexample, but no. Milgram was about how people respond to overreaching authority, not to the absence of authority. The other study is more relevant, in that the students in that study were making their own decisions once the wheels were set in motion, but even so, the study was predicated on an unnaturally harsh and authoritarian institution. Consequently, I think it does more to support my view than what Golding appears to be saying.

Archon wrote: ""But the rest of us, no, we aren't monsters underneath."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanford...
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milgram_..."





David I spent five years at an Irish boarding school and, believe me, boys between the ages of 11 and 14 are every bit as monstrous as the book portrays them. The degree of physical, mental and emotional cruelty was horrific.

The phenomenon does seem to be age-related - generally speaking, the kids who were monsters at 13 turned out reasonably well-adjusted by 17 (the same wasn't necessarily true for their victims, unfortunately). Golding's portrayal seems entirely accurate for the age group in the story. Whether it should be taken as allegorical for human nature generally is, as you suggest, debatable.


David Interesting. But are there significant differences between English boarding schools and Irish boarding schools? I still think the book is more about the flaws in that system than about human nature--a point that I believe Golding completely misses.


Lucas Thomas Excuse me, but what remote wilderness have you been using to live out your 'everyone is nice if you look deep enough' fantasy? You think men are principled? Read some history; you'll be hard pressed to find 1 Ralph for every 10 Jacks. "Fancy thinking the Beast was something you could hunt and kill!"


David I never said everyone was nice, just that most people don't turn into psycho killers if you strand us in the woods for a couple of weeks. And when you look at the behavior of the Chilean miners, of the people surviving the earthquake in Japan, you find people treating one another with decency despite conditions far worse than those described in this book.

Now, I'm not saying that something like the events of Lord of the Flies _couldn't_ happen. But Golding really doesn't make it convincing. You see children descend into horrendous brutality, but you don't see any of the thought processes that make it happen--except for a bizarre excursion into idolatry that is only marginally more convincing than the violence.


David ...and it turns out there's more evidence than I realized to back me up:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/johann-...


Titilope I think the fact, that the book is making you debate this much about it, surely means it is worthy of more than 1 star. For a book to get one star; it wouldn't even really be worth talking about.

A novel that is able to strike up debates about human traits and characteristics is something that should be praised; whether or not you agree with the views put across in the novel? I just think, by giving it 1 star, you are letting your contrasting views to Golding's cloud you better judgement.

It's a wonderful book, and it sure made me and a lot of other think about human nature, and I really do think we all have a bit of Jack and Ralph in us. We are all capable of great evil and great good.


David Thank you for the comment, Titilope. It's an interesting take on this discussion, and I like the way you think.

Unfortunately, my experience on Goodreads seems to indicate (albeit with limited data) that this sort of long discussion arises primarily from one-star reviews.

Of course, the discussion wouldn't happen if there weren't people who also loved this book. But still, the fact that someone else likes a book doesn't necessarily make it good or mean that I should review it more favorably. I'm sure if you looked, you could find similar discussions surrounding Twilight or The Da Vinci Code, neither of which I am interested in taking the time to read.

Taking this line of reasoning to its extreme, books like Mein Kampf and The Protocols of the Elders of Zion have led not only to debate but to war and mass murder. But the controversy doesn't make them good. From what I've read about it, The Protocols was cheesy, derivative, and largely plagiarized. But it spoke to what people wanted to think, and it inflamed their existing prejudices.

Still, I appreciate your taking a reasoned tack in this discussion, and I'm glad you found some insight, even if it was from a book I didn't care for. Thank you for raising the level of this discussion.


Titilope You're very welcome. I completely understand where you are coming from. I really didn't enjoy 1984, as I didn't like the way the characters were portrayed; thought they were a bit too unintelligent. However, I still appreciate that it is a well written book, whether or not, it is to my taste.

However, I see what you mean. Controversy doesn't always = good.


message 11: by David (new) - rated it 1 star

David 1984 is another book I should get around to reading but haven't yet. I liked Animal Farm, but that was a very long time ago, and I haven't read anything else by Orwell.

It's been my impression that the reviews on Goodreads are supposed to be subjective. I mean, every review is subjective to some degree, but when I read the instructions (a few years back, now) I gathered that the ratings were supposed to be how much I liked the book, rather than how important I thought it was.

Appreciating that a book is well written, even if you don't like it--that's an interesting can of worms. I try to be cautious about describing a book as objectively good or bad, but I know what it's like to be impressed by the craftsmanship on something I don't personally care for.


Titilope I would recommend reading 1984; because it's just one of those books that you have to read and form your own opinion of. I didn't like it, but I just couldn't give it 2 stars; just because I'm one of those sad nerds that appreciate literature; and I just think it's well written, and it's a wonderful concept. But, I just didn't enjoy it. Put me in a bit of a pickle when deciding what to rate it out of 5.

On the other hand. You're right, I guess we should rate a book on how much we enjoy it, not on how well it's crafted.

No book is objectively good or bad. However, you can tell when a book is well written or well thought out. I guess that's something that should be praised.


Kenyon "People--even teenage boys--just aren't as savage as Golding seems to want us to believe"
Try being a child trapped on a desert island. only when you have done that are you qualified to say this.


Bethan Went to an English (if it's important) boarding school and get how it could have happened. Kids at that age can be vile and some of them can be powerful people who can lead a group against someone. I speak from experience. There are documented child killers as well e.g. the Bulger case.


message 15: by David (new) - rated it 1 star

David Kenyon wrote: ""People--even teenage boys--just aren't as savage as Golding seems to want us to believe"
Try being a child trapped on a desert island. only when you have done that are you qualified to say this."


Kenyon--unless you've been trapped on an island yourself, then you're no more qualified than I am to discuss this.


message 16: by Ana (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ana "People--even teenage boys--just aren't as savage as Golding seems to want us to believe, and nothing in this book persuades me otherwise"

Oh just watch the news, trust me, it will persuade you.


message 17: by David (new) - rated it 1 star

David The news shows extreme cases, for the most part. And yes, you do see murders and other atrocities in the news, but almost always it's people acting within society--or even at the top of society. When the news shows situations like this (the Chilean miners, for example), the story is almost always one of people pulling together and making the best of the situation.

From what I've read, even the reports of looting after Hurricane Katrina were largely cases of individuals or small groups being vilified for trying to access food and drinkable water.

Since writing this review, I've heard one account that Golding wasn't so much commenting on society as a whole as he was responding to other books of the Swiss Family Robinson type, which show people acting together in a crisis. Apparently, Golding, a schoolteacher, thought, "That's not how my kids would behave." Which, I suppose, would make Lord of the Flies a spectacularly unfunny parody.

If that is the case, then, well, I really can't speak for the kids in the class that William Golding taught. I think it's plausible that events like the ones in this book might happen in one case out of twenty, or one out of a hundred. But still, every commentary on the book seems to talk about how it unmasks the monsters we are underneath, and I don't buy it. And nothing anyone has said here has convinced me otherwise.


message 18: by Cat (new) - rated it 3 stars

Cat "Apparently, Golding, a schoolteacher, thought, "That's not how my kids would behave.""

Thats one of the problems I think. If you look at psychology, there are stages of moral development as well as just cognitive ability, and I think using young boys isn't convincing because 1) they were raised in a competitve boarding school environment ( back to the Stanford prison expirament) and 2 they just weren't old enought to have defined morals . So maybe this would happen with those schoolboys, but it's hard pressed to apply as a universal human truth.


message 19: by [deleted user] (new)

With regard to David's last comment, I think being trapped on an island with a shed load of other boys is pretty extreme.

If you leave boys alone in a room without anything to do for a few hours they become monstrous. I can't imagine how the boys I work with would react if left alone on an island faced with real responsibilities such as finding food and making fires etc.

However, this book is fiction. It was scary and desperate and I loved it.


message 20: by Bill (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bill Maybe Hudson's "Killing Fields" has something to say about the ungoverned teenage boy. The Khmer Rouge were very young solders.


Andrew O Yes and if we where all such brutes, then how did society form in the fist place? Even an 8 your old could figure out that this concept is deeply flawed.


Andrew O If Golding's premise where true, then how did society ever get civilized in the first place? If we where al brutes they we would never have gotten past acting like the kids do on the island.

That whole theory is so easily refuted yet taught in School as somehow being science, it's utterly ridiculous.


Bethan Doesn't that depend - I mean, look at the existence of genocides and war. Not everyone is like that but a society can be manipulated and galvanised by one or two sociopaths like in the case of the Lord of the Flies - sheep following the herd. People are bullied and killed all the time. Nothing about Golding's novel seems improbable to me. There are many good and peaceful types but there are also those who are not and there are many who do not really think about it.


Andrew O Sure there are a few bad men, and when they get in control they destroy and kill, but that's a very small part of society. If the kids on the island would have been child convicts then the story would have been a lot more believable. But he is trying to prove that we all have evil monsters deep down inside us, which is so easily disproved it's laughable, that's what I didn't like about they story it's trying to prove a ridiculous theory.


Bethan I don't know if Golding was actually saying that? Is there more evidence to back it up other than an extreme and atypical situation like that that he is writing about.. something he said, maybe?

Anyway, I think that civilisation is about benefiting people in terms of the bigger picture. I do suspect that people are essentially selfish but unselfishness, morals, law and order can benefit you and your loved ones in the longer term, so I think that's what civilisation is about.. so I don't think Golding is even necessarily wrong if he does indeed think that people are monsters deep down. I guess it's just a disagreement here. :)


message 26: by Tanm (new) - rated it 4 stars

Tanm But aren't instances like this documented where children are soldiers and ruffians as they were brought up to be by their surroundings in places? The 'english boarding schools' is of course a different upbringing, but I think what makes it believable is the sudden control they have over the littluns, and being chief. Some bacame soldiers (hunters) and were playing characters complete with costumes (war paint) ... well, I don't think I can convince you. But without the suspension of disbelief, its hard to consider this book for all that it achieves. And you rightly gave this a one star! oh well.


Natalie Remember Piggy? On a whole, he's good, but he did contribute to killing Simon. I think the message is that we all lose our morals at one point or another, even if for a short time.


Glenn Krzeminski I think you are soooo incorrect. Societal mores keep us in line take those away and barbarism will rule. Have you never witnessed grade school children argue at kickball or watched two men beat one another in a bar?


Gregory I personally applause the scene of Simon's death as an incredibly literary moment for a multitude of reasons. One of them is the hastiness and rowdiness of the decision as well as the savage energy that surrounds it. Also because I personally believe that Simon never once wavered in his character. Throughout the exposition and rising actions of the book up until the moment when he encounters The Lord Of The Flies, Simon showed traces of mental instability as well as his rational, warm, and overtrusting personality. The moments of his official loss of sanity encompass his personality quite well, I think.
The symbol of "The Dance" is one of the darkest and most twisted allusions to the novel, and I like to associate it with a lot of modern-day applications.
Also, I love how Ralph and Piggy, the voices of reason up until this point, lose all sense in their divulgence of The Dance. They, who have exemplified persistent and constant adversity to Jack's counterpart regime, take part in the dance and lose their morality in the false bliss that Jack's Dance generates.
Lastly, I idolize this scene a lot because it represents a LOT of different concepts that are applicable in the situation. i.e. The Great Unknown, L'appel Du Vide, Freudian Psychoanalysis of the Human Psyche, The Third Wave, Conformity and Authoritarianism, and of course, the core Element Of Surprise.
Honestly I just really like this book, because of how much of an unchangeable precedent it is in the subject of both psychology and literature.


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