A casebook edition of any work of literature is necessarily the result of work and good will by numerous people. We are deeply indebted to the writers who contributed the original materials contained in this volume.
We also wish to thank the authors, editors, and publishers who so kindly granted permissions for use of the previously published materials collected in this volume. Full acknowledgment for their valuable aid is printed in the headnote for each of the articles as well as original sources of publication.
The editors gratefully acknowledge the special courtesies of William Golding, J. T. C. Golding, Frank Kermode, Donald R. Spangler, Bruce P. Woodford, A. C. Willers and James Keating. The Introduction to this book originally appeared in the Arizona Quarterly. It is reprinted here (revised) by permission of the editor, Albert F. Gegenheimer.
For her expert aid in preparing the manuscript, our thanks to Mrs. Paul V. Anderson, and our special gratitude to Miss Helen Davidson, who not only performed routine secretarial duties but offered advice and kept spirits buoyant with her penetrating wit.
ARTHUR P. ZIEGLER, JR.
It is most astonishing and lamentable that a book as widely read and frequently used in the classroom as William Gelding's Lord of the Flies has received so little analytical attention from the critics. True, it has not been neglected; this volume attests to that. But despite the profusion of essays by a number of well-known and worthy critics, few close analyses of Golding's technique can be found among them, few explications of the workings of the novel will be discovered.
Indeed, despite a running controversy over the meaning of the novel, critical articles fall largely into a pattern of plot summary and applause for the arrangement of the novel's materials followed by observations on Golding's view of human nature, often embellished with the critic's response to that view.
There are exceptions — they will be found among the essays in this book — like Claire Rosenfield's psychological study of meaning, Carl Niemeyer's comparative study of the novel and its antipathetic predecessor The Coral Island, Donald R. Spangler's penetrating study of the function of Simon, and William Mueller's discussion of the use of the various hunts.
Further explorations are needed in many areas, however, among them a careful scrutiny of the opening descriptions of Ralph and Jack in Chapter One. It is useful, but perhaps not very subtle, to point out that the former is immediately declared the "fair boy," that he, like the angel Gabriel, sounds a horn that announces good news — that of survival — that Jack with his angular frame, black cloak and cap, and red hair is Lucifer-like.
More Biblical parallels must be developed — the paradisiacal setting, the symbolic nakedness or near nakedness of all the boys except Jack and his followers — but most especially needed is a study that explains items that do not comply with the original Biblical pattern but that perhaps serve as tip-offs to the theme and the ironies that Golding employs without fully delineating until the last page, for instance the "response" of the paradise to the boys— first from the heat, then a bird with an echoed "witch-like cry," then the entangling creepers (more like the Eden of Milton than Genesis)—together with the important information that Ralph, not Jack, has a snake-clasp belt, that Jack wears a golden badge. We have implications very early that Golding's view is not simple, traditionally Christian, or predictable in spite of the title, that it is a complex rebuttal to the ever-present faith in man's potential for regeneration and redemption. Here is a fruitful area of research: do all these elements of the novel, some seemingly inconsistent, even extraneous, operate in unified support of theme?
Symbolism is one of the most puzzling aspects of this book. The names of the four major characters are a perplexing illustration. Simon, the mystic of the group, has a name clearly linked with an Apostle of Christ, the one, strange to say, who denied Him three times. (Simon does deny the objective existence of the beast, but is this a parallel?) Jack also has such a name, since his first name is a nickname for John, the announcer of Christ, also a follower of Christ, arid his last name is Merridew, an echo at least of Mary. Ralph's name, oddly enough, is unrelated to the New Testament and in fact is said to be akin to the Anglo-Saxon Raedwulf, "wolf-council." Piggy's nickname appears even more incongruous because it is Simon rather than Piggy who is slain as a substitute pig. The only instance in which a name seems incontestably appropriate is that of Roger, where etymology directs us to the Anglo-Saxon Hrothgar, "spear-fame." 1
In The Coral Island the three protagonists are named Jack, Ralph, and Peterkin Gay. Golding claims that he changed the latter name to Simon to emphasize his priestly qualities2—implying some intention on his part to make at least one name symbolic—while another critic insists that Peterkin is altered not to Simon but to Piggy.3 But that is beside the point. The central question is, "To what extent do the names function symbolically?" Do we just select Simon and Roger and, because inconvenient, forget the others? Or is there another more subtle solution?
We are also mystified by the relationship between Lord of the Flies and The Coral Island. Before undertaking a study of Golding's book, must one study Ballantyne's? To what degree do details in the former depend upon the latter, and, more confusing, to what degree do both books contain the same details because of similarity of setting?
No one has produced a full-scale synthesis of the symbols of the novel either, nor has anyone prepared a fully adequate study of characterization. Ralph himself is an enigma. Does he represent the idealist and Piggy the pragmatist? Or the reverse? Why are Piggy and Jack foes from the start, but Ralph and Jack friends for a considerable length of time? Is it important that Ralph disdains Piggy for so long? Why does Ralph the leader have such difficulties controlling the littluns even though they instantly recognize him as chief rather than Jack? Why doesn't Ralph establish a closer bond with Simon? Why does Golding-have Ralph enjoy drawing blood? As one examines the novel closely, he may find himself confronted with a highly ambiguous protagonist, and for what purpose? Do these complications help or hinder the operation of the novel? These are vital matters in evaluating it.
One could add to this list of needed studies indefinitely: a detailed look at the use of war and fighting (they are important from the first page to the last), a discussion of the relationship of nature descriptions and events, a look at the historical predecessors of the mountain, and how they bear on the novel (Calvary, Sinai, Ararat, Olympus, to name a few possibilities), the cause of the evil (Is it really "original sin"?), and so on.
Yet in spite of the gaps in the criticism, some commendable studies have been undertaken, and we have tried to assemble the most useful of them in this book. Supplementing them are two interviews with Golding in which he discusses both his own conception of the novel and related matters.4
Through our arrangement of and notes to the articles, we have tried to reflect the intricate texture of the novel as illustrated by the critics and to point up areas of perplexity and disagreement. The bibliography at the close of the volume indicates possibilities for further reading and study.
JAMES R. BAKER
Lord of the Flies offers a variation upon the ever-popular tale of island adventure, and it holds all of the excitements common to that long tradition. Golding's castaways are faced with the usual struggle for survival, the terrors of isolation, and a desperate out finally successful effort to signal a passing ship which will return them to the world they have lost. This time, however, the story is told against the background of an atomic war. A plane carrying some English boys, aged six to twelve, from the center of conflict is shot down by the enemy and the youths are left without adult company on an unpopulated Pacific island. The environment in which they find themselves actually presents no serious challenge: the island is a paradise of flowers and fruit, fresh water flows from the mountain, and the climate is gentle. In spite of these unusual natural advantages, the children fail miserably and the adventure ends in a reversal of their (and the reader's) expectations. Within a short time the rule of reason is overthrown and the survivors regress to savagery.
During the first days on the island there is little forewarning of this eventual collapse of order. The boys are delighted with the prospect of some real fun before the adults come to fetch them. With innocent enthusiasm they recall the storybook romances they have read and now expect to enjoy in reality. Among these is The Coral Island, Robert Michael Ballantyne's heavily moralistic idyll of castaway boys, written in 1858 yet still, in our atomic age, a popular adolescent classic in England. In Ballantyne's tale everything comes off in exemplary style. For Ralph, Jack, and Peterkin (his charming young imperialists), mastery of the natural environment is an elementary exercise in Anglo-Saxon ingenuity. The fierce pirates who invade the island are defeated by sheer moral force, and the tribe of cannibalistic savages is easily converted and reformed by the example of Christian conduct afforded them. The Cord Island is again mentioned by the naval officer who comes to rescue Golding's boys from the nightmare they have created, and so the adventure of these enfants terribles is ironically juxtaposed with the spectacular success of the Victorian darlings.2 The effect is to hold before us two radically different pictures of human nature and society. Ballantyne, no less than Golding, is a fabulist 3 who asks us to believe that the evolution of affairs on his coral island models or reflects the adult world, a world in which men are unfailingly reasonable, cooperative, loving and lovable. We are hardly prepared to accept these optimistic exaggerations, though Ballantyne's story suggests essentially the same flattering image of civilized man found in so many familiar island fables. In choosing to parody and invert this image Golding posits a reality the tradition has generally denied.
The character of this reality is to be seen in the final episode of Lord of the Flies. When the cruiser appears offshore, the boy Ralph is the one remaining advocate of reason, but he has no more status than the wild pigs of the forest and is being hunted down for the kill. Shocked by their filth, their disorder, and the revelation that there have been real casualties, the officer (with appropriate fatherly indignation) expresses his disappointment in this "pack of British boys." There is no basis for his surprise, for life on the island has only imitated the larger tragedy in which the adults of the outside world attempted to govern themselves reasonably but ended in the same game of hunt and kill. Thus, according to Golding, the aim of the narrative is "to trace the defects of society back to the defects of human nature"; the moral illustrated is that "the shape of society must depend on the ethical nature of the individual and not on any political system however apparently logical or respectable."4 And since the lost children are the inheritors of the same defects of nature which doomed their fathers, the tragedy on the island is bound to repeat the actual pattern of human history.
2.A longer discussion of Golding's use of Ballantyne appears in Carl Niemeyer's "The Coral Island Revisited." See pp. 217-223 in this volume.
3.See John Peter's "The Fables of William Golding" on pp. 229-234 of this volume. A less simplistic view is offered by Ian Gregor and Mark Kinkead-Weekes in their Introduction to Faber's School Edition of Lord of the Flies reprinted on pp. 235-243 in this volume.
The central fact in that pattern is one which we, like the fatuous naval officer, are virtually incapable of perceiving: first, because it is one that constitutes an affront to our ego; second, because it controverts the carefully and elaborately rationalized record of history which sustains the ego of "rational" man. The fact is that regardless of the intelligence we possess—an intelligence which drives us in a tireless effort to impose an order upon our affairs—we are defeated with monotonous regularity by our own irrationality. "History," said Joyce's Dedalus, is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake." 5 But we do not awake. Though we constantly make a heroic attempt to rise to a level ethically superior to nature, our own nature, again and again we suffer a fall—brought low by some outburst of madness because of the limiting defects inherent in our species.
If there is any literary precedent for the image of man contained in Gelding's fable, it is obviously not to be found within the framework of a tradition that embraces Robinson Crusoe and Swiss Family Robinson6and includes also those island episodes in Conrad's novels in which the self-defeating skepticism of a Heyst or a Decoud serves only to illustrate the value of illusions.7 All of these offer some version of the rationalist orthodoxy we so readily accept, even though the text may not be so boldly simple as Ballantyne's sermon for innocent Victorians. Quite removed from this tradition, which Golding invariably satirizes, is the directly acknowledged influence of classical Creek literature. Within this designation, though Golding's critics have ignored it, is an obvious admiration for Euripides.8 Among the plays of Euripides it is, The Bacchae that Golding, like Mamillius of The Brass Butterfly, knows by heart The tragedy is a bitter allegory on the degeneration of society, and it contains the basic parable which informs so much of Golding's work. Most of all, Lord of the Flies, for here the point of view is similar to that of the aging Euripides after he was driven into exile from Athens. Before his departure the tragedian brought down upon himself the mockery and disfavor of a mediocre regime like the one which later condemned Socrates. The Bacchae, however, is more than an expression of disillusionment with the failing democracy. Its aim is precisely what Golding has declared to be his own: "to trace the defects of society back to the defects of human nature," and so account for the failure of reason and the inevitable, blind ritual-hunt in which we seek to kill the "beast" within our own being.
4. Quoted by E. L. Epstein in his "Notes on Lord of the Flies." See below, p. 277.
5. Ulysses (New York: The Modem Library, 1961), p.34.
6.See Golding's remarks on these novels and Treasure Island in his review called "Islands," Spectator, 204 (June 10, 1960), 844-46.
7.Thus far, attempts to compare Golding and Conrad have been unsuccessful. See Golding's remarks on Conrad (and Richard Hughes's High Wind in Jamaica) in the interview by James Keating on p. 194 in this volume. See also William R. Mueller's essay, p. 251.
The Bacchae is based on a legend of Dionysus wherein the god (a son of Zeus and the mortal Semele, daughter of Cadmus) descends upon Thebes in great wrath, determined to take revenge upon the young king, Pentheus, who has denied him recognition and prohibited his worship. Dionysus wins as devotees the daughters of Cadmus and through his power of enchantment decrees that Agave, mother of Pentheus, shall lead the band in frenzied celebrations. Pentheus bluntly opposes the god and tries by every means to preserve order against the rising tide of madness in his kingdom. The folly of his proud resistance' is shown in the defeat of all that Pentheus represents: the bacchantes trample on his edicts and in wild marches through the land wreck everything in their path. Thus prepared for his vengeance, Dionysus casts a spell over Pentheus. With his judgment weakened and his identity obscured in the dress of a woman, the defeated prince sets out to spy upon the orgies. In the excitement of their rituals the bacchantes live in illusion, and all that falls in their way undergoes a metamorphosis which brings it into accord with the natural images of their worship. When Pentheus is seen he is taken for a lion9 and, led by Agave, the blind victims of the god tear him limb from limb.The final humiliation of those who deny the godhead is to render them conscious of their crimes and to cast them out from their homeland as guilt-stricken exiles and wanderers upon the earth.
8.On several occasions Golding has stated that he has read deeply in Greek literature and history during the past twenty years.
For most modern readers the chief obstacle in the way of proper understanding of The Bacchae, and therefore Golding's use of it, is the popular notion that Dionysus is nothing more than a charming god of wine. This image descends from "the Alexandrines, and above all the Romans— with their tidy functionalism and their cheerful obtuseness in all matters of the spirit—who departmentalized Dionysus as 'jolly Bacchus' . . . with his riotous crew of nymphs and satyrs. As such he was taken over from the Romans by Renaissance painters and poets; and it was they in turn who shaped the image in which the modern world pictures him." In reality the god was more important and "much more dangerous": he was "the principle of animal life . . . the hunted and the hunter—the unrestrained potency which man envies in the beasts and seeks to assimilate." Thus the intention and chief effect of the bacchanal was "to liberate the instinctive life in man from the bondage imposed upon it by reason and social custom. ..." In his play Euripides also suggests "a further effect, a merging of the individual consciousness in a group consciousness' so that the participant is "at one not only with the Master of Life but his fellow-worshipers . . . and with the life of the earth."10 Dionysus was worshiped in various animal incarnations (snake, bull, lion, boar), whatever form was appropriate to place; and all of these were incarnations of the impulses he evoked in his worshipers. In The Bacchae a leader of the bacchanal summons him with the incantation, "O God, Beast, Mystery, come!" 11 Agave's attack upon the lion" (her own son) conforms to the codes of Dionysic ritual: like other gods, this one is slain and devoured, his devotees sustained by his flesh and blood. The terrible error of the bacchantes is a punishment brought upon the land by the lord of beasts: “To resist Dionysus is to repress the elemental in one's own nature; the punishment is the sudden collapse of the inward dykes when the elemental breaks through perforce and civilization vanishes."12
9. In Ovid's Metamorphoses the bacchantes see Pentheus in the form of a boar.
10. E. R. Dodds, Euripides Bacchae, Second Edition (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1960), p. xii and p. xx. Dodds also finds evidence that some Dionysian rites called for human sacrifice.
11. From the verse translation by Gilbert Murray.
This same humiliation falls upon the innocents of Lord of the Flies. In their childish pride they attempt to impose an order or pattern upon the vital chaos of their own nature, and so they commit the error and "sin" of Pentheus, the "man of many sorrows." The penalties, as in the play, are bloodshed, guilt, utter defeat of reason. Finally, they stand before the officer, "a semicircle of little boys, their bodies streaked with colored clay, sharp sticks in their hands."13 Facing that purblind commander (with his revolver and peaked cap), Ralph cries "for the end of innocence, the darkness of man's heart" (186-87); and the tribe of vicious hunters joins him in spontaneous choral lament But even Ralph could not trace the arc of their descent, could not explain why it's no go, why things are as they are; for in the course of events he was at times among the hunters, one of them, and he grieves in part for the appalling ambiguities he has discovered in his own nature. He remembers those strange, interims of blindness and despair when a "shutter" clicked down over his mind and left him at the mercy of his own dark heart. In Ralph's experience, then, the essence of the fable is spelled out: he suffers the dialectic we must all endure, and his failure to resolve it as we would wish demonstrates the limitations which have always plagued the species.
In the first hours on the island Ralph sports untroubled in the twilight of childhood and innocence, but after he sounds the conch he must confront the forces he has summoned to the granite platform beside the sunny lagoon. During that first assembly he seems to arbitrate with the grace of a young god (his natural bearing is dignified, princely) and, for the time being, a balance is maintained. The difficulties begin with the dream-revelation of the child distinguished by the birthmark. The boy tells of a snakelike monster prowling the woods by night, and at this moment the seed of fear is planted. Out of it will grow the mythic beast destined to become lord of the island. Rumors of his presence grow. There is a plague of haunting dreams—the first symptom of the irrational fear which is "mankind's essential illness."
13. Lord of the Flies, p. 185. All quotations are taken from the edition contained in this volume. Subsequent page references will appear in parentheses.
In the chapter called "Beast from Water" the parliamentary debate becomes a blatant allegory in which each spokesman caricatures the position he defends. Piggy (the voice of reason) leads with the statement that life is scientific," adds the usual Utopian promises ("when the war's over they'll be traveling to Mars and back"), and his assurance that such things will come to pass if only we control the senseless conflicts that impede progress. He is met with laughter and jeers (the crude multitude), and at this juncture a littlun interrupts to declare that the beast (ubiquitous evil) comes out of the sea. Maurice interjects to voice the doubt which curses them all: "I don't believe in the beast of course. As Piggy says, life's scientific, but we don't know, do we? Not certainly . . ." (81). Then Simon (the inarticulate seer) rises to utter the truth in garbled, ineffective phrases: there is a beast, but "it's only us." As always, his saving words are misunderstood, and the prophet shrinks away in confusion. Amid speculation that he means some kind of ghost, there is a silent show of hands for ghosts as Piggy breaks in with angry rhetorical questions: "What are we? Humans? Or animals? Or savages?" (84). Taking his cue, Jack (savagery in excelsis) leaps to his feet and leads all but the "three blind mice" (Ralph, Piggy, Simon) into a mad jig of release down the darkening beach. The parliamentarians naively contrast their failure with the supposed efficiency of adults, and Ralph, in despair, asks for a sign from that ruined world.
In "Beast from Air" the sign, a dead man in a parachute, is sent down from the grownups, and the collapse foreshadowed in the allegorical parliament comes on with surprising speed. Ralph himself looks into the face of the enthroned tyrant on the mountain, and from that moment his young intelligence is crippled by fear. He confirms the reality of the beast and his confession of weakness insures Jack's spectacular rise to power. Yet the ease with which Jack establishes his Dionysian order is hardly unaccountable. In its very first appearance the black-caped choir, vaguely evil in its military esprit, emerged ominously from a mirage and marched down upon the minority forces assembled on the platform. Except for Simon, pressed into service and out of step with the common rhythm, the choir is composed of servitors bound by the ritual and mystery of group consciousness. They share in that communion, and there is no real "conversion" or transfer of allegiance from good to evil when the chorus, ostensibly Christian, becomes the tribe of hunters. The lord they serve inhabits their own being. If they turn with relief from the burdens of the platform, it is because they cannot transcend the limitations of their own nature. Even the parliamentary pool of intelligence must fail in the attempt to explain all that manifests itself in our turbulent hearts, and the assertion that life is ordered, "scientific," often appears mere bravado. It embodies tile sin of pride and, inevitably, evokes in some form the great god it has denied.
It is Simon who witnesses his coming and hears his words of wrath. In the thick undergrowth of the forest the boy discovers a refuge from the war of words. His shelter of leaves is a place of contemplation, a sequestered temple, scented and lighted by the white flowers of the night-blooming candlenut tree, where, in secret, he meditates on the lucid but somehow over-simple logic of Piggy and Ralph and the venal emotion of Jack's challenges: There, in the infernal glare of the afternoon sun, he sees the killing of the sow by the hunters and the erection of the pig's head on the sharpened stick. These acts signify not only the release from the blood taboo but also obeisance to the mystery and god who has come to be lord of the island-world. In the hours of one powerfully symbolic afternoon Simon sees the perennial fall which is the central reality of our history: me defeat of reason and the release of Dionysian madness in souls wounded by fear.
Awed by the hideousness of the dripping head (an image of the hunter's own nature) the apprentice bacchantes suddenly run away, but Simon's gaze is "held by that ancient, inescapable recognition" (128)—an incarnation of the beast or devil bom again and again out of the human heart. Before he loses consciousness the epileptic visionary "hears" the truth which is inaccessible to the illusion-bound rationalist and the unconscious or irrational man alike: " 'Fancy thinking the Beast was something you could hunt and kill!' said the head. For a moment or two the forest and all the other dimly appreciated places echoed with the parody of laughter. ‘You knew, didn't you? I'm part of you? Close, close, close! I'm the reason why it's no go? Why things are as they are?' " (133). When Simon recovers from this trauma of revelation he finds on the mountain top that the "beast" is only a man. Like the pig itself, the dead man in the chute is fly-blown, corrupt, an obscene image of the evil that has triumphed in the adult world as well. Tenderly, the boy releases the lines so that the body can descend to earth, but the fallen man does not die. After Simon's death, when the truth is once more lost, the figure rises, moves over the terrified tribe on the beach, and finally out to sea —a tyrannous ghost (history itself) which haunts and curses every social order.
In his martyrdom Simon meets the fate of all saints. The truth he brings would set us free from the repetitious nightmare of history, but we are, by nature, incapable of receiving that truth. Demented by fears our intelligence cannot control, we are at once "heroic and sick" (96), ingenious and ingenuous at the same time. Inevitably we gather in tribal union to hunt the molesting "beast," and always the intolerable frustration of the hunt ends as it must: within the enchanted circle formed by the searchers, the beast materializes in the only form he can possibly assume, the very image of his creator; and once he is visible, projected (once the hunted has become the hunter), the circle closes in an agony of relief. Simon, call him prophet, seer or saint, is blessed and cursed by those intuitions which threaten the ritual of the tribe. In whatever culture the saint appears, he is doomed by his unique insights. There is a vital, if obvious, irony to be observed in the fact that the lost children of Golding's fable are of Christian heritage, but when they blindly kill their savior they re-enact an ancient tragedy, universal because it has its true source in the defects of the species.
The beast, too, is as old as his maker and has assumed many names, though of course his character must remain quite consistent The particular beast who speaks to Simon is much like his namesake, Beelzebub. A prince of demons of Assyrian or Hebrew descent, but later appropriated by Christians, he is a lord of the flies, an idol for unclean beings. He is what all devils are: an embodiment of the lusts and cruelties which possess his worshipers and of peculiar power among the Philistines, the unenlightened, fearful herd. He shares some kinship with Dionysus, for his powers and effects are much the same. In The Bacchae Dionysus is shown "as the source of ecstasies and disasters, as the enemy of intellect and the defense of man against his isolation, as a power that can make him feel like a god while acting like a beast. ..." As such, he is "a god whom all can recognize." 14
Nor is it difficult to recognize the island on which Golding's innocents are set down as a natural paradise, an un-corrupted Eden offering all the lush abundance of the primal earth. But it is lost with the first rumors of the "snake-thing," because he is the ancient, inescapable presence who insures a repetition of the fall. If this fall from grace is indeed the "perennial myth" that Golding explores in all his work,15 it does not seem that he has found in Genesis a metaphor capable of illuminating the full range of his theme. In The Bacchae Golding the classicist found another version of the fall of man, and it is clearly more useful to him than its Biblical counterpart. For one thing, it makes it possible to avoid the comparatively narrow moral connotations most of us are inclined to read into the warfare between Satan (unqualifiedly evil) and God (unqualifiedly good). Satan is a fallen angel seeking vengeance on the godhead, and we therefore think of him as an autonomous entity, a being in his own right and prince of his own domain. Dionysus, on the other hand, is a son of God (Zeus) and thus a manifestation or agent of the godhead or mystery with whom man seeks communion, or, perverse in his pride, denies at his own peril. To resist Dionysus is to resist nature itself, and this attempt to transcend the laws of creation brings down upon us the punishment of the god. Further, the ritual-hunt of The Bacchae provides something else not found in the Biblical account. The hunt on Golding's island emerges spontaneously out of childish play, but it comes to serve as a key to psychology underlying human conflict and, of course, an effective symbol for the bloody game we have played throughout our history. This is not to say that Biblical metaphor is unimportant in Lord of the Flies, or in the later works, but it forms only a part of the larger mythic frame in which Golding sees the nature and destiny of man.