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Lord of the Flies ~ A Capsule Book Review

Lord of the Flies ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp

Author William Golding was born in Cornwall, England, in 1911, and died in 1993. His most famous and enduring work is his 1954 novel, Lord of the Flies. In it, a group of about twenty British schoolboys, ranging in age from six to fourteen, crash-lands on an uninhabited and unnamed island in the Pacific. We learn nothing of where they come from, where they’re going, or of the crash that landed them on the island. Their world begins and ends on the island.

The first thing the boys must do when they find themselves alone (no adults) on the island is to figure out how to survive. There’s plenty of fruit (we never know what kind of fruit it is) on the island, so they aren’t going to starve to death. There are also wild pigs but they’re very difficult to catch and kill. The problem of food and fresh water solved, they build crude shelters to sleep in. They find a large shell (conch) which they blow into to call meetings. The shell becomes a symbol for law and order because, in the meetings, only the person who holds the conch can speak.

Their only hope of being rescued is to keep a smoky signal fire burning all the time, which they believe will be seen by passing ships. They can have fun on the island, but their top priority needs to be the signal fire, according to their elected leader, Ralph. He is the most sensible boy on the island and the one most likely to maintain a semblance of “civilization.” Ralph’s chief ally is Piggy, a chubby boy who uses bad English and is afraid of almost everything. The boys have no matches, of course, so they cleverly use Piggy’s glasses to kindle flames from the rays of the sun.

Months go by. The longer the boys remain on the island, the less chance they have of surviving their ordeal. A boy named Jack challenges Ralph’s authority as leader. He and his group of followers gradually break off from the group as a whole and begin doing things their own way, which is Jack’s way. They become less and less civilized and more like savages. So now we have two warring factions, Ralph’s small group (representing rules and a sensible approach to survival) and Jack’s group (chaos and savagery). They become the world in microcosm.

Lord of the Flies is an influential book that has influenced and inspired many writers—and readers—over the many years since it was first published. If you’ve never read it and you don’t know how it ends, you might be surprised and gratified (or disappointed) by its deus ex machina conclusion.

Copyright © 2019 by Allen Kopp

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