Review: ‘The Lord of the Flies’

lord

Lord of the Flies
By William Golding

  • Date finished: Aug. 16, 2014
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Year: 1954
  • Project: Revisiting the Classics
  • Reading List: Summer 2014
  • Grade: B-
  • Thoughts upon reading:

I debated on what grade to assign this book. I hesitated to give it a B-, since that’s pretty low for me. But I feel I’ve been tough in judging books all summer long, from the A- I gave to A Secret History and the unprecedented B I gave to poor Bill Bryson. I don’t want to say I actively disliked Lord of the Flies, but I definitely liked it less than Notes From A Small Island, and so a B- it is.

I chose this book for my Revisiting the Classics project because I last read this book as a 15-year-old in a 9th grade honors English class. I didn’t remember much from it, besides the fact that someone named Piggy died, but given that I’m fuzzy on most of the books I read in 9th and 10th grade, I had a feeling I didn’t like it and I wanted to learn why. Was I just too young and biased to understand this book, similar to how I felt about Catcher in the Rye? Did I legitimately not like it, like The Scarlet Letter?

I think I fell somewhere between these two extremes with Lord of the Flies. Even as a 27-year-old with a college degree, the classic story of a bunch of British school boys stranded on a desert island didn’t appeal to me. I think the biggest turnoff (now and probably then as well) was the writing; Golding isn’t a bad writer by any means, but his dialogue works hard to mimic how young British boys actually talk, which felt clumsy to me. I felt like I was fighting my way through stilted dialogue and unfinished trains of thought, which while realistic (in a way), weren’t particularly eloquent or enjoyable to read.

I will say, though, that this re-reading of Lord of the Flies has reminded me how absolutely terrifying this book is. I believe, as a 15-year-old, I felt pretty “meh” about the story – “Oh, some boys are running around killing each other? Whatever.” In reality, however, what happens is pretty disturbing, and I felt appropriately uneasy while reading.  What happens to these boys is pretty scary, and is central to Golding’s overall commentary on humanity – that while we, as humans, claim to be civilized and beholden to certain moral laws, when we are left to our own devices, the violence and wildness is quick to reveal itself. And in the end, what are we but inhuman savages, slaughtering each other in the name of superstitious fears? What happens to the boys on the island is meant to serve as a mirror to what’s happening in the adult world, with Golding saying: “How can we judge these boys for turning into violent savages, when our adult “wars” aren’t any different?” It’s a disturbing idea.

In the end, though, I was glad for a few things. For some reason, I thought that the boys ate the fat kid called Piggy, and I’m happy to report that does not happen (I was dreading this the entire time). I think the ending is a bit contrived, though I was very much relieved at it. Overall, though, it’s a good book driven by an easy-to-understand, and yet still powerful, metaphor about humanity and civilized society. All in all, the Lord of the Flies is a good book for 9th graders to read. If only I could find myself getting into things a bit more, because unfortunately, even if my 9th grade self understood the book as my 27-year-old self now does, I still think I wouldn’t like it. Oh well.

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