Critical Essays Golding's Use of the Fable Structure


A fable is a short fictional story intended to teach a moral lesson. Best known are Aesop's fables, which feature talking animals as the main characters and end with such truisms as "slow and steady wins the race." The one-dimensional characters and simplistic story line of a fable leave little room for argument with the concluding proverb. It is ironic, then, that Golding considered Lord of the Flies a fable, because his novel allows much room for speculation.

Instead of using cartoonish talking animals, Golding teaches his lesson with fully developed human characters representing the dominant motifs. As the characters interact with each other and with their environment, so do the forces they represent. Using the characters to embody these forces allows Golding the opportunity to compare and contrast with rich shadings of meaning rather than with simplistic oppositions. Unlike Aesop's animals, human beings act in ways that frequently conflict with the values they consciously hold, as is the case with Golding's protagonist Ralph. Because Ralph finds himself participating in the same savage behavior he condemns in the other boys, he presents a realistic picture of a humane person resorting to brutality under unusual circumstances.

Other characters also bring ambiguity to the motifs they embody. Piggy, for example, represents the scientific rationalist whose knowledge and intellect far exceed that of the other boys. Yet for all his intelligence, he cannot figure out how to speak so that the others will listen.

Golding does seek to provide a lesson in morality, but the lesson lacks the straightforward and decisive tone of the proverb that concludes most fables. At the end of Golding's fable, the reader has learned not that evil is confined to the militaristic portion of the population as epitomized by Jack; the pacifist Ralph participated in some of the brutal tribal activities. Neither has the reader learned that science or even simple common sense will save humanity from itself; Piggy is ridiculed throughout and then killed. Mystical revelations or visionary insight into the human condition will not save us; consider the fate of the saintly Simon. Instead the reader learns that evil lives in us all, and there is no proverb to remedy that situation. By invoking the complexity that underlies human nature, Golding's tale brings depth to the fable structure and presents a complex moral lesson as well.