Day 2, Day 3
Lord of the Flies
I thought I’ll mix things up after that extremely easy start. So, I picked up Lord of the Flies while on a 24 hour rotation in the labour room. Turns out, I would escape one crazy reality only to enter into another.
Of course, Lord of the flies is not your ordinary type of crazy- it is a cruelly woven, diabolically relevant type of crazy and all of it narrated so poetically that it lulls us into a false sense of security even at its starkest and most dastardly moments. It is an amazingly written book. I did not like it one bit.
“I don’t care what they call me,” he said confidentially, “so long as they don’t call me what they used to call me at school.’
Ralph was faintly interested.
“What was that?”
The fat boy glanced over his shoulder, then leaned toward Ralph.
“They used to call me ‘Piggy.’ “
Ralph shrieked with laughter. He jumped up.
Right from the get go, you know William Golding is not going for a cushy, comforting story. His first introduction of Ralph is not an endearing one. The matter-of-fact and casual interjection of the child’s self-absorbed motivations in between dialogues serves to highlight the kind of inherent cruelty in children (actually in all of us) which later takes over in the book to become blatant savagery.
I think all of us expect some kind of Godly innocence in children. There is an optimistic part of us all which believes the only reason that some good comes about in the world is because of the place accorded to and occupied by children. However, Golding takes all those assumptions and smashes them on the rocks lining Castle rock. He, instead, brings to light an extrapolated view of the childhood past times of catching dragonflies on a string, imprisoning toads in a glass jar or pelting a rags-and-bones dog with stones. He points out that the only reason kids remain kids (or rather the popular version of kids) is because of the conventions laid upon them by adults. Take those away and you can’t trust what they’ll get up to. This view of his seems also reflected in the resolution of the book, in the incredulity of the naval officer who can’t bring himself to imagine that the paint and spears weren’t just fun and games.
Golding weaves a very masterful narrative that never states the actual time that has passed, yet gives an impression of how long it was in the over grown hair and forgotten memories of home. He, in bits and pieces that somehow come together as a whole, narrates how society can evolve out of nothing but compulsion and shared fears.
“As if,” said Simon, “the beastie, the beastie or the snake-thing, was real. Remember?”
The two older boys flinched when they heard the shameful syllable. Snakes were not mentioned now, were not mentionable.
He also presents a very interesting contrast with his two protagonists. Ralph- standing for the conventions of civilization, of rules like back home and Jack- who represents the uninhibited freedom that comes out of “sucks to your rules”. The writer is definitely biased towards Ralph, keeping him alive till the very end and saving him in the nick of time. But, he also has you rooting for Jack most of the time. After all, who can resist the temptation of a masked freedom that cares not who you are or what the consequences will be?
The aspect that I had a problem with is only that Golding portrayed a rather pessimistic extreme of this very freedom. In a land of the kids, for the kids and by the kids, it’s not a wonder that rules become too cumbersome to keep. But, does that mean that once I have given in to my urges of leading an unencumbered life, I become a savage with a thirst for blood? Wait, I know the answer to this; because that is how society develops. There is one or maybe two strong personalities and whatever they espouse, the others would follow and believe, like the hunters.
That is the reason why, at times, I was wondering if Golding was obliquely writing about the evolution of Nazism to its persecution of Jews and their own countrymen.
Another thing I didn’t get in the book were the dialogues. They are crude and they are repetitive. I mean how many times does Piggy say “I got the conch!” or what about Ralph and his speeches or Jack’s go-to lines of “We want meat. I got meat”? Why is everything repeated twice and sound like a chant? Maybe, I’m fault here because I really don’t know how young English boys talked in mid-20th century. But, what matters is that they all stick in your head like the one-liner punch of a joke, only you are not laughing. Their sense of humour, in the book, also leaves something to be desired I believe. Those kids giggle at the most inappropriate of times.
Leaving the dialogues aside, the true literary prowess of William Golding is everywhere else. It’s in the poetry with which he describes every moment of his story. No mundane “Emotions were running high” kind of lines for him. He’d say: “Passions beat upon the mountaintop with awful wings”. Every line he wrote was a poem in making and a song for taking.
“His head opened and stuff came out and turned red.”
The greater beauty in such a metaphoric style of writing is that, somehow, it highlights the fact that we are reading about a bunch of children. However savage they might have become, they still retain that simple view of the world, wherein colours become more prominent than shapes and stillness is appreciated more than movement.
At the end of it all though, the book left me angry. However much I was seduced by the freedom of Jack and his hunters, in the end, I wanted consequences for them. I wanted them to be punished for what they have become and what they had done. You see, when Golding makes sure you don’t like his characters, he only gets you to care for them all the more- for Ralph and his smoke, for Piggy and insecurities, for Jack and his power-addled madness, for Simon and his fears, even for Roger and his sociopathy and when Ralph starts sobbing at the end, that is when the enormity of it all hits. Golding makes his point about the importance of consequences in a spectacular fashion that leaves its tangy taste in the air long after the book is closed.