I read this book in 9th grade/Form 4, with Mr. Toal guiding a bunch of bilingual 13-14 year old students through vivid tropical imagery and subtle religious symbolism. A friend recently mentioned that she was re-reading it and that it was “intense!” (paraphrased). I decided to follow in her footsteps and read it again, roughly eleven years after the first time.
She was right. It is intense. The Plot, for those who have forgotten: A group of British boys, all under ten years old, ends up on a small tropical island when their plane crashes (is shot down?), and are left without any adult guidance. Events unfold. (I’m no good at writing non-spoiler synopses.) Throughout the book, the boys endure several different tragedies and crises of identity before finally being rescued by military men.
The vocabulary is incredibly rich – one might wonder how many times someone could describe the ocean islands, fruit trees and sandy beaches before it gets repetitive, but I was never once bored. Mr. Golding does a fantastic job of making the island’s physical characteristics mirror the minds and emotions of the young boys taking up their temporary residence there. Initially a fun,beautiful, paradise and the boys rejoice in it. By the end, it is a scary, fire-scarred prison.
Aside from the symbolism we talked about in 9th grade, I was actually far more fascinated with the conflicts of personality, age and authority that we witness in the individual boys and the group as a whole. Ralph is voted Chief because of the Conch Shell with which he calls assembleys to order, and because he as that certain je ne sais quoi that makes the boys trust him. He is respected but never enough to truly command the boys. Jack, on the other hand, is vicious. Everyone is slightly scared of him and rightly so. His authority and power come directly from his bullying personality and single-minded desire to best Ralph and destroy Piggy, the voice of reason throughout the novel. He is the raw beast, the “noble savage” next to the other boys’ civilized and rational minds.
I don’t believe that I would have picked up on all this in 9th grade. I understood that the Sow’s head on a stick symbolised the Devil, and that the boys were reverting to a savage state. I might have picked up on the symbolism of Ralph getting hunted down and stabbed in the ribs, turned in by one of his own boys much like Jesus was hunted by the Jews and was turned in by Judas. I definitely (because Mr. Toal spelled it out for us) understood the parallel between the wild young boys and the military men.
I never would have understood the delicacy with which Golding created his young protagonists. I did not grasp the skill Golding wields as he creates this fascinating social experiment in such a short novel. Anyone teaching a class containing boy Simon, Ralph, Jack and Piggy’s age would do good to read this novel; not because it proves that those boys are devils, but rather because it offers such a fascinating insight into how boys that age think.
Ultimately, it is a very intense novel. I am glad I re-read it, for I have a new appreciation for William Golding’s skill and a new understanding of why exactly they make us read it in school. I would recommend that any adult go back and read or re-read it.