The venturesome novel, Lord of the Flies, is an enchanting, audacious accountthat depicts the defects of society as the incorrigible nature of individuals when they areimmature and without an overlooking authority. The author of the novel, WilliamGolding, was born in Britain, which accounts for the English, cultured characters in thenovel. After studying science at Oxford University for two years, he changed his emphasisas a major to English literature. When World War II broke out in 1939, Golding served inthe Royal Navy for five years.
The atrocities he witnessed changed his view aboutmankind’s essential nature. He came to believe that there was a very dark and evil side toman, which accounts for the savage nature of the children in the novel. He said, “The warwas unlike any other fought in Europe. It taught us not fighting, politics, or the follies ofnationalism, but about the given nature of man.” After the war he returned to teachingand wrote his first novel, Lord of the Flies, which was finally accepted for publication in1954.
In 1983, the novel received the Noble Prize and the statement, “His books arevery entertaining and exciting. . . . They have aroused an unusually great interest inprofessional literary critics (who find) deep strata of ambiguity and complication inGolding’s work. . . .” (Noble Prize committee) Some conceived the novel as bombasticand didactic. Kenneth Rexroth stated in the Atlantic, “Golding’s novels are rigged.. . . Theboys never come alive as real boys. . . .” Other critics see him as the greatest Englishwriter of our time. In the Critical Quarterly in 1960, C.B. Cox deemed Lord of the Fliesas “probably the most important novel to be published. . .in the 1950’s.”The setting of the novel takes place on an island in the Pacific Ocean. The authornever actually locates the island in the real world or states the exact time period. Theauthor does state that the plane carrying the children had been shot down in a nuclear war,so the time period must be after the making and the use of nuclear weapons.Eventhough the location of the island is not definite, the author vividly describes the setting.
Golding tells us that the island is tropical and shaped like a boat. At the low end are thejungle and the orchards, which rise up to the treeless and rocky mountain ridge. Thebeach, called the scar, is near the warm water lagoon. On the scar, where the boys holdtheir meetings, is a “natural platform of fallen trees.” Far away is the fruit orchards whichsupply the boys with food. Inland from the lagoon is the jungle with pig trails and hangingvines. The island has a mountain that Ralph, Simon, and Jack climb, and from which theyare able to see the terrain. Finally, there is the castle at the other end of the island, whichrises a hundred feet above the sea and becomes Jack’s headquarters. Golding gives us avery strong sense of place, and the setting shapes the story’s direction. At the outset theboys view the island as a paradise because it is lush and abundant with food. As the fear ofthe beast grows, however, it becomes a hell in which fire and fear prevail. Even thoughGolding does not clearly state the setting, a mental picture of the island is depictedthroughout the novel. The plot of the story begins when a group of British students’ plane is shot down,and they crash on a tropical island. Ralph and Piggy are the first characters introduced,and they find a white conch shell. Ralph blows on the conch, and the other boys appear.
Among them are Jack, Sam, Eric, Simon, and many other boys who are never givennames. The group elects Ralph as their leader. When the conch calls again, they talkabout a small boy’s fear of a snakelike beast in the woods. Is there really such a beast? Theboys can not agree. Ralph convinces everyone that they need a fire for a signal in case aship passes the island, but the boys find it hard work keeping the fire going.Jack decideshe no longer wants to be part of Ralph’s group because he would rather hunt than worryabout keeping the fire burning. He leaves with everyone except Ralph, Piggy, Sam, Eric,and Simon. In spite of their growing terror of the imagined beast, Jack leads his huntersinto the jungle for the slaying of pigs. They place a pig’s head on a stake, much like aprimitive offering to the unknown beast. Then Simon wanders into the woods alone, has aseizure, and talks to the pig’s head. In Simon’s hallucination the head becomes the “Lordof the Flies”. Then Simon, terrified and sickened, starts back to where the other boys areto tell them that the beast is a dead man who parachuted onto the island. When Simonappears, the boys kill him, mistaking him for the beast. The next night Jack and twohunters attack Ralph and Piggy and steal Piggy’s glasses. Piggy and Ralph go to Jack toget back Piggy’s glasses. Then the hunters hurl a giant boulder over a ledge, whichdemolishes the conch and kills Piggy. The next day Jack’s tribe hunts Ralph. While runningfrom the hunters, Ralph stumbles onto the beach and falls at the feet of an army officer.
They are finally rescued, but Ralph can only weep “for the end of innocence, the darknessof man’s heart, and the fall through the air of the true, wise friend called Piggy.” (p.184)The protagonist in the story is Ralph, a tall, blond twelve year old. He is the firstcharacter Golding introduces in the novel. He blows on the conch shell to call the firstassembly, and the boys elect him the leader. Ralph states, ” I’m the chief then.” (p.21) Ralph is respected by all the boys until Jack becomes a separate leader of the hunters. Ralph is physically strong and brave, and he depicts this when he leads explorations, looksfor the beast, and tries to escape from Jack’s tribe. Ralph becomes friendly with Piggy,and the two of them refuse to adopt the new, less structured way of life that most the boyson the island experience. Both of them are very firm in their belief of organization andcivilization, and they are the only ones not to succumb to Jack’s savage ways. Ralph triesto play his leadership role the same way an adult would, but he struggles to maintainorder. He constantly urges the boys to keep the fire burning, and he always hopes to berescued. When Jack lets the fire go out, Ralph becomes irate and says to jack, “You let thefire out.” (p.63) Ralph makes sure that shelters are built and maintained, people deposittheir wastes correctly, and that the coconuts are always full with water. Ralph, theappointed leader, enforces civilization but struggles to maintain it.
The antagonist in the novel is Jack, a tall, thin, red-headed boy. He appears in thenovel as the leader of the boys’ choir. During the first blowing of the conch and the firstassembly, Jack loses the election for chief. He and Ralph, the protagonist, initially areamiable, and their relationship and attitudes remain almost the same. They both agree onthe need of fire, shelters, and meat. Jack voluntarily takes charge of the hunting. Initially,he is not very successful, but with the help of his hunters, they are able to kill pigs. At firstJack and his hunters do what they are asked, but as time goes on, they start to participatein different activities and neglect those needed for the sake of the boys’ salvation. Theystart painting their faces when hunting and become obsessed with killing. At this point theconflict between Ralph and Jack climaxes, and the structure of life on the island breaksdown. Jack and his hunters form a tribe of savage boys on the far side of the island. Most of the boys follow Jack because they relish the idea of meat and fun but despise theidea of doing work with Ralph. Over a period of time, all the boys become a member ofJack’s tribe expect Piggy and Ralph. Jack becomes chief of his hunters, and they respecthim like a god. He and his tribe kill Simon because they mistake him for the beast, andthey kill Piggy by hitting him with a boulder. With no respect for human lives, Jack andhis tribe hunt Ralph. While running after Ralph, an army officer confronts them, and theyare rescued. Jack, the leader of the savage hunters, is the antagonist to Ralph andcivilization.
One of the many themes in the novel is that man is savage at heart, and he alwaysultimately reverts back to an evil and primitive nature. Contrary to the belief that man isinnocent and society evil, the novels shows that laws, rules, policemen, and schools arenecessary to keep the darker side of human nature in line. Golding depicts the reality of this theme when the confusion in the novel finally leads to a manhunt for Ralph. Thereader realizes that despite the strong sense of British character and civility that has beeninstilled in the youth throughout their lives, the boys backpedal and show the underlyingsavage side existent in all humans. If a group of well-conditioned school boys canultimately wind up committing various extreme travesties, one can imagine what adults,leaders of society, are capable of doing under the pressures of trying to maintain worldrelations. When Golding wrote the novel, he said he was “striving to move behind theconventional matter of the contemporary novel to a view of what man, or pre-man, is likewhen the facade of civilized behavior falls away.” In a questionnaire Golding stated, “Thetheme 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 individualand not on any political system however apparently logical of respectable.”The main conflict in the novel is an internal struggle between man and his basic orinner nature. Realizing there are no adults, laws, rules, or authorities, the boys in the novelreside to their inner nature. This struggle that occurs within each boy creates a plethora ofdistinct conflicts. One contention derived from this conflict is an internal conflict betweenman and his imagination. The barbarous nature of the hunters put a pig’s head on a stakeas an offering to the beast. In Simon’s internal, imaginary conflict, this head talks to him. This hallucination leads to his death. Man verses man, an external conflict, is anotherconflict derived from the contention between man and his basic nature. Because Jack andhis tribe convert to their basic nature, it creates a conflict between the savage, Jack and hishunters, and the ones trying to keep order, Ralph and Piggy. This conflict becomes veryintense and even results in death. This struggle brings about the stealing of the Piggy’sglasses, the death of Piggy, and the manhunt for RCategory: English
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