Culture and Human Nature
As all authors use their life and times as reference points in their works, William Golding drew heavily on the social-religious-cultural-military ethos of his times. Lord of the Flies is an allegorical microcosm of the world Golding knew and participated in. The island and the boys and many other objects and events in the work represent Golding's view of the world and humankind in general and some characteristics or values found in British culture specifically.
Significant personal life experiences shaped the author and therefore his work. Golding spent two years as a science student at Oxford University before he aborted his pursuit of science for a degree in English literature, his first step toward a rejection of the scientific rationalism espoused by his father. Having joined the British Royal Navy when World War II began, Golding was involved in the invasion of Normandy on D-Day. After his military experience, Golding was a schoolteacher and, for 15 years, immersed himself in reading the Greek classics because, according to him, "this is where the meat is." He felt that Greek drama had a great influence on his work; many scholars agree.
As a synthesis of Golding's life experiences, Lord of the Flies investigates three key aspects of the human experience that form the basis of the the author wants to convey: (1) The desire for social and political order through parliaments, governments, and legislatures (represented by the platform and the conch). (2) The natural inclination toward evil and violence, manifested in every country's need for a military (represented by the choir-boys-turned-hunters-turned-murderers and in the war going on in the world beyond the island); and (3) The belief in supernatural or divine intervention in human destiny (represented by the ceremonial dances and sacrifices intended to appease the "beast").
By juxtaposing the evil, aggressive nature of the degenerating boys with the proper reserve and civility of the British persona that their cultural background implies, Golding places the boys in a series of life experiences that lead some (like Jack) deeper into their depraved psyche, and some (like Ralph), who recognize the inclination toward evil in themselves, to an epiphany of self-discovery. Such an epiphany is the only hope for humankind to escape from itself.
History of Lord of the Flies
Golding wrote Lord of the Flies in 1954, less than a decade after World War II, when the world was in the midst of the Cold War. The atrocities of the Holocaust, the horrific effects of the atomic bomb, and the ominous threat of the Communist demon behind the Iron Curtain were all present in the minds of the western public and the author. This environment of fear combined with technology's rapid advances act as a backdrop to the island experiences: the shot-down plane, for example, and the boys' concern that the "Reds" might find them before the British do.
Historically, in times of widespread socio-economic distress, the general public feels itself vulnerable and turns to the leader who exhibits the most strength or seems to offer the most protection. In Lord of the Flies, Jack and the hunters, who offer the luxury of meat and the comforts of a dictatorship, fill that role. In exchange for his protection, the other boys sacrifice any moral reservations they may have about his policies and enthusiastically persecute the boys who resist joining their tribe. These circumstances somewhat mirror Germany's economic suffering, which paved the way for the radical politics of Adolph Hitler's Nazism in the aftermath of World War I and in the worldwide depression of the 1930s.
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