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:
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.
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
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.