Lord of the Flies – Book Review

Some were naked and carrying their clothes; others half-naked, or more or less dressed, in school uniforms, grey, blue, fawn, jacketed, or jerseyed. There were badges, mottoes even, stripes of color in stockings and pullovers. Their heads clustered above the trunks in the green shade; heads brown, fair, black, chestnut, sandy, mouse-colored, heads muttering, whispering, heads full of eyes that watched Ralph and speculated. Something was being done. – from Lord of the Flies, page 13 –

A plane crashes on a deserted island, leaving in its wake children – the only survivors. These children are British school boys, civilized kids with manners and well-versed in respect for authority. There are very small children – the “littluns” who don’t seem to understand the enormity of what has happened. And there are older kids, boys who quickly recognize the need for a leader, a chief of sorts. A new society is forming, and before long survival demands a return to one’s baser instincts.

Lord of the Flies is a classic. Penned in 1954 by Nobel Laureate William Golding, it is a novel which asks deep moral questions and examines what happens when the civilized world is stripped away and individuals are left to create their own society.

Two main characters emerge early on. Ralph is a sandy-haired boy who is quickly chosen to be the “chief” and who focuses on building shelter and maintaining a fire to attract rescue. He holds “assemblies,” where participants are called to participate with a blow from a conch and are designed to maintain order. Jack is a charismatic boy, the leader of a choir of boys, who quickly establishes himself as the hunter, tracking down the wild pigs on the island with a sharpened stick as a spear. Before long, Jack and Ralph are in a competition for leadership with Ralph being the voice of reason, and Jack appealing to the more savage aspects of the boys’ personalities.

Another character, Piggy, emerges as the philosopher and the scapegoat. Piggy is obese, bespectacled, afflicted with asthma, and a bit of a know-it-all. Despite his wisdom (or maybe because of it), he is bullied.

There had grown up tacitly among the biguns the opinion that Piggy was an outsider, not only by accent, which did not matter, but by fat, and ass-mar, and specs, and a certain disinclination for manual labor. – from Lord of the Flies, page 60 –

There is also a fourth character, Simon, who plays an important role in the novel. Simon is a loner, but he is also reasonable and practical and gifted with an insight which the others lack. When talk of a beast begins, it is Simon who refuses to acknowledge a physical beast and instead recognizes that the beast is the fear within them.

These four characters – Jack, Ralph, Simon and Piggy – take center stage in a novel about the disintegration of morals and the descent into savagery.

I first read this novel in high school…and my memory of it is inexact. Of course, I remembered Piggy for his victimization, but in terms of theme, my memory was lacking. During this re-read, the story returned to me and I found it so much more compelling from my adult point of view. Classic literature is defined as something which stands the test of time…and there is no doubt that The Lord of the Flies meets that definition with its memorable characters, shocking twists of plot and ruminations on what it means to be human. Written in the 1950s, it could easily have been penned today.

Lord of the Flies is a novel which will generate great discussion in book groups and in the classroom. It is not an “enjoyable” read, and yet it is an engaging one. There is a good deal of violence in this slim book and I found myself anxious as the plot unfurls and it becomes obvious that things are going very, very wrong.

This is a classic, dysptopian-type novel about good vs. evil, but it also forces the reader to look within and to examine his or her role as part of a larger society.

Highly recommended.

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30 thoughts on “Lord of the Flies – Book Review

  1. Jackie (Farm Lane Books)

    I haven’t read this one, but worried it was one of those books you had to read as a teenager to really appreciate it. I’m pleased to see that you found it even more compelling as an adult. Hopefully I’ll get to it before long.

    1. Wendy Post author

      Jackie: I actually think a lot of these kinds of books are better appreciated as adults…something that makes more sense the longer you are out in the world! Will look forward to reading your thoughts on your re-read.

  2. Brooke

    I never had to read this one in high school, but some of my friends did and hated it so I’ve always been wary about picking it up even all these years later. You’ve managed to convince me this was probably a terrible idea and I need to read this one eventually. I love that you found it engaging more so than enjoyable which seems perfect for book club.

    1. Wendy Post author

      Brooke: So many books I was “forced” to read in HS were not my favorites…but, when I re-visit them as an adult, I wonder how I could have felt that way as a teen. Our perspectives change, I think, as we get older 🙂

  3. Laura

    I read this in high school too … good to know it stands up to re-reading as an adult. Whether I’ll ever do so is anybody’s guess! Great review, Wendy.

  4. Teresa

    I read this in high school too, and my memory of it is quite vivid (which is not true of a lot of books I read back then). I liked it very much back then but haven’t felt much of an urge to revisit it. Your review makes me wonder, though, if there’s more that I’d pick up as an adult.

    Just a few years ago, I did revisit the black and white film, which I hated in high school, and found it absolutely chilling.

  5. Amanda

    I first read this in middle school and really, really loved it. It really struck me then. Rereading it as an adult a few years ago was an interesting experience, because I was far more horrified than I was as a child. It was more difficult to read, especially when young boys of my own. Still a brilliant novel, but I stomached it better as a kid.

    1. Wendy Post author

      Amanda: I agree – it was so much more horrifying as an adult than a teen (or middle schooler). Why do you think that is? I wonder if, as kids, we just accept the violence and not intellectualize it so much.

  6. Jeane

    I was first introduced to this book in high school and it had a strong impact on me. I’ve reread it several times, but it’s been years since the last visit. I wonder what I’ll notice different on my next read? it’s definitely a very powerful book.

  7. Aths

    This is one of my “challenge” books. I first heard about it in school, but I have never made an effort to read it because some of the contents which I believe the book contains turned me off. It’s time to visit it now.

  8. zibilee

    Oh my gosh, Piggy! I cried and cried! The movie version is also excellent too. I loved this book and think you did an excellent job with the review.

  9. Kathleen

    LOVE this book and have reread it many times since high school. My son read it for high school about two years ago and also loved it. We had really in depth discussions about this one.

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