Lord of the Flies; the Conch is a Lie.

Ooh, anyone get that reference? Anyone? I hope so. I don’t usually write my blog posts until after I put up a topic title; because it gives me a direction for my blog (although on rare occasions when my mind carries me to other places beyond the ideas I have already placed before my mind, then I have to go back and change it… *grumble grumble*). Anyhow, Lord of the Flies by William Golding is very much a political/social satire and allegory, akin to Orwell’s Animal Farm. Taking large, many-faceted societies and honing them down into simplistic representations gives us a better idea of the idea as a whole. Like Einstein once said;

If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.

It’s a mode of reasoning and thought that is easily translated to other areas of life, but for now, we’ll use it to explain satire and allegory. Satire being a literary genre or form, although in practice it can also be found in the graphic and performing arts. In satire, vices, follies, abuses, and shortcomings are held up to ridicule, ideally with the intent of shaming individuals, and society itself, into improvement. Although satire is usually meant to be funny, its greater purpose is often constructive social criticism, using wit as a weapon. Very often it’s shown through irony or sarcasm. By those standards, I’m an extremely satirical person. In the case of Lord of the Flies however, the primary satire is the use of allegory, which is basically a really long metaphor. (I’m giving these brief explanations because I know I always get all these terms mixed up in my head). The metaphor being a bunch of boys trying to form some sort of political society on a otherwise uninhabited island is really a larger picture of modern day life and the innately violent nature of man.

And before you freak out, I’m not talking about them electing a president (although considering our current situation we aren’t far off). I’m talking about them trying and subsequently failing to establish an organized social order through the use of power-sharing; such as the conch as a tool/symbol of power, the election of leaders, and group votes about universally beneficial acts, such as keeping the fire lit or hunting “the beast.” And as far as allegories go, this one is pretty “in your face.” (c’mon, Simon’s death was pretty dramatic) and it isn’t hard to see the plot of the book being played out in real life (elections, anyone?). The harder part is trying to decide which character is the best representation of someone in real life.

But I’m not going to go into that, because common sense has taught me that putting your political views on the internet is at best annoying and at worst, so I’m going to delve into why it was practically guaranteed that the book could only end the way it did.

Obviously, this is a novel about the inevitability of human nature taking over the constructs of society/policy, a burning and thoroughly cynical commentary on politics and the animalistic nature of man; simplified through placing all  of the characters on a small island (physical constraint) the fact that they are all under the age of 13 (social and mental constraint), and removing various objectives (reproducing, finding food etc.). Add in a mysterious creature called “The Beast” that may or may not exist as the sole driving force of the book, and you have a pretty damn accurate scale of larger society. What I think is interesting is how quickly a rather democratic, organized society is set up; through electing a leader and electing a conch shell to be the symbol of power and democracy. This quickly dissolves into dissent and eventually animalistic ritual and sacrifice, until the fragile society crumbles into absolute chaos. Why? We, as readers, have to ask ourselves at what point did the society fall apart? Is it inevitable? What is to blame?

Of course the arrival of “The Beast” is a catalyst, but there is already group dissemination and angst by that point in the novel, caused by the boys having a lack of goals/become idle. Is that the true destructive force of society? A lack of enough goals to keep us busy and distracted? Of course we can argue that intellectualism is a big theme, obviously, in this novel. Perhaps using goals/thoughts is vital to controlling a group of people; IE using an idea to focus and drive their energy and attention; hence the break up of the group into two parties; one concentrated on getting rescued and one concentrated on worshiping and/or hunting down the beast. There are very specific ideas driving the  leaders of each faction. And a common factor? Piggy, who is mocked and derided for his physical appearance, and also because intellectually he is a threat to both community leaders. He appeals not to the whims/commands of either leader, but to a higher power, or unbiased “truth.” He imagines that things can be better, which undermines the promised utopias/ideals of each leader, eventually leading to his tragic death by giant rock. Really, it is the difference between intellectualism and animal-urges that is the foundation of society and politics.

But perhaps what we should think about more is the beast? We never know if the beast is something that really exists on the island, or if it’s just a figment of their active imaginations/byproduct of the trauma of being shipwrecked on an island. If this story is an allegory, what is the beast in our present society?

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About Angela

Editor, bookbinder, and writer.

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