Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Book Review Contest: Lord of the Flies (Reviewed by Kimberley Wong)

The Lord of the Flies discusses the reality of an inborn ‘dark-side’ to human nature, which, by virtue of popular belief, is innate and part of every individual, regardless of age, gender and status. Although the main idea conveyed by the novel would generally seems as one of sheer simplicity, the issue is dealt with in a non-conventional approach, that is, through vast usage of symbolism and conflicts instead of directly as an issue on its own. With this in view, many other issues are raised regarding the sanctity of human beliefs, particularly regarding our inborn conscience which had been identified as the governing feature in the actions of so called civilized human beings. As with the main theme of a darker human nature, other issues are raised throughout the novel in a similarly implied fashion rather than being blatantly stated. The result of Golding’s powerful mixture of various elements applied in addressing such dark issues in impliedly rather than outwardly was an intriguing story about a group of English schoolchildren and their struggle to survive without parental guidance.

One of the key elements addressed in the novel would be regarding the ‘myth’ of innocence, which, as suggested by many human behavioural psychologists would work against age, in line with the belief of Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis where a child is believed to be born a ‘blank-slate’ true to the theory of tabula rasa. Golding sought to challenge this view by creating a scenario in which young children of schooling age, the innocent subjects of wartime, had been left stranded on an island in which survival would become an unguided task. Although the children were used initially as a symbol of innocence and successful socialization of civilized behavior, Golding had suggested that with the passage of time spent in isolation and in sheer need, these children would inevitably revert to a stage which was thought to be unique to the evolution of the human species, effectively unlearning how to function as a civilized society and adopting a more ‘primitive’ lifestyle in its stead. This includes the boys undergoing a ‘shift’ in identities from schoolchildren to hunters and survivors. Golding goes on to illustrate certain aspects of the initial development of the human species such as the ‘discovery’ and utilization of fire and hunting tools. However, in contrast to the long adopted theory of evolution, the characters in the Lord of the Flies seemed to be regressing from a more advanced sate of socialization to a lesser state; effectively from working in cooperative groups to meet their needs of food and shelter to resorting to the barbaric actions of stealing from one another and finally resulting in the death of certain members of their group. Golding had also made a successful comparison between the war which was being waged among the children isolated on the island and that which had been occurring simultaneously in the ‘adult world’ around them in order to raise the issue as to whether the age and influence was a determining factor in violence and aggression as opposed to the idea that they remained mere inborn factors native to human existence.

The Lord of the Flies also makes a successful questioning regarding the position of religion and its significance in the human society. Golding, through the use of vivid imagery and settings, conveys the idea that fear, which has been closely tied to religion through his use of a pig’s head on a spit, his reference to the Devil. This title character, namely, the Lord of the Flies, represents a source of fear among the children which later goes on to terrorize the minds of the children and govern their actions. The Lord of the Flies is a symbolic name of the Devil, Beelzebub. Through the novel, Golding has raised the issue that perhaps the Devil which we fear is not one manifested in flesh and blood but perhaps one that exists in the shadows of their minds instead. The character Simon had been inserted into the novel as one who had the strongest faith in spirituality and who therefore did not fear the ‘Devil’ which the others had feared and had, instead, sought to reveal the truth behind the existence of that devil. Simon later served as a ‘martyr’ character as he later died in the hands of those he needed to convey his discovery to. This representation of martyrdom successfully questions and criticizes society’s understanding of religion and their reactions to matters regarding which they possess little knowledge.

The Lord of the Flies served had also served as a representation of the events encompassed surrounding the Cold War, although on a smaller scale and with less use of politics. Even so, the struggle between two forces of power, Ralph and Jack, had become evident and the others were given the opportunity to select the government which they preferred, that being either one of democracy or totalitarianism, as demonstrated by Ralph’s attempt to establish a government based on equality and free input from the people as opposed to Jack’s method of ruling with an iron fist, even to the extent of intending to kill Ralph, who remained a challenger and inhibitor to his ‘authority’ till the end.

The novel concludes interestingly with the boys being saved from the island by a man stating the war of the outside world had subsided, leading to the cessation of their own battles, but however, with the realization that they had lost their sense of who they were taught and civilized to be by society and had turned into beings little more than savages during their isolation. This reinforces the frailness of human civilization and the little power it has over inborn instincts when faced with absolute physical and mental needs.

Overall, Golding’s novel was one which challenged readers to contemplate the issues which flawed existences had been hidden and denied by the human race for generations, thus bringing about new reflections of the meaning behind being a human being.

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