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The Scrivener: Lord of the Flies - 8

…The allegory challenges us to question whether any set of laws would safely ensure the restoration and preservation of moral behaviour in our society or if it would eventually give rise to other forms of dictatorial leadership, mob hysteria, blind faith, and the murder of innocent and often wiser people…

Brian Barratt, summing up his eight-part exploration of William Golding’s The Lord Of The Flies, points to the message in what some consider to be the most important novel of modern times.

To read the earlier articles in these series, and many more of Brian’s words, please visit http://www.openwriting.com/archives/the_scrivener/

And do visit Brian’s challenging Web site The Brain Rummager
www.alphalink.com.au/~umbidas/

The Laws Of The Time

Commenting on his profound allegorical novel "Lord of the Flies", William Golding said:
'The moral is that the shape of a society must depend on the ethical nature of the individual and not on any political system however apparently logical or respectable'.

There is an apparent contradiction, which is actually a confirmation worth thinking about, of this statement in the film, "The Reader", based on Bernhard Schlink's novel. Professor Rhol tells his Law students:
Societies think they operate by morality but they don't. They operate by something called Law.

Discussing the Nazis and their crimes during World War II, Professor Rhol comments:
The question is never "Was it wrong?" but "Was it legal?" And not by our laws. No... by the laws of the time.

The film version of "The Reader" was made 45 years after "Lord of the Flies". In its own way, it addresses the same problem. It is not an allegory — it deals realistically, albeit controversially, with the ways different people deal with the breakdown of society and with murder. Many critics seem to have missed the point of the story, calling it "revisionist history". Careful viewing, however, reveals that it is not a plea for sympathy for an ex-Nazi. It is an analysis of a young man's difficulty in coping with emerging faces. Rex Reed, writing in The New York Observer, demonstrated his insight:
The emotional probing, spiritual shame and moral confusion that connect the people from these diverse generations is [sic] the glue that makes The Reader such a vital, important and timeless motion picture.

"Moral confusion" is relevant to both films. In "The Stranger", a perverted morality is shown by Hanna, once a Nazi, when she avers that although hundreds of people were burning to death in a locked church, she and the other guards could not open the doors. The reason, for her, was quite simple: they were guards. In other words, to use the hackneyed phrase, they were following orders. The "law", as it was at the time, overshadowed and countermanded morality.

This is exactly what happened to Jack's tribe in "Lord of the Flies". Their "law" was one of superiority and survival, to be pursued at all costs. When the boys killed Simon and then Piggy, they were in effect following orders. Rabble-rousing and hysteria played a role, of course, but the boys' hysteria was akin to and symbolic of that of the many who were stimulated by Hitler. Law based on morality was replaced by the law of the leader. The question of right and wrong did not arise. What they were doing was, to borrow Professor Rhol's words, "legal...by the laws of the time".

We might find another allegory in the behaviour of our nearest genetic relations in the animal world, chimpanzees. These highly intelligent and socially organised animals are quite capable of what in human terms is violence and murder. They work together as a group, each with an apparently allotted duty, to pursue a monkey until they catch it and tear it to pieces.

Chimpanzees, just below us in the evolutionary scale, do at least have a legitimate purpose — they are animals hunting for food. Humans, when they violently pursue and kill, individually or as a group, have no valid aim. At least, it is not valid in terms of morality. It might be legal in terms of whatever Law they obey in the circumstances of the time, or under the influence of their leader. Most of the boys in "Lord of the Flies" chose Ralph as their leader. He attempted to introduce an ethical democracy. Jack, the head choir-boy wearing a silver cross, usurped Ralph and became leader by demolishing democracy, inducing fear, and rousing blind faith. This led to the killing of innocents. Any sense of morality was lost.

Whether or not there is any way of clearing, cleaning and illuminating 'the darkness of man's heart', for which Ralph wept is open to question. The allegory challenges us to question whether any set of laws would safely ensure the restoration and preservation of moral behaviour in our society or if it would eventually give rise to other forms of dictatorial leadership, mob hysteria, blind faith, and the murder of innocent and often wiser people. The decision is ours to make.

© Copyright Brian Barratt 2009

Sources
Brook, Peter, director, Lord of the Flies, 1963, DVD, Criterion Collection, 1999.
Dalby, Stephen (Director), The Reader, DVD by Entertainment in Video, 2008
Golding, William, Lord of the Flies, Faber and Faber, London 1954. Also Penguin Books, London, 1960.
http://www.observer.com/2008/o2/oscar-oscar-reader-s-winslet-left-me-gasping?page=all

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