Tim Giauque's Reviews > Lord of the Flies

Lord of the Flies by William Golding
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Apr 04, 10

bookshelves: classics
Read from March 28 to April 04, 2010

I got this to say. You're acting like a crowd of kids.

This was my first time reading Lord of the Flies. Obviously it's a classic and a staple of high school English classes everywhere, but somehow I have waited until now to pick it up and read it.

And the book is so firmly ingrained in American popular culture that I think it's impossible to determine today exactly how it must have felt to read it for the first time upon its publication in 1954. "The Simpsons" has parodied it, "Lost" owes this book (and others) its entire existence, and I even discovered a planet inspired by the book in "Mass Effect 2" yesterday. Postapocalyptic fiction like "Lucifer's Hammer" or "The Road" also follows many of the same tropes introduced by "Lord of the Flies." It's safe to say that most people today know the general story of the book, even if they've never read it.

It would seem that a book about a group of schoolchildren who degenerate into violent murderers would be a tough sell, especially in 1954, but of course that is only a small part of what the book is about. The symbolism is dense and rich here, layers upon layers of meaning about civilization, the rule of law, politics and religion, the power of hope, human nature, and on and on. There's so much going on here - particularly in the last 50 pages - that one could write a dissection of the book longer than the book itself. I'll bet several people have.

Honestly, though, for me it was a little bit of a tough read, especially the first half of the book or so. The story takes some time to develop, particularly since I knew where it was going. It felt like Golding was trying to slowly build to an admittedly-shocking climax, but in 2010 we all know the story, so I felt like it took a little too long at times to get where it was going. But, hey, that's my fault, not the book's. The prose is terrific and our narrator comes off as a little detached from the happenings, as though he can't quite believe what he is reporting.

Also, I would have liked a little more background on the world in which the book takes place. A fleeting reference is made to some sort of atomic blast, and it's stated that the world is at war or preparing to go to war. To me, these details are added solely to place the savage behavior of the boys in context, to tell us that the reprehensible behavior of Jack and his cronies is rooted in the "civilized" warfare of society at large. But these details hint at a larger, more frightening conflict that, frankly, interested me. It's not necessary, from a story perspective, for Golding to go into more detail about the larger world at war, but I would be interested in seeing a little more about it.

So, overall, I found this to be a haunting and heavy story about the ugly side of humanity. If its impact has lessened a bit in the half-century or so since it was written, that's a testament to the book's imagery and staying power within our culture. It still has the power to wallop you and leave you shaken.

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Reading Progress

03/28/2010 page 25
03/28/2010 page 25
7.44% "Reading this for the first time. Somehow I wasn't required to read it in high school."

Comments (showing 1-8 of 8) (8 new)

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message 1: by Maury (new)

Maury I loved this book too. You made me want to read it again.

message 2: by Karen (new)

Karen Giauque Very interesting. I've never heard the word "trope" before. I just increased my vocabulary!!

message 3: by Tim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Tim Giauque There's just a whole lot going on in that book. And it's short! Like 200 pages! I wonder how I would have liked it if I had read it in high school.

message 4: by Karen (new)

Karen Giauque I haven't read it. I guess I'd better

Caitie A friend directed me to this article, and it reminded me of your review. It's really interesting.


message 6: by Tim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Tim Giauque I just wrote this enormous comment in response to your link, Caitie, and Goodreads lost it. NICE.

message 7: by Tim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Tim Giauque All right, I had this big ol' comment written about your link, Caitie, and Goodreads devoured it. RRRRRRRRRR. Let's try this again.

There's a LOT in that article. But I believe that people make a conscious decision to be "good" or "evil" every day. In fact, it's probably more like hundreds or even thousands of little conscious decisions every day. People are "good" because they choose to do "good" things...similarly, people are "evil" because of the little decisions they make every time they reach a fork in the road. These decisions are informed by their past experiences as well as by the world around them, be it other people, society's norms, etc.

For instance. I try hard to be a good guy, and a hard worker, every single day. I try to treat people with respect, and I'm counting on my past experiences with other people, and my own, human ability to put myself in the shoes of others, to help me figure out how to do that. I first had to make a larger, more basic decision: namely, I want people to think of me as a good guy and a hard worker. Once that basic assumption was in place, it's just a matter of making day-to-day choices that support that.

To me, this is the way healthy, rational, sane people approach the world. I think that there are people who are born with physical or mental handicaps that make it difficult for them to live normal lives and follow normal decision-making protocols. For instance, there are people in the world who find themselves sexually attracted to children. Some of these men have enough presence of mind to know that such feelings are wrong (as determined by society), and that they shouldn't act on those feelings. I have sympathy for people who have to live with that curse, frankly, but having such a condition doesn't excuse you from the consequences of your actions. That's an extreme example, but to an extent, I'd bet that most people have some desires or temptations that wouldn't be healthy to act on.

I'm uncomfortable with the idea that these types of preexisting conditions, i.e. "he was just born evil," can be used as rationalizations or excuses for abhorrent behavior. I remember being annoyed, for instance, after the Columbine killings, because of how the media was trying to psychoanalyze these kids and determine an ultimate underlying motive. "Did they kill because they played a lot of 'Doom?' Or because they watched violent movies, the most graphic scenes of which we're going to replay over and over without explaining them in the context of the films?? Or was it the fault of ROCK MUSIC???" There's an implicit assumption there that the kids themselves weren't responsible for their actions; they were warped and compelled by some external force. To me, this type of thing sends exactly the wrong message.

Even if we were able to isolate and identify an "evil gene" or something, the heinous acts people commit destroy lives and cause pain and suffering, and people who commit these acts need to be punished. Or, at the very least, removed from society for the protection of the rest of us. Whatever the motive, the outcome is the same, and while pity and sympathy for the villain may be called for, the victim is still victimized. The parents of the murdered children from Lord of the Flies are not going to find any comfort in knowing that the murderers were just "born bad."

Caitie No, I agree with that completely. I wasn't necessarily siding with the article, I just thought it was interesting to see all those different viewpoints. And it kind of blew my mind. I still think what I think though, which is essentially what you said up there.

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