We have nearly reached the end of this fine, fine meme…and I just realized that it is Tuesday and I should go check what the Top Ten Tuesday theme is for this week.
Some of my most lasting impressions from my K-12 days are the days we would get a new book for class. I would go straight home and often read the whole thing that night (neglecting all other homework), ensuring weeks of discussions in which I would try to participate without talking about stuff the other students hadn’t read yet.
Many of my fellow students hated the books purely because they were books, which must be read.
Lord of the Flies by William Golding was a book that I loved, which my peers seemd tormented by. When they weren’t confused or utterly disinterested, they were disgusted with descriptions of the littleuns getting diarrhea from too much fruit, or tittering over Jack running around naked as a jay-bird.
To be fair, their disinterest may have been the fault of our teacher. She was heavily into symbolism and I’m not sure that a forty-five minute lecture on Simon as a Christ-figure was ever going to light a fire in rural 8th-graders from an orchard town.
I, on the other hand, seriously dug the novel. Novels that examine “civilization”, its creation and collapse, its interdependent human systems, continue to be my favorites. Much like Stephen King’s Under the Dome or O.T. Nelson’s The Girl Who Owned a City, Lord of the Flies always felt very true to me. That’s just what would happen.
The novel is a “what-if”: “What if a plane full of British schoolboys crashed on a deserted island and they were forced to fend for themselves with not an adult in sight?”. The boys begin attempting to emulate the type of civilization they were raised in, but more extreme personalities in the group soon sieze the opportunity to indulge their more uncivilized impulses.
As things spin swiftly out of control the novel deftly explores what it is that civilization preserves and masks. The youngest children represent the general population: their interests are food, shelter, safety, and pleasure. Ralph is a natural-leader type, willing to take up the mantle of leader because he can see a way for everyone to get along in relative comfort until rescue arrives, if only they will all pitch in. Opposing him is Jack, a boy seduced by the idea of power, willing to threaten safety and promise comfort without work in order to obtain it.
The other major players divide along lines based upon their need for civilization. Piggy is a creature entirely dependent upon it: he wears eyeglasses and has asthma, he exists by the grace of civilized society. Naturally, he supports Ralph. Just as naturally, when their island-society crumbles Piggy is no longer afforded the grace needed to survive. Simon, stand-in for religion and philosophy, is the first sacrifice the boys’s primitive natures. Those complex systems of belief, those graces, prove all too fragile in the face of base instinct.
Backing Jack we find Roger, a boy with a nature too violent to fit properly into civilized society. He needs their civilization to crumble as much as Piggy needs it to stand. With these carefully crafted players in place, Golding lets the novel unwind along with the boys’s social programming, more shocking with every page.