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Book Report: Golding’s ‘Lord of the Flies’

William Golding’s first novel, Lord of the Flies, can be interpreted from different levels. At the most superficial level, the novel is an adventure story of school boys who were brought into an island. Without any adult supervision, the school boys, led by the main characters Ralph, Piggy, and Jack, attempted to create their own society. At a deeper level, the novel can be considered as an allegory of a society which is formed by people who have insufficient knowledge and underdeveloped social skills. And still at another level, the novel can be viewed as a political commentary of the present society.

That is, the etiquette and civil clothes that people wear are thin veneers of the stronger savage character within. The different existing perspectives about the novel attest to the literary talent of Golding, but what was his real message in this novel? A short background fact of the novel must be taken into account. This first novel was written right after the war and while Golding was teaching. Golding’s message in the novel is that the defects found in a society are merely larger-than-life reflections of the defects of human nature.

Drawing from this premise, the greatest defect in human nature is that humans needed to learn compassion and if the majority of humans never learned compassion, the result is a savage society. No human is born with compassion naturally embedded in the genes. This is because compassion begins by listening and by empathizing with other people. Thus, at birth, with zero interpersonal interaction, an infant cannot be considered compassionate. Ralph, a tall fair boy who seems to possess an admirable sense of responsibility, had no compassion at the beginning of the novel.

This does not mean that Ralph is evil. In fact, Ralph’s young character is admirable but he showed no compassion to Piggy. He was not sensitive to Piggy’s feelings and he did not listen to Piggy’s plea of not advertising such an insulting nickname. And when confronted with his callousness, Ralph chose the easy way out: “Better Piggy than Fatty” (Golding, 23). Ralph chose to defend himself rather than make amends. Later, however, Ralph learned compassion. This unraveled slowly when he chose to defend the weaker members of the island’s juvenile society.

Perhaps Ralph was propelled by his need to keep his symbolic power as chieftain but, nevertheless, he realized the helplessness of the younger boys and the insecurity of Piggy and chose to defend them. If society has more people like Ralph, who finally learned compassion, then perhaps wars won’t be waged so many times within a century. But what if there are more people like Jack, the quintessential bully? A humane society needed compassionate citizens. Clearly, Jack is not a compassionate citizen and he has never developed a significant degree of compassion.

In fact, he takes pleasure in inflicting pain on others. His earlier motivation is power. That is, Jack wanted to be the chieftain but this opportunity was swept away when the other boys voted for Ralph. Thus, the path taken by Jack began with a greed for power, followed by contempt for the weaker boys, and finally the evil attraction to take a life. Many members of societies, the real and adult societies, exhibit such greed, contempt, and evil in many ways and many degrees. There is greed for power in the government, in corporate halls, in the school, and in the homes. Who is, indeed, the boss?

There is contempt for anything imperfect, such as contempt for people who are sick, people who are poor, and people who are weak. I am better than you, please stay away. And finally, there is evil in destroying lives, no matter how much such acts are supported and excused, such as committing crimes of passion, meting out a death sentence, and waging a war. All these make a society savage, just like Golding’s society of British boys left alone on a coral island. But all these savagery can be prevented if the citizens are more compassionate. Compassion removes discrimination, condescension, and disrespect.

If the different kinds of discrimination are difficult to remove, then at least, there should be respect. A society needs people who respect the likes of Piggy. If compassion is within each citizen, then the society they created is humane. That is, the beneficiary of compassion is the nature of the society. However, the nature of the society is an abstract concept that many people do not completely understand. Without a complete grasp of what society really is, an individual could not see the benefits of developing compassion within himself. Why couldn’t I just look out for myself and forget the others?

This argument appears sensible enough. But, by developing compassion and looking out for others, an individual transforms into a better person. With compassion, an individual makes better decisions. This is because compassion prevents a person from figuratively drowning in the mud of materialism, greed, and even fear. In the novel, Piggy was the voice of reason. But Piggy was largely ignored and then eventually killed. In the end, “there was no Piggy to talk sense” (Golding, 228). Thus, it is important to develop compassion within myself – to avoid selfish decisions, to think clearly.

This analysis is just one of the ways that Golding’s novel can be studied. There are probably more evocative perspectives. But, the respect for Piggy – the major symbol of compassion – is the crux of the whole story. With Piggy, there is order and good sense. With compassion, there is mercy and wisdom. Every human being must have compassion. But it must be learned from experiences that are sometimes tragic and painful. And if too few humans learned compassion, then the society won’t be able “to put up a better show” (Golding, 234). Work Cited Golding, William. Lord of the Flies. New York: Riverhead Books, 1997.

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