« Sliced Bread | Main | Our White Suits »

The Scrivener: Lord of the Flies - 5

Brian Barratt thinks that some interpretations of the novel “Lord of the Flies’’ seem to miss the point.

He suggests that the story points to the location of the unknown fear experienced by all humans.

This is the fifth in a series of eight articles on William Golding’s enduring story. To read the earlier articles in the series, and many other varied columns by Brian, please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/the_scrivener/

And do visit his invigorating Web site The Brain Rummager

The Known And The Unknown

How far can we go when we say "this is what the writer means"? Some interpretations seem to miss the point of "Lord of the Flies". For instance, it is very doubtful that it is a sort of parallel to the Biblical myth of the Garden or Eden. Let's make just a few comparisons.

— In the Biblical myth, God creates an ideal garden, places Adam in it, and tells him to look after it. In the novel, the island is already there and the lost boys arrive on it. Their arrival is due to an accident and they are obliged to make the most of their predicament. God is not mentioned.

— In the myth, God creates male and female adults, who disobey Him and become sexually aware. In the novel, the boys have not yet reached puberty; there are no girls; and sex plays no role.

— In the Garden of Eden, the snake has a strange attraction. In the novel, the boys are frightened of both real and imagined snakes.

Likewise, it is dubious to claim that Simon represents Jesus Christ as the one who died for others. Or that Ralph and Jack represent Cain and Abel, the brothers in the Biblical creation myth. Or that Piggy's spectacles are a symbol of insight, wisdom and knowledge. It could be more useful to look at other possible strands in the allegory which are largely overlooked on websites which seek to explain the novel:

— Territorial discovery, claim and protection.

— Fear of the unknown.

— Nakedness.
— Masks and self-identity.

Territorial discovery, claim and protection.

At first, the island is a place for boyish discovery and fascination, for which Golding uses evocative and beautifully constructed langage:

[Ralph] picked his way to the seaward edge of the platform and stood looking down into the water. It was clear to the bottom and bright with the efflorescence of tropical weed and coral. A school of tiny, glittering fish flicked hither and thither... Beyond the platform there was more enchantment

And a little later:

Ralph shaded his eyes and followed the jagged outline of the crags up towards the mountain. This part of the beach was nearer to the mountain than any other that they had seen.

Ralph and Jack very quickly claim the land as their own:

Eyes shining, mouths open, triumphant, they savoured the right of domination:
...Ralph spread his arms.
'All ours.'

Their dispute about leadership culminates in Jack claiming sovereignty of his end of the island, where the conch shell "doesn't count" and sentries guard against intruders. We have only to look at the history of invasion, colonisation and settlement by Western countries in lands they "discovered" to see what a relevant allegory this is.

Fear of the unknown

A six-year-old "shrimp of a boy" says he saw a snake-thing, a beastie which came out of the dark. Sam and Eric say it was furry and something was moving behind its head, like wings. When the older boys eventually see it, they cannot or will not full understand what it really is. Even the usually level-headed Ralph is very frightened.

The sensitive boy Simon has greater intuition than the others:

[He[ felt a flicker of incredulity – a beast with claws that scratched, that sat on a mountain top, that left no tracks and yet was fast enough to catch Samneric. However Simon thought about the beast, there rose before his inward sight the picture of a human at once heroic and sick.

This insight moves the beast into a new area, for it is the whole of mankind which is "at once heroic and sick'" In an earlier confused and noisy assembly, Simon had previously suggested "...maybe it's only us." These are key words in the understanding of the nature of the beast. The unknown which we fear actually lies within ourselves.

© Copyright Brian Barratt 2009


Creative Commons License
This website is licensed under a Creative Commons License.