- Author: William Golding (1911 – 1993)
- Rank: #32
- Published: 1954
- Publisher: Faber and Faber
- Pages: 208
- First Line: “The boy with fair hair lowered himself down the last few feet of rock and began to pick his way toward the lagoon.”
- Last Line: “He turned away to give them time to pull themselves together; and waited, allowing his eyes to rest on the trim cruiser in the distance.”
- Acclaim: Modern Library Top 100 English Language Novels of the 20th Century #41; All-TIME List
- ML Edition: none
- Film: 1963 (dir. Peter Brook – ***), 1990 (dir. Harry Hook)
- First Read: Fall 1994
The Novel: Does civilization give you a boost when you are suddenly deprived of it? If electricity and modern conveniences were suddenly a thing of the past, would the most cultured and civilized be the best suited to survive? Certainly William Golding didn’t seem to think so. His post-apocalyptic novel (literally, in the minds of some, metaphorical in the minds of others) depicts the complete loss of any kind of civilization that we could possibly recognize and it comes from a group of boys being raised to be the epitome of young gentlemen. Hell, if England can’t bring order to the chaotic world, what chance have the rest of us?
Well, possibly considerably more, I guess. For it would seem that it is precisely this kind of civilizing of young boys that leaves them unable to adapt to the wild world on their own. Look what happens when they manage to discover fire: “Life became a race with the fire and the boys scattered through the upper forest.” They could easily end up starting a fire that could encompass every part of the island – the entire world as they now know it – and they would be swept away into death and oblivion. Yet, perhaps young boys who are forced more to rely on their wits, to learn how to survive instead of being trained for the best of the world, could do better. They could adapt and learn, rather than assume that the world is supposed to be set up for them.
“The first rhythm that they became used to was the slow swing from dawn to quick dusk.” That is what the boys learn. The next rhythm is the violence they bring amongst themselves. They gather into groups, each around the natural leaders, but in such a societal mess, only one person can really come out on top. Things progress quickly towards a war between the two groups, and Golding, having grown up in one war and been present in combat for the biggest day of another, sees what this can do to a boy’s psyche.
What must the British have thought when this book rocketed in from the skies? Just a couple of years after American youths were learning from J.D. Salinger that it was in a sense, normal, to be alienated from modern society, here were the Brits being told that at heart they were all savages and capable of this: “The sticks fell and the mouth of the new circle crunched and screamed. The beast was on its knees in the center, its arms folded over its face. It was crying out against the abominable noise something about a body on the hill.”