A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
The book's basic premise is that some people, deprived of the rules and restrictions of society, will revert to barbaric behavior. This central conflict between nature versus nurture when it comes to morality is found on every page. Readers will also learn something about survival on an unpopulated island.
The novel raises questions about personal choice and individual humanity in appalling situations. People are capable of selflessness, even when their own lives are at stake. There are times when it's critical to put the needs of the group ahead of individual needs or wants.
Positive Role Models
Ralph is the main character who's elected leader in the name of staying "civilized." He thinks strategically and shows compassion and perseverance, but his motives are questionable, and he does not succeed in his leadership of the group. Piggy, who is brainy and logical, represents the rational side of human beings; unfortunately, he's also deeply unpopular. Only Simon, who looks after the younger boys, seems naturally kind and good, as if born that way. Jack seeks power ruthlessly, but is charismatic, so he's able to command leadership, even when it results in more chaos. Other characters represent baser, more violent human impulses or the innocence of children. The characters, and how they relate to one another, underscore the value of ethics in collaborative situations.
The British schoolboys depicted in the novel are White. Their descent into "savagery," a term used repeatedly throughout the book, relies on racist stereotypes of Indigenous peoples from Africa, Asia, and the Americas being more violent and less civilized. The character Jack explicitly differentiates between "savages" and the English, suggesting that only the English know how to "have rules and obey them" and "are best at everything." A boy described as fat is nicknamed Piggy. He also has asthma. For those reasons, he's viewed as weak by the others. Women are not present and are only mentioned when the boys miss their mothers. The comparison to tying their hair back like "a girl" is used in a derogatory manner by the boys.
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Violence & Scariness
One boy is bullied. Two characters are murdered: One is beat to death and another falls to his death after being hit by a boulder pushed by one of the other boys. The acts are described in detail. Frequent mention of blood. Brief torture sequence. Boys hunt a pig and poke a sharp stick up its rear end while it's still alive. The setting and atmosphere are fraught with the potential for violence.
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A taunt includes calling a character's asthma "ass-mar."
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Lord of the Flies has been described as dark, brutal, pessimistic, and tragic. Written from the point of view of British author William Golding, the novel tells the story of a group of White British school boys who survive after their plane crash lands on a remote island in the Pacific Ocean. The boys bully and eventually kill two members of their group, one in a brutal, frenzied beating, in the other murder, a character causes a boy to fall off a cliff. Both scenes are described in bloody detail. The book often compares being "civilized" with Britishness, while the boys' violent behavior is depicted as more primitive and draws on negative stereotypes of Indigenous peoples -- a false idea that was historically used to justify the colonization and oppression of people in places such as Africa, Asia, and the Americas. The story deals with a fundamental issue of humanity: Are people naturally prone to evil? This and other issues in the novel are well-suited for parent-child discussion.
Is It Any Good?
This novel has been a perennial favorite since its first publication in 1954, and when he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, William Golding was lauded for his deep concern for humanity. Today, Lord of the Flies remains a staple of school reading lists, although some of its dated views about the nature of savagery are worth reexamining and discussing. Golding's prose is unadorned and straightforward, and the result is page-turning entertainment -- as well as a highly thought-provoking work of literature.
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