Lord of the Flies by William Golding

Lord of the Flies by William Golding

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Minoring in psychology during my college years, I once wrote a term paper on The Lord of the Flies regarding the scientific perspective of human behavior. It is interesting that prior to writing the book, Golding spent two years of college studying the science of human behavior and social patterns.

It has been proven in scientific experiments that:

  • humans generally seek out an authoritative figure and conform willingly to the patterned social structure.
  • when thrown into a new environment, humans easily forget previous attitudes.
  • humans can be de-individualized if placed in a controlled impersonal environment.
  • humans will generally unite against a common enemy- sometimes a scapegoat.

All of this happens in Lord of the Flies after a plane crashes on a small isolated island. The only survivors are a group of British boys aged five to twelve. They immediately gather on the beach, choose a leader, and begin to discuss a survival plan. The only problem is the chosen leader, Ralph – though honest, courageous, and morally unwavering, is not that great at communication, and is not physically the strongest. That would be Jack. Unfortunately. Jack is hateful and has no morals. He’s also the only boy who can hunt down and savagely slaughter wild pigs for the hungry boys surviving on wild fruit.

Things seem to be going moderately well until the smaller children become convinced there is an evil beast lurking somewhere on the island. The boys assume if Jack can fearlessly kills pigs he could also scare away the evil beast. Even though Ralph is rationally focused on a rescue mission – keeping a fire going to create a smoke signal and building shelters for protection against harsh weather, Jack’s physical strength and bravado gives the children a feeling of invulnerability, so they abandon Ralph and become part of Jack’s “savage hunting tribe”.

Thus, the problem in this social structure was not in the conforming itself, but in the chosen leader selected out of emotional fear. This shift in loyalty from Ralph to Jack leads to chaos, violence, and death.

As an allegory of human behavior, Lord of the Flies is an outstanding example of the true nature of human beings. There are valuable lessons be learned from this book. Correlations could be made to Hitler’s Nazi Germany (especially since the story takes place during World War II), or more current everyday scenarios relevant to today’s teens like street gangs, college fraternity/sorority razzing, and many other social situations that involve peer pressure, bullying, and social conformity.

It is truly a shame that children in classrooms all over America are reading Lord of the Flies only to focus on the artistic style and Golding’s symbolism. Many recent on-line book reviews comment on the “symbolism” and the gory plot but mention little about the social psychology of the situation. And by the way, some of the symbolism appears to be devised by “intellectual critics” with overactive imaginations… like the fact that the meek, sometimes weak, and delirious child Simon was symbolic of Jesus. He could very well have merely been a sensitive and intuitive child with a medical condition like epilepsy (which does frequently cause “fainting spells” and nose bleeds.) Did anyone ever question Golding about this point?

Symbolism or no symbolism- why aren’t these very students discussing the social psychology of Lord of the Flies? And why do so many of their reviews cite the lack of relevant substance in the story?

This classic is well deserving of it’s rating of Number 41 on the Modern Library list of 100 best novels.

Rated 5 Stars

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