Alright people, I’ve got a deal with myself. I am trying to read the “classics” to see what all the hubbub is about and if I am truly missing out on anything. I’m not really sure, to be honest. I’ve had some books that I could not get through at all and ended up throwing across the room (J.D. Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye”) and others that I struggled through but was determined to finish (George Orwell’s “1982”). There have been but a very few that I have loved most of (Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice”) and would not mind reading again. To be honest, it’s not just the classics, there are very few books that I read over.
All of that out of the way, the latest casualty to my Classic Studies BiblioPlan is William Golding’s “The Lord of the Flies”. I have to say that I found this book to be similar to “1982” in regards to addressing social and political aspects of life as we know it. Because of that, I found it difficult to get through. Who wants a reminder of how bad things are? However, the reason I believe this book is a ‘classic’ is because this sociopolitical aspect seems to transcend time. It spoke to those who were reading it in the 1950’s and still speaks to those who read it today. I found it even more accurately depressing because at the time I was reading it, the country was experiencing social and political turmoil. Hurricane Sandy had hit the East Coast, the Presidential races had come to a close (but all the political mumbo-jumbo had restarted in full force), and then the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut took place. But because of all these goings on in reality, I was able to better understand the happenstances the characters in the book were facing. And the book shed some light onto these occurrences taking place in reality as well. As much as I forced myself to finish it, I suppose it was a good book if it was able to do that. And if you have not read the book already, there are spoilers ahead so be warned. On with the review!
In this book, a group of boys varying in age from youngsters to preteens become trapped on a small island. They face somewhat of a paradox: trying to create an adult world with the skills and experiences that youngsters have. I likened it to trying to build a car with only wood and rocks: it’s not going to work out. The boys seem to immediately create a social pecking order that is based on their experiences from before they were stranded. The smaller boys are “lower class”, the larger boys who can help are “middle class”, and the larger boys who are aggressive enough to try and lead are “upper class”. They also immediately put a higher value on the boys that “do” versus the boys that “think”. In the end, this is their undoing as they succumb to barbaric like behaviors. I thought of it like a group of unattended boys on steroids. The saying “boys will be boys” seemed to be exaggerated and somehow intermingled with the behavior of grown men who allow their greed for power to overtake their sense of humanity. It was interesting. Even more interesting was the instant change in the boys once they were “found out”, or rescued. As soon as an adult showed up, all the “fun” was over and their “war games” had come to an end. In doing so, the only person who seemed to be given credit (or even want to take any, for that matter), was the one boy who tried to change the barbaric behaviors of the others.
Mr.Golding also touches on the mental and emotional tolls living in such a society has on its populace. Some of the boys succumb to mental breakdowns due to the elements and the decaying social structure. Others are forgotten about and must struggle to live on their own as best they can, generally the younger boys. Still others are outcasted and must push to survive in a social setting where their abilities to think outweigh their ability to do. It was a mix of High School social hierarchy and political social hierarchy, and how sad the two are so easily intermingled.
I found this book to be confusing at times, in part because Mr.Golding seemed to be trying to use words to paint an abstract painting. His adjectives were a little on the overused and heavy side. Once I was able to get beyond that, however, the book was a little more understandable. I found myself often asking, “Why did he choose to write it this way? Why not choose this instead?” It was an educating look not only into the sociopolitical aspects of life as we know it, but also into the mind set of the author himself. The saving grace was that this book is fairly short and is filled with behaviors that were probably considered shocking at the time of its writing (such as being bloodthirsty). However, I was always told that this book was about sexual perversion or abuse and I never got that impression while reading it. Perhaps I am dense, but it seemed to me that the perversion and abuse was of a social nature, not a sexual one. I must admit, this is why I took so long to getting around to reading it, I don’t enjoy reading about sexual trauma.
In the end, I struggled to get through this book but that may be because it did exactly what Mr.Golding hoped it would: gave an accurate portrayal of the sociopolitical standards of our culture. It isn’t always pleasant to have a constant reminder of why we are the way we are, and even more so, that we cannot simply flip a switch to make things better. With all that in mind, I found the book to be an intellectual read that would be great for a book club looking to explore such matters. It offers a lot of chances for discussion of behaviors and situations that bitch slap the reader into reality. Good book, awful reminder.