Andrew's Reviews > Lord of the Flies

Lord of the Flies by William Golding
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Aug 22, 2007

really liked it

I was tempted to give this five stars, since in so many ways it strikes me as the kind of masterpiece, like Heart of Darkness, that I imagine will retain its horror and readability for centuries. The prose veers (or as Golding would say it, "tends") from plain to painterly. The story is well known: a sort of allegorical morality play set in modern times -- fancy English boys left to their own devices don't so much as revert to darkness as discover primitive outlets for the darkness reflected in their greater society. This is what I love about Heart of Darkness: try as one might, Kurtz cannot be pigeonholed into good or evil. He is excellent at what he does, and what he does is evil. Kurtz is a true reflection of what excellence was to Colonial Europe, and in so far as Colonial Europe was good, cultivated, honorable, and esteemed, so is Kurtz. Kurtz isn't good or evil; he is true.

Golding's version is darker. It centers mostly around the corrupting power of urges to overwhelm social order. Freudian criticism abounds, but the parallel I kept coming back to was Rome. I found that Piggy, no matter how truly annoying he is (another brilliant stroke by Golding is to make Piggy strangely unsympathetic), recalled those numerous Republicans of the Early Empire who advocated in a shrill but useless manner for a return to Senate rule but were shunted aside and usually killed by deranged sociopaths who behaved quite like like Jack. But be it Freudian or historic, any framing of this book feels cheap and hollow because the story has such a complexity of primal urges that it feels almost biological.

Golding said he came up with the idea of book after reading his children "Treasure Island or Coral Island or some such Island" in the years of the hydrogen bomb and Stalin and asked his wife, "why don't I write a children's story about how people really are, about how people actually behave?" To me that's a chilling question and it reveals an architecture not based on rigid Freudian or historical or symbolic parallels. Its portrait of sadism could have been lifted out of the newspapers; its struggle for dominion over the weak is an almost sexual frenzy recalls everything I know about torture in the dungeons of Argentine or US military prisons. In this respect, I think the book, like Heart of Darkness, is timeless.

But I chose not to give it five stars because at the center of Golding's book is a kind of rigid Christian iconography, like that you find in the Poisonwood Bible, that offends me, perhaps because it reminds me of the way I wrote my Freshman year of college, or perhaps because that rigidity, that allegiance to a=b symbolic logic insults my intelligence. The martyrdom of Simon, I felt, demeaned the human quality of Simon. I liked him best because he struck me as the most shrewd and practical. Reducing him to an icon transforms him into a variable: Simon = Paul or Peter or whomever, but ergo facto Simon ≠ Simon. When he comes down to the beach mutting "something about a body on a hill" Simon ceases to be a reflection of human complexity, or biological completeness, and instead becomes a rehashed precedent from Sunday school.

I've often felt that Heart of Darkness' genius was that it somehow reflected the effect of Darwin and modern thinking on the antiquated ideas of Colonial Europe, ie Kurtz isn't good or evil because good and evil are artifices that wilt beneath analysis. When Golding adheres to this materialist perspective, the book is masterly. When he swears allegiance to worn out Christian parables, that complexity is reduced to slips of paper.
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Abram Martinez Great review. I can see how you chose to give it 4 instead of 5 because of the religious iconography, but I'm glad you clearly stated it as an opinion thing. It is true that the Simon=peter thing could be construed that way, but for me, I just took it at face value. Similar to the way I take the actual bible. I am an atheist, but I still believe in the good of man, which in my opinion is more of what Simon represented. But both perspectives are valid. Thanks for the review!


Richard Sometimes a trope is just a trope. But I do agree that Simon became more than just another boy with a child's idea of how people worked. When he suddenly realized that the Beast was the inhumanity latent in all of the castaways, he ceased to be another kid in a messed up situation, and instead became a stand-in for the author's ideas. I think that as a plot element is rather flawed, but I don't think there was religious iconography as blatant as you seem to be suggesting.


Andrew I don't know. The Lord of the Flies is Beelzebub after all. Golding goes a long way towards identifying "the Beast ... latent in all the castaways" as Satan, and given that intent I can't believe the choice of Simon as a name was random. That and the "body on a hill" bit and I think we're pretty deep in Sunday School iconography.


Agana-Nsiire Just curious since you've read Heart of Darkness; have you also read Chinua Achebe's controversial review of it called An Image of Africa? What did you think of it if you did?


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