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The Lord of the Flies as Social Commentary

The Lord of the Flies as Social Commentary

The Lord of the Flies is an ultimately pessimistic novel. In the midst of the cold war and communism scares, this disquieting aura acts as a backdrop to the island. The Lord of the Flies addresses questions like how do dictators come to power, do democracies always work, and what is the natural state and fate of humanity and society, getting at the heart of human nature in a very male-dominated, conflict-driven way. The war, the plane shot down, and the boys’ concern that the “Reds” will find them before the British, shows Golding’s intention of treating the boys’ isolated existence as a microcosm of the adult military world.

I am plunged into Golding’s imagined island world from the first sentence. He uses lush description to build a setting that will contrast and reflect the boys’ primitive descent. The word “scar” describes the natural feature of the land, conjuring images of redness and blood from the first paragraph. The beautiful, yet often odd, descriptions help serve as a contrast between humans and nature. The use of words like “scar” and “blood” foreshadows the future interaction between the boys and nature – the pigs, the hunt, the storm. At the same time, the beauty and the order of the natural surroundings contrast with the decline of society developed throughout the book. Integral to this setting is the fair-haired boy climbing the rocks, Ralph. When Ralph meets Piggy, we notice the obvious differences between the two – the attractive and the fat, the daydreamer and the thinker. There is a moment when Piggy looks up at Ralph and sees the shadows on his face reversed. This reverse of shadows seems to signify the missed initial connection between Piggy an…

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…but ultimately signals a Navy cruiser.

The fire, once signifying rescue and later used for destruction, becomes both. The novel ends in the adult perspective. The officer is uncomfortable thinking about the savagery of the boys, and looks off to his cruiser in the distance while Ralph weeps for “the end of innocence, and the darkness of man’s heart.” Golding is making a point about the hypocrisy of the civilization. In reality, the world is just a larger version of the island. The officer’s comment on “the Coral Island” is also ironically significant in elevating The Lord of the Flies from a book about a group of lost boys on an island to a beautifully symbolic work of social commentary. The view presented is dark and pessimistic, making its readers look deep inside their own human nature and at the structure of society in a frighteningly different light.

Blue Highways, Leaves of Grass and the Parkdale Library

Blue Highways, Leaves of Grass and the Parkdale Library

I don’t know what exactly I expected to find at the library that summer. Rows of gleaming shelves and neatly stacked books, probably. No sound but the humming of fluorescent lights and the thump of rubber stamps. The librarians would be demure types – soft-spoken and intellectual. I thought of the place itself as a sort of solemn temple to the written word. With these images in mind, I was startled by my first glimpse of the employees’ workroom. As it turns out, librarians read the People magazines before they go on display, and complain to each other about bratty kids that file through, and they leave sticky bottles of Mountain Dew in the refrigerator. Such are the secret lives of the people who used to strike fear into the hearts of my second-grade classmates.

For me, it was a slightly jarring introduction to the working world. I was starting my first summer job, and, after hours, reading Blue Highways and thinking about journeys. William Least Heat Moon crossed the country over fifteen years ago, devouring Walt Whitman and “gathering the minds of men” (410). I was crossing a small threshold of reality, gathering observations on the behavior of men. He turned his back on the trials of life and I was watching its eccentricities; he was growing cynical and I am still completely green. Yet to me in June 1999, our journeys seemed almost identical. So as Least Heat Moon studied Leaves of Grass, I studied this road diary and tried to follow its winding philosophy.

It was the philosophy that came in handy – especially the parts that Least Heat Moon picked up on his way…

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…ye party. Marty made his specialty (Mountain Dew bundt cake). Millie smiled maternally and told the college students to be careful and call their mothers often. On her last day, Molly drove away blaring her horn and flashing her lights in exhilaration. As for me (like Whitman, a mere witness), I was wondering if these people were really who I saw them to be, and if they would be a part of me because of the time we spent together.

An old Jerseyman to William Least Heat Moon, explaining his faith in the force of nature and in mankind: “…then say I believe… because it is absurd” (392). It is, indeed, absurd. And so I too believe.

Works Cited

Heat Moon, William Least. Blue Highways : A Journey into America. Boston: Little, Brown, 1982.

Whitman, Walt. Leaves of Grass. Philadelphia, 1900.

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