Lord of the flies is William Golding’s first novel. Published in 1954, though not a success at that time, it gradually went on to become a best seller. Since then it has found its way on various Best English Novels list [TIME magazine, BBC’s The Big Read and Modern Library]. This dystopian novel was apparently a reaction to The Coral Island, a novel about the adventures of three young boys marooned on an island, pretty much the same setting as Lord of the flies however poles apart in their basic premise. Golding in this novel tells us that people left unbridled, without any rules or compunctions will give rise to chaos. So unlike the boys in The Coral Island who fight against evil, here in Lord of the Flies, the boys give in to the ‘Beast’ within.
The novel engages you right from the first sentence as we first make our acquaintance with Piggy, Ralph and the conch. Gradually we are introduced to the other boys, all of them marooned in an island. While the boys start off with working with each other and trying to create a semblance of a civil society by electing a leader, dividing tasks, building shelters, lighting a fire and gathering food, power struggles, hunger and resentment eventually turns them into a group of savages out to kill each other.
Not only is the novel a telling account of the power struggles that exist in today’s world leading to civil wars and destruction it is a master class in leadership styles. While Ralph represents the charismatic leader who wins over the boys with his clarity of thoughts and quick decision making, a little into the novel you realize that it is really Piggy who provides Ralph this clarity. Piggy, in other words is the voice of reason. Jack on the other hand represents power and the lure of a better life. He being assigned the task of hunting establishes himself as the leader of the pack, with promises of protection from the imaginary ‘Beast’ and hunger. Simon represents righteousness. He is the only one who strives to discover the truth of the ‘Beast’. He is however killed by the boys in a murderous dance. His death represents the death of reason, peace, justice and is a key milestone in the novel which marks the beginning of savagery.
I am sure some of you must have read this novel as children, so did I. But it is now on my second read that I have been able to fathom the true meaning of it. Look at any war fought in the history of mankind, you will find the blueprint of it in the novel itself.