I keep seeing stuff about Lord of the Flies going around
Obviously, the individual experiences of the people making the posts – re: teachers, lessons, the way they were forced to study the book – aren’t up for debate
but like, I feel that people might not have the whole story here and as someone who knows far too much about literature, I wanted to talk about it a little
Sir William Golding wrote Lord of the Flies in response to an earlier novel called The Coral Island. In The Coral Island, a small group of upper-class British boys from a boarding school get stranded on an island and have an absolutely wonderful time. They look back on it as a fond adventure, where they had a little vacation, invented things, and generally made their well-bred high society English parents proud.
Sir William Golding read that novel and was disgusted by the way that R. M. Ballantyne used the plot as a huge essay on the superior intellect and higher morality of English folk (read: white people). The boys in The Coral Island eventually have to seek the aid of Christian missionaries (who are there to convert the local Polynesian populace) to save them from the natives who are written as raping pillaging amoral cannibals.
Sir William Golding set out to write a more realistic novel, by the way, using the same names for his main characters as Ballantyne did (although Golding’s characters are slightly younger). So, all the posts about Lord of the Flies showing the “human condition” insofar as it pertains to young middle-class British boys who grew up in a boarding house in the middle of the Cold War are correct. But I get the feeling that most people don’t realize that was the point of the novel.
Lord of the Flies was meant as a huge “fuck you” to the ingrained belief that English people are the most noble and wise of all people and thus incapable of descending into savagery. I doubt it was ever meant to be a sweeping generalized metaphor for the universal savage nature of humanity, and shame on the teachers who force that interpretation on their students.
I wish that the information in this post were told to students reading Lord of the Flies more often, considering that this context is necessary for understanding the book.
I used to study Golding and I’m so happy to see a post about this! Basically all the good Golding scholars agree that Lord of the Flies is intended as a condemnation specifically of western positivism and superiority, not a condemnation of human nature. Golding believed that good societies were possible, but that he was not living in one. (Relevant side facts for the curious: Golding was a sailor and teacher who based some of the boys’ behavior on the behaviors of his male students and fellow sailors. He also drew on Ancient Greco-Roman mythology and literature, which is both rife with examples of horrific, inhumane behavior AND considered the foundation of western society.) When white/western/imperialist/etc. people read Golding’s books and decide he means all societies are evil, it shows that they are incapable of not conceiving of themselves as the best society – “If he believes OUR society is evil, he must think ALL societies are evil, because of course we’re the BEST society, and the others must be worse than ours” even though the other societies are not seen in most of his books and may be doing just fine.
As a sidenote, Golding was a really interesting literary figure in that he would actually publicly argue with critics who gave what he thought were unacceptably wrong interpretations of his novels. He refused to agree that death of the author had limitless application. So there are actually quotes from Golding about how most people read Lord of the Flies (and some of his other books) wrong and it’s pissing him off/making him sad and please just stop already.
… aaahaa. Lord of the Flies was a Darker And Edgier AU spitefic.
I heartily approve of this. good on you, Sir Golding.