Thoughts on Reading “Lord of the Flies” by William Golding
Audible and iTunes have made listening to recorded books affordable and fun the past six months or so as I’ve taken advantage of these digital services. I’ve also been using a Mac program called GhostReader Plus to convert the DRM-free stock of my Kindle collection to audio. This allows me to return reads while I’m at work performing quality control audits on rolls of microfilm and such (I’ve been working for Ancestry.com as an archival digitization specialist for a little shy of a year now). When I’m finished with a story, I go to Amazon and Goodreads (sometimes Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Audible, etc.) to write reviews for fellow authors.
I consider myself an aural learner, so listening to books works well for me. I have a hard time making myself sit down to read “for fun.” Thus I find I’m more likely to focus and finish if someone, or technology, is reading to me. I enjoy hearing a narrator’s interpretation of the text. I also love the timbres and rhythms of spoken word in much the same way I enjoy listening to music.
There are some books I’ve read/listened to lately that I really like. While I’ve focused mostly on reviews for authors I know or share an acquaintance with on my blog, I’d like to branch out content-wise and simply share what I like about a handful of other stories and what I’ve gleaned from them.
Today I’m going to start with Lord of the Flies by William Golding.
I think I was ten years old when I first tried to read this book. I’m not sure why this book was presented to me at that age–the subject matter is dark and disturbing enough on an adult level I probably wouldn’t think to recommend it to children myself. None of the characters in this story demonstrates particularly noble desires or qualities (except maybe Simon). I’d neither want to be any of the protagonists nor be friends with any of them (a storytelling quality that would have been essential to my childhood and teenage pallets). This is very much an adult horror story. But hey! *Shrug*
I remembered bits and pieces of the characters and events from the first time I read this. As a kid, I considered the story confusing, dense, and…well, I think I bounced around to get the main scenes but didn’t actually read the whole thing (though I may have written a school report on it ;-). I decided to go back and read/listen to this book again last week. I’ve made frequent enough references to Lord of the Flies in conversations lately that I wanted to solidify my understanding beyond the mere gist of what I thought the story was about.
Coming to this story with an adult perspective, I enjoy it immensely. The milieu descriptions are exceedingly dense, but the distillation of what I like to think of as the “natural man” (Mosiah 3: 19) is harrowing and insightfully executed. Golding explained in the reading of his story that part of his goal was to show the natural rise and fall of societies. Others have suggested this story describes the male psyche and social behavior in particular. It met my expectations on both fronts (though I can only comment on the male psyche as an outside observer with immense esteem for and curiosity about the mind, behaviors, and inclinations of the opposite sex from myself).
I felt this story gave persuasive and meaningful perspective to the concept of “savage” vs. “civilized.” Humans are not nice to each other. Boys are not nice to each other. (Girls aren’t nice to each other either, but it tends to manifest less in physical confrontations and more in subtler forms of manipulation). It’s natural to be impatient with someone or leave someone behind who may have physical or emotional challenges. That individual might weird us out (are they dangerous?), or they may not be able to contribute to the group the way others can and it becomes difficult to decide what’s fair.
We’re attracted to health and beauty and repulsed by their opposites.
It’s natural to be angry, jealous, or wounded when we’re taken advantage of, abandoned, lost, rejected, deposed, shamed, punished, etc. It’s natural to conform to the group under the duress of pain, terrorism, self-preservation, or even the loneliness of exile. Society tends to settle toward tyranny over anarchy because, even if circumstances are unpleasant, humans prefer some sense of social stability and unity over the chaos of every-man-for-himself.
“Natural” does not mean “good” (or “bad,” per say). Rather, it is a state of feeling, of being, of inclination. We have to choose to reach beyond our fears, wounds, and appetites to defend, nurture, understand, and edify each other. Otherwise we could fall into great evil as we become swept up in social machines. This is the great challenge we face as highly sophisticated social creatures who are capable of moral thought. Lord of the Flies narrates how and why the human condition can go so horribly wrong–due to the sheer inclinations of humanity itself.
I think this is an extremely powerful and fascinating story that describes the dark side of human nature, and I’m glad I took the time to read it anew.
What are your thoughts on Lord of the Flies and the human condition? Feel free to share briefly in the comments.
For any interested persons, you can find the Lord of the Flies audiobook on Audible here:
Or the Kindle edition here: