by William Golding
Believe it or not, I never read this book until now, and the only reason I did finally read it is that my son is currently in his high school’s production of Lord of the Flies.
Set during some fictional wartime in the mid-twentieth century, this classic novel is about a group of British school boys who end up on an uninhabited, remote island when the plane that is evacuating them from home crashes. That a plane happened to crash so conveniently close to an island, that no adults survived the crash but a significant number of boys did, and that none of those surviving boys seem to have suffered any injuries from the crash all require a degree of suspension of disbelief, but this passes quickly as the novel unfolds.
The story opens after the plane crash has already happened, and the surviving boys have made it safely onto the island. As they converge on the beach, they quickly choose a boy to be in charge, or “chief,” by a show of hands. A sensible, fun loving boy named Ralph, who is prone to spontaneous handstands is chosen. However, another boy, Jack, sees himself as chief, and his resentment at not being chosen manifests in a bitter rivalry with Ralph soon after. As a consolation, Ralph appoints Jack and the rest of the school choir to which Jack belongs hunters; it will be their job to hunt the wild pigs on the island to feed the crash survivors until they are rescued. Ralph also determines very quickly that their only hope of rescue is to start a fire and keep it going night and day so that any passing ship or plane might see the smoke.
Everything starts out pretty orderly and cooperative. The boys agree to certain rules to maintain civility. One of the central rules is that meetings are called by Ralph by blowing into a conch shell found on the beach. The conch has a significant role in the story; it represents a certain amount of power, for not only is it used to call meetings, it’s also agreed that whoever holds the conch gets to speak while everyone else listens.
Gradually, civility disintegrates and the rivalry between Jack and his gang and Ralph and his more underdog group, which includes an asthmatic, obese outcast of a boy cruelly called Piggy grows until the two groups are basically at war with one another.
It’s a pretty grim, and even gruesome story, and a fascinating exploration of human nature as these young boys descend into savagery.
A good read.