Lord of the Flies: Piggy
Piggy is a much more complex character than the simplistic interpretations so regularly adduced will allow; the very fact that his unhesitant commonsense would have chimed in so well with Ballantyne's ethos might make us pause before acclaiming him as the book's hero. This commonsense is evident from the start as when he organises the meeting and tries to make a list of everyone present. It is, significantly, the first question put by the rescuing officer; he wants to know how many boys there are and is disappointed and a little shocked to hear that English boys in particular have not made even this elementary calculation. Yet Piggy is a doubtful hero who, no sooner met, has to rush away from us in a bout of diarrhoea; in addition, he wears spectacles, suffers from asthma, is fat through eating too many sweets in his auntie's shop, can't swim, and, most important of all, his abysmal English reveals him as unmistakably working-class. What, one wonders, was he doing on the plane with boys so clearly his social superiors? (pp. 141-42) Yet it is he who has a monopoly of commonsense and practical intelligence. Jack, instinctively recognising him as an inferior and a target of abuse, orders him to be quiet, yet no one else talks such consistent good sense. Ironically, in the increasingly hysterical atmosphere, that turns out to be as much a handicap as his bad eyesight.
Piggy lacks the looks but has the know-how. The trouble is that he knows but cannot do, and is relegated, in accordance with Shaw's dictum, to being at best a teacher. He cannot blow the conch himself the asthma again but he sees its possibilities and shows Ralph how to do it. He never advances his own claims to leadership nor even thinks of doing so, but is happy to be Ralph's adviser, the thinker and framer of policy.
Piggy knows he is inferior just as Ralph and Jack take their superiority for granted. It is this sense of inferiority that makes him deliver himself into the hands of his class enemies right from the start when he foolishly tells Ralph his derisory nickname and even more foolishly asks him to keep it a secret. It is perhaps unfair to say that Ralph betrays him, since betrayal implies a confidence solicited and a promise broken, and Ralph does neither, but at almost the first opportunity Ralph blurts out Piggy's secret to the whole world. Even Ralph, so straight and decent, is not above meanness, and his tears at the close for Piggy are an act of contrition for all the insults and injuries, climaxing in murder, which the boys have inflicted right from the start upon their inferior companion. In Ralph, at least, class contempt is gradually and thoroughly overcome; he weeps for the true, wise friend who came to him originally in such an unprepossessing guise. That Piggy does to some extent bring his troubles upon himself leaves unchallenged his claim to be the sensible person on the island. He himself never makes this claim because he only partially realises it. One of his limitations is a tendency to credit others with his own good sense.... He shares Ballantyne's confidence that commonsense can master any problem and he believes that most people, given the chance, are as logical as himself. When, after Ralph's first speechPiggy admires it as a model of succinct good sensethe other boys, led by Jack, run off in disorganised excitement to light the signal-fire, Ralph and Piggy are left alone with the conch; then Ralph, too, scrambles after `the errant assembly', leaving disgusted commonsense on its own. All Piggy can do is toil breathlessly after them while venting his exasperation in the worst reproof he can imagine: `Acting like a crowd of kids!' But that's what they are. The book shows that you only get an old head on young shoulders when the shoulders are those of a podgy, unhealthy boy. The adult the boys so desperately need is among them but disguised so impenetrably that there is...
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