Lord of the Flies


Introduction and Background

William Golding’s Lord of the Flies (1954) takes a portion of its inspiration from R. M. Ballantyne’s 19th-century novel The Coral Island. Ballantyne’s Island, in fact, is directly mentioned in Golding’s Flies, first by the boys themselves who have obviously read it and later by the naval officer who realizes the grim reality of the situation into which he has stepped. Nor is it a coincidence that the names of the main characters of the two novels are nearly identical: Ralph, Jack, and Peterkin are the central heroes of Coral Island, while three of central characters of Golding’s novel are named Ralph, Jack, and Simon. If one looks to the New Testament, one finds that Simon is the original name of Peter before Christ appointed the Apostle to his new rock-like role. That Golding’s Simon should be associated with such a figure is no coincidence: Golding himself insists that there is a priestly aspect to his Simon.

The similarities between the two novels do not end there, however. Ballantyne’s trio land shipwrecked on a deserted island, where they are forced to undergo several trials. The three boys do not return to civilization until they have run the gamut of human experience, from providing for practical necessities to encountering evil in the form of marauding pirates to receiving the joyful gifts of a group of missionaries. Likewise, Golding’s characters arrive on a deserted island after their airplane is shot down. They experience the exhilaration of independence, then the pain of disorder, then the fear of annihilation.

There, however, end the similarities, for unlike Coral Island, Golding’s novel is a vision of a modern dystopia. The island that the boys inhabit is a microcosm of that dystopia, tentatively held together by a superficial claim of authority and a poorly prioritized system of order. That Golding should create such a pessimistic reflection of modern life should come as no surprise. He himself had served aboard the Royal Navy in WWII and...

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Essays About Lord of the Flies