An attempt to avoid subliminal literary messages in William Golding´s "The Lord Of The Flies".
This essay aims at giving an insight into Golding´s postwar novel "The Lord of the Flies". We will not only provide a biographical and bibliographical view of the novel, but we will also bear in mind Golding´s experiences and all those world-wide events which reflected on his life.
When dealing with a "best seller" we tend to be led by the authors giftedness. The emotions caused by the accuracy of its literary style can hinder a deeper analisys or an accute second reading. In all these second readings we can detect prejudices and favourings which may be not as universal as the book appears to be. So, if you want to deal with a task as such, you must be able to relate the author´s life with his works but always from a critical posture.
William Gerald Golding was born in Cornwall in 1911. His family was progressive and it was the first source of influence for Golding's talent. He studied physics and English literature at Marlboro and Oxford University of England. From the first years of his life, he tasted the atrocities of war. He also took part in the Second World War by joining the British Navy at 1940 as a lieutenant, he had a further personal experience.
If we have to contour one of his life experiences, we would say without a doubt that his involvement in the war, was a key issue which changed his ideals so much, that from then on, he never again believed in men´s righteousness. War attrocities have a clear influence in the way how Golding describes cruelty: he uses a realistic style which allows us to keep raw images in our minds. Violence is a factor that should not be avoided if we want to describe how the dark instincts of mankind are arised. However, the adjective dark could be substituted for the adjective natural: it´s the fact of measuring our nature from the patterns of society (which is something artificial in some sense) which lets us qualify our instintcs. We are dealing with a conflict which has to do with natural instincts; moral aspects are not a pattern as clear and correct as we would like them to be.
On the one hand, innocence is contemporarily related to stupidity. But, for Golding, innocence is a virtue in which he couldn´t believe in after having joined the Navy, but on the other, Golding thouht that, organisations whose finality is to defend peace really end in human massacre. The idea of goodness has supposed a great deception for the writer. Maybe, the fact that the characters in the book are children, and as their behaviour is rather unexpected, we are profoundly shocked and amazed.
The atmosphere of chaos and disaster which appears at the end of the story, is specially highlighted by something which has significance, the fire. Fire, is traditionally seen as a purifying element or as a destructive one. War is related to fire, not only because of semantic connotations (fire is closely related with armoire) but also because if it is spread, mankind, is hardly capable of controling it. Fire, is a symbol of chaos and due to its ability to spread it should always be kept under control. Therefore, the officer, attracted by the fire on the island, considers that war has broken out and states, "Is this a war or something?".
The author makes us understand that survival is a major human instinct and in this case it shows the worst side of a person. When getting involved in a battle, the soldier becomes an agressive animal and a creature which is able to kill his fellow men. Golding himself was part of the evil forces, trying to picture himself in the book.
It is now time to discuss the experiences he obtained during his period as a school teacher in Salisbury. The Lord of the Flies is a well traced allegory. Even the real purpose of the book has been treated with great care; the relationship among the children on the island is described from the point of view of a magnificent connosseur of child´s psychology and behaviour.
The tyranical "bully" figure is a frequent one within the common hierarchy of a school. Golding is aware of that question. Even the smallest groups of people have a person who plays the role of the leader. Henry, the only litlleone, ("littlun"), who is mentioned several times, is an example of how indispensable a hierarchy exists even within the smallest inconsequential groups of shorter age children.
There is also a close relation between hierarchy and authority. Every army needs to be well structured to achieve its purposes, but the relevance of this feature is carefully stressed by the author when describing the hunting down of Ralph. It is hard to believe that a group of kids are cold blooded enough to ellaborate a firm strategy to "seek and destroy" an old friend: that kind of cold bloodiness has surely impressed Golding as to put into Jack´s imagination what at least is an adult plan.
We should now look at one of Golding´s favourite hobbies. He loved reading Greek Classics, and these writings influenced him in many ways. There is a basic paralelism we could establish between the most significant conflict within Greek Classics and that of "The Lord of the Flies". In other words, the Laws of the Gods and the Laws of the Men, are two aspects which cannot be mixed. Within the book itself, the creation of the Laws of the Men, broke in some way the other laws, which representated religious ideals shared practically by everyone. No distinction was made. But the Laws of the Men were created due to social and political interests. Obviously, they were controlled by particular interests, and punishment was arbitrary. But when the Rules of Men enter in conflict, the Laws of Gods are broken. There is only a few who fight for these laws, being often punished by the rest of the island dwellers.
The first laws could be compared to those of ethic, which is an abstract value. The second ones could also be seen as the amount of laws which a government establishes, where ethic would be under political interests. Jack´s tribe is an example of how even the most rudimentary law is a threat ( or a political threat) to moral and ethic. Dark instincts and passions are also related to those rules, so we can image a parallel scheme to understand the obvious resemblance of both antagonisms.
Fate, is another traditional topic which the author deals in this book. Golding, puts a dilemma on mankind that inevitably leads to the triumph of corruption. It seems that such a fate is intrinsecal in human nature. Let us remember that one of the most suitable optimistic conclusions we can extract from the book is the self-acceptance of man to overcome his faults. Such an attitude is very similar to that of Greeks when submitting to the force of fate, a future destiny which cannot be changed but assumed.
Apart from the Greek influence, undoubtely Shakespeare comprises a source of influence which should be pointed out. Shakespeare had the great ability, that is, the faculty of dissapearing from his plays. The ideals and opinions of the English writer are hard to find out. Golding also tried to conceive a universal symbology, and one of the request to develop this purpose, was to take a general viewpoint over the world from the most objective point of view. Therefore, the aims of both writers have been critiziced by differents reasonings. "Much ado about nothing" is a Shakespearean play which in some aspects can be regarded as a description of the absurd life of the noble classes. Anyway, it´s rather hard to agree with what may have been a mere alleged reason to deal with characters that have a minimum of mental complexity.
The depicting of the characters is an essential issue in "The Lord of the Flies". The author makes an attempt to characterize the most representative human stereotypes of the real world. In spite of his ambition, he achieves to provide a general glossary of social, political and philosophical features of mankind. Therefore, the shadow of the writer is present within his conceivement of specific features. For example, Ralph´s figure is somehow a projection of Golding´s personality; a democratic, reasonable and also romantic child who falls into cruelness when the pressure which circumstances provoke becomes unbereable. The fact that Ralph took part in Simon´s horrid murder stresses the prevalence of an obscure reaction when chaos overcame his sanity. Let us be clear in this part, Ralph is the most British character in the novel, so if he finally submits to crime, it is certain that the novelist has doubts about his own righteousness. So, Ralph due to his ideas and feelings makes him the main character in the book.
Golding´s role as an intelectual (or, if you like, Golding´s thought about the role of an intelectual) can be observed by some of Simon´s attributes. His seclusion for searching for the truth, could be related to the like for loneliness, which is one of the most common topics applied to the intelectuals. Simon´s philosophical instincts led him to hide from the other children´s muddle, trying to reach peace and quietness which is what an intelectual needs to ellaborate his reflexions or thoughts. The rest of the island dwellers think Simon´s behaviour was odd and batty. This attitude makes us realize that intelectuals nowadays have a similar image in society
It is interesting to observe that Simon´s features are corresponding to those applied to intelectuals in the real world, so it is compelling to compare the children´s ignorance and rejection towards intelectualy as it happens in the modern world. Maybe Golding´s condition as a writer is in a sense projected to the figure of this spiritual character, but perhaps the comparison between Golding and what we have said before is not totally valid. The writer´s success and fame gave the readers an easier approach to his works. His message seems to be accepted, not as Simon´s discovering of the truth, which was never known by the children. Despite all this, a characterization of the common intelectual (if an adjective like common could be assigned to an intelectual) is quite obvious within the book.
The officer is the only adult character in the story, and his apparition inserts the symbolism of the island in the book into the real world, which is conceived by Golding as a place where evil forces have finally brought chaos: a nuclear world. We ought to keep in mind the consequences of the Second World War, especially in the tensions generated by the Cold War. Golding´s personal fears are depicted in his pessimist conception of the future, as his participation in the war had possibly influenced him. The person who apparently rescues the children is not a traveller, an adventurer or a bussinesman but a soldier, an officer. Golding´s past is manifested again in the story, and so is his pessimism, which is not related to philosophical questions for example the void of daily routine.
Reason is also a concept which is dealt according to contemporary thoughts. We could explain it by analysing Piggy´s death. There is a high resemblance between those who kill the fat boy and the fascism which arised before the Second World War. The mockery produced to reason by monopolizing the truth reminds us who casted the rock which squashed the child. It wasn´t suicide, because Golding´s conception of corruption is more related to violence and instincts than to sadness and passivity (we shall also find these traits in many other literary works).
If passivity is not the main cause of disaster, we cannot deny its relevance within a context of fear, desperation and anguish. In this case, we should associate passivity to comfortability, or in other words, being accepted by the group acting as the rest of the tribe, because it is only way for being alive. We could also define it, as the acquisition for establishing hegemonic ideals whose reward is obvious to everyone on the island. Maurice´s figure is an example of how this works: although cheerful and good natured, he will end up joining "the tribe" , and finally he will persecute Ralph with the rest of the children.
Perhaps the "Littluns" were too small and ignorant to think and use their brains, so they let themselves be convinced by Jack´s stressed speaches. This ignorance is identified with that of the mass, usually under economical depressions, they will very commonly back fascism, as happens on the island with the "Littluns". However, it is curious that this essential fact for the development of the plot is closely related to circumstances which were contemporary to the author. Once again, the universability of his works is abit doubtful.
Even the structure of the novel, could be seen in some way condiotioned to Golding´s experiences and studies. The chapters appear as short episodes with internel coherence. Each chapter ends with alittle note of pessimism. We also have to bear in mind Golding´s knowledge of physics, seen as like for well defined structures. Nevertheless, this an adventured reflexion, which, anyway, could stand for deeper explanation.
On the one hand, after analysing this novel in depth, and after having withdrawn so many subliminal ideas and opinions, how can we try to avoid these subliminal messages?. Maybe it is a question of bearing in mind that any book or essay is quite subjective, but at the same time we should also point out, that any literary work is created through subliminal feelings, so, how can we solve this matter?.Maybe the writer´s real aim was to make us feel these messages through this book.
But on the other, we would like to finish this essay pointing out the opinion the opinion which the author himself had about the book. If his opinion is also a subjective one and if he firmly believed in it, should we not therefore think about this idealistic question?
"The book is an attempt to trace the defects of society back to the defects of human nature. 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. The whole book is symbolic in nature except the in the end where adult life appears, dignified and capable, but in reality enmeshed in the same evil as the symbolic life of the children on the island. The officer, having interrupted a man-hunt, prepares to take the children off the island in a cruiser which will presently be hunting its enemy in the same implacable way. And who will rescue the the adult and his cruiser?"
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