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The Scrivener: Lord of the Flies 2

Brian Barratt outlines the plot and introduces the characters in William Golding's classic novel "Lord Of The Flies''.

This is the second in a series of eight articles by Brian on this once-read-never-to-be forgotten story.

Kill The Pig!

...with filthy body, matted hair, and unwiped nose, Ralph wept for the end of innocence, the darkness of man's heart, and the fall through the air of the true, wise friend called Piggy.

These moving words from the last page of William Golding's remarkable novel "Lord of the Flies" resonate in the memory long after one has read the book. Peter Brook's 1963 film version add to their power, intensifying all that has gone before.

The action takes place during the Cold War or a post-1945 nuclear war, not during World War II as stated on some websites. There are references to an atomic bomb which has fallen and Ralph, the protagonist, says 'We might get taken prisoner by the reds.'

Thirty boys are being taken as evacuees from England to some safe place, which they never reach. Their plane is shot down. What happens next in the story arises from Golding's own experiences and observations on active service during WWII and also his experience as a teacher.

At this stage, perhaps we should identify the main characters.

Ralph is a 12-year-old whose developing physique showed that he might have become a boxer "but there was a mildness about his mouth and eyes that proclaimed no evil".

Jack, the head boy of a choir, becomes the antagonist. "He was tall, thin, and bony... His face was crumpled and freckled, and ugly without silliness. Out of his face stared two light blue eyes, frustrated now, and turning, or ready to turn, to anger."

Piggy, who is not a typical boy of his age, becomes the victim. He is very fat, clumsy, suffers from asthma, and wears thick spectacles. In his simple approach to problems, he turns out to be the wisest of all the boys.

Simon, a younger boy, is very sensitive and suffers from fainting spells. "He was a skinny, vivid little boy, with a glance coming up from under a hut of straight hair that hung down."

Roger plays a minor role but eventually levers a huge rock which kills Piggy. He is "... a slight, furtive boy whom no one knew, who kept to himself with an inner intensity of avoidance and secrecy".

Even before they arrive on the island, the boys are innocent victims of something which they can barely understand and which is very much larger than themselves and the adults in their lives. Ralph's initial reaction when he explores the island is one of innocent fun. He has absolutely no concept of what lies ahead.

Rivalry appears very early. When Ralph says, "We ought to have a chief to decide things", the boys' loyalty is immediately split. Ralph himself, by his attractive nature, is seen by one group as the obvious chief. Jack announces, "'I ought to be chief because I'm chapter chorister and head boy. I can sing C sharp." His choir votes for him but Ralph wins and becomes chief.

Jack soon breaks away to form his own group of hunters. The authority he had as head boy of the choir quickly becomes dictatorial. He leads his admirers away, by persuasion and then force, to become savages under his control. Ralph is left with only four close friends: Piggy, Simon and Samneric (the identical twins Sam and Eric) until Jack captures Samneric.

However, Golding is not saying that the breakdown of democracy is the cause of what happened. It is, rather, a symptom. He traces it to individuals, their intrinsic nature, their behaviour, and their vulnerability.

The first hint of savagery comes after some of the boys have chased and wounded a boar. They gather round one of the smaller boys, threatening him with their spears while building up a relentless chant:
'Kill the pig! Cut his throat! Kill the pig! Bash him in!'

When they have settled down, and are talking about the "game" and doing it "properly", Robert says, "You want a real pig... because you've got to kill him". Jack responds, "Use a littlun" and they all laugh. This is a hint of the real violence to come the littluns are the youngest boys in the group.

Copyright Brian Barratt 2009

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