Review: Lord of the Flies

In my endeavor to read more books that I have been avoiding in the past, I decided to read Lord of the Flies this year. I probably should have read this book at some point during my schooling, but I never did. So even though I vaguely knew the story, I didn’t really know it or its meaning. Thus, I was still surprised by the plot and engaged with the story, even though some of that engagement was with horrified fascination. The prose is unique, displaying the better portions of some of my least favorite styles from this literary period. But Golding utilizes them well to form a subtle plot that leaves just enough up to the imagination that will make your eyes widen in horror at both fiction and reality. There is a good reason this book is numbered among the classics and continues to be read so widely today.

I find it fitting that I am also reading a book titled Natural Law at the same time as I read this one. Lord of the Flies is a story of human nature, sin, and what is right and wrong. What actually determines right? Can we perfect humanity? What are our natural tendencies? What makes us good or bad? Golding asks more of these questions than he answers, but he does answer some of them.

At the heart of his story, Golding makes clear that evil is within us. Though he never spells out anything, he shows that we have a sinful nature. Try as we might, we cannot perfect humanity. Though these boys come from lofty England, their heritage does nothing to protect them from falling to their base desires. Though leaders, reason, and even spirituality tries hold sway in their little society, without an ultimate Authority, these children are no better than their parents, and the “civilized world” is no better than the “uncivilized.” We will serve something. And if we reject the moral order, it will be the Lord of the Flies.

And what or who is that? Before reading the book, I couldn’t have told you. I knew of Beelzebub, but not how it lent meaning to the story. But without spoiling the plot, it is the story. It is the most overt symbol of the entire book. It is the object of worship, the creature of decay and destruction, of demoralization and illogic. It is the opposite of the Logos, of God and truth and beauty and reason. It is the god we will serve. Golding does a phenomenal job of weaving it into the story before shoving it into the reader’s face. Like the gradual decay of humanity, thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought, until the horribleness of the early 1900s played out for all to see. And yet, have we learned nothing?

This is a book that could not have been written before WWII. Golding’s work belongs on the shelf with others of the lost generation and existentialism, with Hemmingway and Fitzgerald, among paintings by Picasso and Bacon. This is a book that asks and, in a way, answers the question “Why did these standards fail us?” Like the boys, we forgot the goal, the heart, and the truth. There is knowledge of the truth, but we need the force guiding us to be good, the reason behind the knowledge, and the heart of spirituality. Not just to say “we are good” but to live according to that moral order. There is nothing inherent to the nationality we are born into that makes us good. Without adherence to the ultimate Good, we are slaves to our nature and the devil.

But although this book was written with a certain time in mind, for a “civilization in ruins,” as Golding states, it is still a book for us today. For despite our lofty goals and utopian plans, we have not achieved perfection and still find ourselves beholden to our nature and the Lord of the Flies.

Blessings to you and yours,

~Madelyn Rose Craig

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