Lord of the Flies (Elizabeth Abreu)

Published 2006 by Perigree, first published in 1954

Published 2006 by Perigree, first published in 1954

Summary:

William Golding’s Lord of the Flies is a novel that has been celebrated in the world of academia since 1958 due to its allegorical nature. The characters and objects in this dystopian world of young boys represent significant themes and ideas that Golding wanted to share with his audience. The chaotic nature of the novel is introduced immediately due to the war that is taking place in the world. During an evacuation, the plane which is carrying a group of British schoolboys is shot and crashes into a jungle on an island somewhere in the Pacific. The most important characters of this novel are those of Ralph, Piggy, Simon, Jack and Roger. The concept that the entire novel revolves around is the conflict in humanity’s nature concerning civilization and order versus impulsivity and savagery. The boys in the novel represent a particular aspect of this duality, ranging from well balanced to the more extremes. Ralph represents the civilized nature of individuals, and he attempts to create a sense of order among his peers after the plane crashes. He is voted leader of the boys, and assigns jobs soon after his election. Among the jobs are for some boys in the group to hunt and gather food, while others collect wood for a fire that could signal for help if kept burning at all hours. From the beginning, he attempts to create a state of order and compromise among the boys. Those who are stranded on this island are all male, and generally between the ages of 6 and 12. Piggy, Ralph’s primary follower, is teased mercilessly by the other boys and represents the intellectual aspect of civilization. Simon is the only truly good person on the island, he is willing to work towards the benefit of their group and helps the younger boys on the island who are scared. His sense of ethics and morals is apparently untouched by society, and is genuine and sincere in its nature. He is different from Ralph, Piggy, and Jack. Ralph and Piggy attempt to recreate the order of their original society—which is somewhat of an illusion considering a war is taking place—and this is not because they are innately good or ethical. They have simply been conditioned by society to act a certain way and to expect certain things. Also, Jack is simply evil. The character of Jack wants to lead, but loses the original position of power to Ralph. He is chosen as the leader of the hunters in Ralph’s group, and over time the audience sees that Jack is the embodiment of savagery, greed, and domination over others. Roger is the most extreme character on the spectrum in how damaging he is, because of his bloodlust and potential for violence.

During their time on the island, innumerable things go wrong. The boys Ralph had appointed to watch the signal fire fell asleep, the fire spread to the forest, children died in it, Jack becomes power-hungry and revolts with his hunter group, a pig is sacrificed and its head is placed on a spear as an offering to the beast that the boys believe lives on the island, Piggy is murdered, Simon is murdered in a truly horrific manner by his peers who are in a frenzy after a successful hunt, and Ralph is hunted by everyone. The pig head is dubbed the Lord of the Flies, and it is through this symbolic object that Simon comes to realize that there is not literal beast on the island, but a beast which is built by the savagery and evil that lives in all of us. By the end of the novel, Ralph is rescued from his would-be killers by a naval officer who noticed the smoke from the burning forest, and he instantly begins to cry. The weight of the knowledge that humanity is entirely capable of evil acts for no logical or civil reason is not only traumatic for him, but the fact that he had a hand in killing Simon means that he even has evil within him. His desire to return to the orderly world of adults is overshadowed by this knowledge, although he is presumably returned to his previous ‘civilized’ society. Golding uses Simon to represent the idea of human goodness against human savagery, but the fact that he brutally murders Simon’s character gives the impression that Golding believes that authentic goodness is rarely found, and can rarely survive, in a world that has an abundance of evil.

A trailer of the original Lord of the Flies adaptation:

Analysis:

Golding’s Lord of the Flies has been a staple novel in classes throughout the world for over 58 years. A novel which is commonly read by young adults between 7th and 10th grade, part of its popularity stems from the fact that the characters are relatable figures. Ralph, Jack, Simon, and Piggy are all boys that any individual might know, because all are realistically represented. After the plane is shot down and crashes into the jungle, the boys who survived are scattered. Although I have read this story and the Hunger Games several times each, reading them at the same time drew unique parallels I had not considered before. Both stories are obviously dystopian tales, with characters and symbols conveying a message to the audience about humanity, nature, and society. Each of these stories places youths in situations that are unconventional to young adults in today’s society, but still speak to young adults.  In addition to this, they are also allegorical tales in a dystopian state which comments on civilization, ethics, violence, savagery, nature, and the bullying of the weak by the strong. The island jungle that Golding’s boys are stranded on is just as foreign, frightening, and dangerous as any arena the Capitol creates for Katniss and her fellow district members. Just like the boys in Golding’s novel, Katniss and her fellow contestants would be rather unlikely to go around their home town shooting people and hacking them to pieces; however, the arena creates an atmosphere which is relatively free from the rules that adult society has imposed upon the young adults. In Lord of the Flies, the boys do initially work towards creating civilization and order, which the characters in The Hunger Games don’t invest very much effort in originally because they know the rules of the game are kill or be killed. The only particular sense of order the contestants in The Hunger Games create while in the arena is the initial alliance between the most bloodthirsty and best-prepared tributes in the arena as they hunt for Katniss…quite similar to how Ralph was hunted. There’s also the fact that Katniss allies herself with Rue, who (spoiler) dies. For the tributes, the fear and possibility of death is very real. The districts in The Hunger Games represent enforced order, while the actual games are representative of disorder and the consequences of it. However, this disorder is to some extent an illusion. The Capitol and those who plan the Games are virtually always in control: they decide how they can manipulate the environment to kill someone, or allow them to temporarily survive. They allow gifts to be parachuted into the arena for tributes most favored by the viewers of the Games.

These societies are unsettling but impossible to stop reading about because although they do focus on the savagery of people, they also can push young adults to question how they would act in such situations. I personally feel that Collins’ The Hunger Games is a much happier story than Golding’s. Every relatively innocent or good character in Golding’s novel is either brutally murdered, dies from the elements, or is traumatized only to have an officer appear on the island and say “I’ll take you home, I’m sorry you and your friends tore each other to pieces”, which is rather awful. Educational, but awful. The story of Katniss Everdeen is violent and chaotic, but it also has a hero who is fighting for something that would benefit everyone who has been bullied and manipulated by the Capitol. It even has a part where that hero appears to be entirely comfortable with making an immoral choice (book 3 in the series), creating an uncomfortable sense of doubt for the audience who has been supporting her throughout her journey. In addition to this, Peeta seems to be even more morally stringent than Katniss herself is, especially because he has not been exposed to a life of starvation and poverty that Katniss faced after her father died. Another aspect of Collins’ work that I enjoyed was the fact that she entirely dismantled particular characters. I thought Peeta was a sissy and should definitely be killed off the first time I started the trilogy, but Collins’ changed my opinion of him just as she did with Katniss, which was a refreshing surprise for me. Perhaps it might be a stretch, but Peeta and Simon seemed rather similar to me.

An interesting occurrence that is taking place in the academic world is that some schools are beginning to assign The Hunger Games to students along with or even instead of Lord of the Flies. A professor of Literacy and Language Education at Ohio State University, Anna Soter, points out that “one problem with teaching Flies is that all the characters are boys. With Hunger, “we have the relevance in terms of gender representation”. Tales of “an individual in the heartless system” have had relevance since ancient times, she says, and prompt teens to explore decisions about what’s right and wrong, and the boundaries of ethical behavior. “It’s full of issues that students need to talk about,” she says, and they usually “don’t have role models for this anymore” (Pollock). This brings about the concept that young adults who are also female need to read about female characters in dystopian societies, because gender no longer protects young adults from the illusion of order our society strives to uphold.

http://martinfreemanisnotahedgehog.blogspot.com/2013/03/the-peanut-gallery-hunger-games.html

The Hunger Games

Discussion Questions:

  1. If you have read both of these novels, do you think that The Hunger Games is a better choice of literature for young adults? Why or why not?
  2. Are dystopian societies such as these too violent for a particular age demographic among readers? If so, what age would you limit for the reading of Lord of the Flies and The Hunger Games?
  3. Is reading a story with a female protagonist in a dystopian society more effective than reading about a male? Or is this a false dichotomy, and are both genders equally effective in sending messages to readers in today’s society?

Sources:

Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. New York: Scholastic, 2008. Print.

Golding, William. Lord of the Flies. New York: Berkley Publishing Group, 1954.

Henderson, J. (2012, Mar 22). Dystopian Literature Catches Fire with ‘Hunger Games’ Craze. McClatchy – Tribune Business News. Retrieved from <http://ezproxy.lib.uconn.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/929422217?accountid=14518>

Pollock, Ellen. “‘The Hunger Games’ Is the New ‘Lord of the Flies'” BloombergBusinessweek Companies and Industries. N.p., 02 Mar. 2012. Web. 15 Nov. 2013.

25 thoughts on “Lord of the Flies (Elizabeth Abreu)

  1. Elizabeth, I really enjoyed the parallels you drew between these two novels; I think there is a lot of benefit from reading them in conjunction. Your question about which novel is a better choice of literature for young adults made me think. Personally, I enjoyed The Hunger Games more that The Lord of the Flies and I think that is because it is more romanticized. Katniss’ story takes place in the distant future in a society where America has been completely destroyed by natural disasters and rebuilt. The characters from the capitol are strange, almost alien, and Katniss is beautiful and strong. I think she is often glorified and admired by readers. On the other end of the spectrum, The Lord of the Flies is more believable. It takes place in modern times when an aircraft crashes, which is something we could all be subject to. I think that recognizing the evils of humanity is easier for readers when it comes from a distance. The Hunger Games is more objective because it isn’t actual our society, just another human one. But I wonder, is it better to deal with this issue from a comfortable distance? Or to face it head-on?

    • Sara, I love your question at the end of your post. The Hunger Games is more relatable for me personally not only because it is romanticized, but because the protagonist is female and closer to my age than Ralph and the boys in Golding’s novel are. Although the setting of The Hunger Games is in the future and is set in America, I view it as not entirely distant. The concept is certainly more extreme and unique than the realism you mentioned in The Lord of the Flies; however, the similarities between our own society and that of The Hunger Games (reality television, fashion romance, propriety, savagery, illusions, technology) are far more significant to me personally than those we may share with the British children in Golding’s work. I personally feel that it is better for the audience to deal with the issues presented in the Hunger Games, because it seems more of a head-on approach.

    • I find this discussion interesting because personally, I found The Hunger Games much more realistic than I remember finding Lord of the Flies. And Sara, your comment is really making me question that because it definitely makes sense that the Lord of the Flies should seem more realistic to readers because it is set in our society at war and occurs because of a plane crash. While I have not read The Lord of the Flies in some time, and The Hunger Games is fresh in my mind from reading the book and seeing Catching Fire, I am really questioning what about it made it more relatable to me than The Lord of the Flies. Maybe it is because, like Elizabeth said, the characters are closer to my age and I find myself identifying with Katniss rather than the younger boys. Or maybe it has something to do with the hot topic in our society today about surveillance and the power of our government, whereas I have never been stranded on an island with my peers. And I wonder if this second concept would make The Hunger Games more relevant in a classroom solely because of the connections that could be drawn to our society today in comparison to the literary components of Lord of the Flies that could be much more emphasized.

  2. I think your question about what age is appropriate for children and young adults to read these books is very interesting. I do not think that the Hunger Games is that violent of a text, many of the deaths are not shown or written in detail. It is the premise of the game that people must die but if you reflect back on the deaths that Katniss imposed herself they are often out of pity or defense that she kills. To get down from the tree she drops the trackerjacker nest on the group of careers, she is not personally stabbing them. She is doing it not out of the fun of killing but out of defense. The same thing happens when she kills the boy who killed Rue. And in the end Katniss kills Cato in order to end his suffering. I think in the novel we respect the players such as Katniss, Rue, Thresh, and Foxface who can play the game without killing for fun and to preemptively kill others. They avoid killing at all costs but we end up hating the careers who are born and bred to kill for pleasure. I think that the violence is needed to show the political messages of the novel. While I would not give either of these books to 8 year olds I would say that the book is approaches for teens and young adults. Especially with all of the violence in video games and television it is not like these children have never been exposed to senseless violence. At least the violence in these texts are used for a social and political message that is important in their lives.

    • Bridget,
      I completely agree with you. I think that teens are certainly exposed to violence, and I know first graders who have read the first and second Harry Potter books, in which there is violence. What’s great about Collins’ novels is that they all send informative messages to the audience which enforce what is good versus what is negative in society.

      • We often over estimate the understanding children have with content of books. Not saying they don’t understand what it’s saying but I think it doesn’t really hold substance for them. Like you had mention they get exposed to violence in video games and other ways in life that probably gives them more of a grasp of what role violence plays. I think with anything that deals with any type of violence of its extent parents should really follow up that and help children decipher its meaning. As a child I read a lot and my mother had no idea what was I was reading and I gave a lot of things my own meaning. But just having a general conversation regarding approaching violence can make the difference and eliminate the need for age appropriate material

    • Bridget, I definitely agree with your comment. I think that this conversation can be tied right back to the class discussion we had about Trash, in which my particular group had a long discussion about what is worse or more prevalent – physical violence or social violence. When it comes to all of the social violence that The Hunger Games portrays, just like in Trash, the impact of exposing it is dependent on the readers true understanding of the unfair power of the Capitol in all of this. If a reader that is “too young” is reading The Hunger Games, it could be possible that they become enveloped in the idea that this is just the way that this society is run, and not see all of the social injustice implied. However, in reading The Lord of the Flies I think that it might be easier for a young reader to identify with the innocence or kindness of certain boys and completely understand that it was unfair for his peers to brutally kill him. In this sense, I think that the social violence may be more harmful in Lord of the Flies for “too young” readers.

  3. “Is reading a story with a female protagonist in a dystopian society more effective than reading about a male? Or is this a false dichotomy, and are both genders equally effective in sending messages to readers in today’s society?”

    I think it is important to read both stories–one with a female protagonist and one with a male protagonist–because each of these highlight different flaws in a dystopian society. For example with Katniss we receive insight into how gender roles for women have changed in the future. For ‘Lord of the Flies’ (one of my favorite books!) we gain some perspective into how boys might function in a chaotic environment. But it begs the question, if ‘Lord of the Flies’ was made up of all girls, how would things have differed, if at all? In the same way I like how ‘Lord of the Flies’ addresses how children are affected by chaos. In ‘Hunger Games’ we see how teenagers and adults are affected. Just as I think it’s important to read both gender’s perspectives, I think it’s important to read from different perspectives regarding age and culture. I think it is beneficial because it provides a lot of insight into how we view gender (for example) now and how we think it will evolve. The more diverse the literature, the stronger the understanding.

    • Great point Julie. I’m teaching *Lord of the Flies* next semester in a graduate seminar on boyhood in children’s and YA literature; it seems as much a comment on the ways we imagine and socialize masculinity as a comment on human nature. On a related note, I find that while there is a lot of commentary on how Collins frames Katniss as a female protagonist, I’ve heard less, perhaps, on her portrayal (or critique) of masculinity.

    • You make a very good point about how diverse the novels are, and how one contains children and chaos while the other contains adults, young adults, and chaos. Do you think that Lord of the Flies would be a good book for children ages 9-12, and the Hunger Games would be appropriate for ages 12+?

      • I think it’s really difficult to pinpoint the age at which a book is “appropriate” to be honest. It depends on so many other factors as well. I like both books and I think both books should be read by all students whenever they are relevant or available. The only thing that might be of interest is the order in which these books are read. Do you feel that one leads into another? If so, which?

    • I totally agree with you Julia, I don’t think one is more effective than the other. However I do find fault in the idea that The Hunger Games can be considered a story with a centralized female protagonist. I once took a women’s studies class in which we determined what movies could be considered feminist based on the audience’s exposure to that character and her relation to male characters. Katniss’ story is one that is equally focused on her symbolic defiance against the capitol, and her torn love triangle between Peeta and Gale. I don’t think Katniss’ gender really provides much difference in her dystopian novel because her existence is known in terms of male dominated politics and love interests; it would be intriguing to read the novel from her perspective but minus the love story!
      Julia, I do like your idea that it is a good look into how we view gender now and how we think it will evolve. Although The Hunger Games is a futuristic novel, I think the gender representations are purely based in the present, and not how we will hopefully view genders in the future!

    • I think that thinking of these two books through the lens of the role of gender could be very interesting. In The Hunger Games, what if Katniss was the one hopelessly in love with Peeta – would this change how readers feel about the use of their love story in relation to winning the Games? If Katniss had killed other tributes in more violent ways, would she be shed in a different light? In Lord of the Flies, what if it had been all girls instead of boys – would the killing that occurs be viewed as even more savage?

  4. While I have many issues with The Hunger Games, I think it is beneficial for young adults because it is less explicit in its “messages” and there is more room for interpretation. When I read Lord of the Flies in my sophomore year of high school, my English teacher led a very Hairwoman-esque discussion: “The conch shell represents this, the pig’s head represents that…” It became a process of decoding rather than discussing, and it led to a very top-down construction of power, in which the author was at the top, with all the answers, and it was the teacher’s job to mediate those answers to the young adults readers. There was no room for dissent. I hate the idea that authors have a sacred message that is always right and must be passed down from author to reader. No thanks! Readers should be able to push against a book’s idea or what they think the author is doing, and (whether or not Golding’s work itself is straightforward and didactic), Lord of the Flies has become one of those books where everyone assumes they know exactly what everything means. Young adults deserve more ambiguity and more opportunity to struggle with texts or challenge them – not be told what they mean.

    • Laura, I had the same issue when I was in high school. Teachers tearing a book apart by telling us everything the book is supposed to mean and leaving no room for individual interpretation. I guess that’s why so many books get the “awwman” from students when they hear that they will be reading them. A lot of times it’s not what students are reading, it’s how the novel is being taught. I think the reason why the Hunger Games is such a success and the Lord of the Flies doesn’t have young adults running to the bookstore is because there aren’t many high school classrooms who teach Hunger Games outside of independent reading. Independent reading allows for students to interpret and visualize the events in the novel however s/he wishes to. This ability to imagine whatever each young adult wishes is much more appealing then the drilling of definite meaning from teacher to student. I just wish this wasn’t the case.

      • While I agree with you on this Jill, I think part of the problem with the lack of enthusiasm surrounding certain novels in school is the fact that they are all older. We don’t see many classrooms with books like The Hunger Games, because frankly, they aren’t seen as “valuable” because they haven’t been around long enough for people to find those symbols and messages to pick at and over teach.
        Laura, I’m not sure that there aren’t such “messages” and that there is more room for interpretation in The Hunger Games, I just think they haven’t been discovered yet. I’m sure given time, the right Hairwoman can pick apart the mockingjay or the tracker jackers and find that one “right” answer for what it means. I do however, feel that this sense of newness surrounding the series provides young readers with a breath of fresh air, and the ability to interpret these things how they want prior to some adult telling them how they should. I think the last line of your response hits at the heart of what this next generation of English teacher should focus on: provide new, various, fresh (however you want to call it) texts that the general Literature population has had limited exposure to, allowing students the ambiguity and opportunity for struggle.

    • Laura, I had this same experience – Lord of the Flies was all about the symbolism of each character and object. This issue is exactly what I wrote my paper about, and Jillian’s comment also brings this up – how can we expect students to be empowered by these books that bring up so many social issues if teachers are presenting the books in a textbook and structured format that strips any bit of power that was up for grabs from the student? Adolescents are reading books like The Hunger Games, AND having good discussion about it – why is it that this same thing cannot happen with Lord of the Flies (a great book) as opposed to the dry and boring top-down instruction that currently occurs in English classrooms?

  5. Laura,

    The concept of professors focusing on symbolism and themes during classes and feeling a need to translate and author’s work for the young adult audience is something I too have become tired of. Young adulthood and adulthood is meant to be a developmental period during which individuals form personal opinions about things based on their own experiences. Ambiguity and flexibility in texts is, I agree, a better experience and opportunity for them in their development than step by step explanations with no discourse.

  6. Elizabeth,
    I enjoyed your comparison of the two pieces and I especially liked that you went into such detail about Lord of the Flies because it is not a novel I had read before. I want to tackle your final question: Is reading a story with a female protagonist in a dystopian society more effective than reading about a male? Or is this a false dichotomy, and are both genders equally effective in sending messages to readers in today’s society?

    I feel that having a female protagonist is definitely more effective for young readers. I know for me personally, being in classes where we only read books that focused on male protagonists I felt that I couldn’t identify with the books. No matter how different the female character may have been from myself, the presence of her in the novel made me more invested in the story. Just with anything in life representation of various individuals is important. Having a book that features all male protagonists may seem uninteresting, unrelateable and a variety of other things to young female readers. Books like the Hunger Games are more more effective at doing this. Not only does the book feature a female protagonist, she is also a very strong female character which is not only important for young women to see but also for young men.

    • An interesting comment, Tracey. A few summers ago, I worked for a summer literacy program. As we were wrapping up our final class, the administrators of the program asked if I would change anything about the readings. I recommended a few female protagonists — all the books we read were about boys and men — but the leaders of the program told me that, as long as the story was “universal,” the gender of the protagonist didn’t make any difference.

  7. Okay, first off, I absolutely love Lord of the Flies. I remember reading it in high school and being so thoroughly disturbed yet simultaneously wowed by it. I never thought of it in relation with the Hunger Games, but you pointed out some interesting parallels here. As for your discussion questions, I think both novels are valid choices of literature for young adults, but the Hunger Games has a more positive message that may be more appealing to readers. Lord of the Flies is about witnessing how depraved and cruel human nature can be, but the Hunger Games is about the sacrifices people make to bring about political change and progress. It’s two different outlooks on the human race.

    As for which gender makes the more effective protagonist in dystopian lit, I’d say it’s about even for both. I don’t think Ralph or Katniss can really be compared for effectiveness as their purposes within their stories are completely different, but in my high school English class we discussed what would happen if all of the survivors on the island in the Lord of the Flies were female, and I think we decided that while the survivors wouldn’t resort to violence as quickly, a lot of messed up stuff would also happen regardless, and the message of the novel would be the same. I guess as a sort of follow-up question, how would you think a gender switch of the boys on the island would affect its effectiveness as a dystopian novel?

  8. I don’t think one gender is more effective than the other when it comes to narrators. Both male and female narrators are effective, but in their own ways. They each offer different, unique perspectives, and therefore cannot be compared because they each bring something different to the table. Males and females tend to be located differently in society, having different experiences and outlooks. This difference is especially important in the dystopian novel, where analyzing the society is one of the most important aspects of reading the story.

    • Peter, your comment reminds me of dystopian novels that really rely on interrogating gender roles, such as Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale or Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking series. The latter is YA and (I think) REALLY interesting.

  9. I was intrigued by your first question. I honestly think that Hunger Games is a better choice of literature for Young Adults. Of course there is value in both, but if I were recommending a novel to a Young Adult, I would recommend Hunger Games over Lord of the Flies. This is because, unfortunately, a lot of times classics tend to carry a certain sense of dread among Young Adults. If its a classic, sometimes they just don’t want to read it based on that. Furthermore, I think that Hunger Games is more relate-able in today’s society. Of course both hold powerful commentaries on the essence of human nature, but the commentary in relation to media, economic divides, and power are more relevant to students today. Lord of the Flies is strongly rooted in war and has many references students might not immediately understand. This might dissuade them from reading. I would especially recommend Hunger Games to a female YA reader. The predominance of males in Lord of the Flies can be a bit alienating to female readers. I know it alienated me a bit as a young girl, reading this supposedly wonderful piece of literature that didn’t even have a single girl in it. But of course both novels are great YA choices depending on the audience to which you are recommending.

Comments are closed.