Saturday, January 13, 2007

Lord Of The Flies: Our Dark Heart Illuminated

William Goldings' Lord of the Flies is a timeless meditation on innate human savagery and its ongoing inner war with the constructs of civilized life that tenuously hold us all in a fragile state of harmony.

So much of the novel's power builds on the characterizations and setting and points of foreshadowing that occur in th
e first chapter. Examining these areas reveals the full scope of Golding's brilliance in the use of language, and the wisdom and the universality of his themes.

The novel creates a sense of immediacy with its jump into the events following the plane crash that has occurred. The event is intrinsically dramatic and there is an further tension in contrasting the characters of Piggy and Ralph. Piggy is at the outset shown as an outcast, obese and vulnerable with large specs to compensate for near blindness, sensitive to criticism and revealing his history of torment in school almost right from his opening statements by telling Ralph that he not call him by his hated nickname of “piggy”( chapter 1, page 11).

Ralph is right away cast as the role of the leader. He is described as handsome in sharp contrast to Piggy's physical inadequacy . His father is a Naval Commander so he is immediately shown to posses the right stuff for leadership.

Johny is the representative of the “littleuns”the smaller kids on the island who remain nameless except for the introduction of Johny. Johny is is part of the amorphous majority group that Golding perhaps suggests is representative of the world in general, where people in society are incorporated into their respective roles of work and exist in that way.

The characters of Sam and Eric are shown to be one character finishing each others sentences and their presence adds to the surreality of the situation.

Jack is immediately described almost in demonic terms with red hair and bony frame and “ugly” face (chapter 1 page 19). Jack was the chief choir boy and he brings this sense of authority but it is wi
th a sense of irony that as a choir boy he is morally the darkest character in the novel.

Simon is the most sympathetic character in the book, kind to everyone and selfless. He appears in the chapter fainting as Jack pushes the boys too hard in their search of the island. The fainting foreshadows future events. It is as if he is a sacrificial character and the Christ like symbolism is abundantly clear.

There is much foreboding foreshadowing of the fall from grace that will come later in the novel.

Simon's symbolic death of fainting hints at later events. Jack is presented as an almost demonic fig
ure with his red hair and disagreeable features. The contrast between the good and evil would seem heavy handed were it not dealt with so deftly by Golding's elegant prose and gradually rising dramatic tension.

When Jack appears at head of a group of boys Golding describes it as an animate object, something sinister,

“ ..something dark fumbling along...The creature was a party of boys...” ( chapter 1 page 18 ).
Perhaps the most telling example of the impending savagery later in the novel is the transformation of Jack as he fails to kill a piglet and is resolute he will not fail to kill when the next opportunity arises. This speaks most clearly to the murderous decline that will ensue.

The themes that are set in motion in chapter one are laid out with clarity . The island is the ideal setting being as it is almost a social experiment in isolating a group of boys without reference to the outside world and revealing the inner brutality when the veneer of civilization is stripped away.

In this chapter Golding also has the Conch which is called to assemble the characters, as if on the stage of theater showing a morality play.

The order and the civilization that Ralph and Piggy represent is presented at the beginning of the novel and the impending savagery is seen in Jack's determination to kill seen at the end of the the first chapter completing a small arc.

At the deepest level is the Christian symbolism that underlies so much of the novel is made very apparent in this first chapter. The island is shaped like a boat perhaps an Ark and all its inhabitants are children, seemingly innocent but slowl
y corrupted.

There is a suggestion of the garden of Eden before the fall in this story and the setting.

There walking at the head of the “creature”is Jack , like the head of a snake, a beast that sows discord in the place of innocence. The one selfless character is symbolically killed in the chapter with his fainting perhaps a premonition of the later sudden descent into barbarism.

In every respect Lord of the Flies is a masterful novel and in the first chapter all the essential elements of the story are laid out in an elegant way . Golding effortlessly uses understated prose to let the action speak for itself and the tension builds throughout the first chapter climaxing with Jack's failed attempt at the killing of a pig.
Golding, William. Lord of the Flies. New York: Capricorn Books, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1954.

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