No Place Else: Explorations in Utopian and Dystopian Fiction

By Eric S. Rabkin; Martin H. Greenberg et al. | Go to book overview

12
On Aggression: William Golding's Lord of the Flies

Kathleen Woodward

The cheery morality of the popular children's adventure story requires at the very least a skeptical if not a cynical gaze. This is one of the points of departure of William Golding's meticulously crafted first book, Lord of the Flies, which was published in 1954 and was almost immediately heralded as a minor classic.1 As a child, Golding had read enthusiastically R. M. Ballantyne's much beloved Coral Island ( 1858), a flag-waving tale about stalwart British lads who, shipwrecked on a remote and lovely Pacific island, brave adversity with high spirits and bring Christianity to the black natives. Golding found, however, that as an adult, the reading of this children's book had vastly altered for him. Its combination of staunch merriment, arrogance, and naïveté was offensive -- worse, dangerous. Although the preface to Coral Island declares that the purpose of the book is "fun" -- harmless and jolly entertainment -- from our perspective in history it is clear to us, as it was to Golding, that this story for children served to rationalize the practice of colonialism and to reinforce the Victorian belief in the cultural, racial, and ethical superiority of the English. Shaken by the atrocities of World War II, the unthinkable mass slaughter organized by Hitler, Golding decided to model a fiction on Coral Island which underscored man's inherent capacities for cruelty, not cooperation. Lord of the Flies, he has said, is a "realistic" rendering of the hypothetical situation which Ballantyne had proposed one hundred years before.2 I should also add that it departs radically from the tradition of the romance of survival established by Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe ( 1719) and Johann Rudolf Wyss's Swiss Family Robinson ( 1812- 13), which illustrate the enterprising courage of "civilized" man cast away on a deserted island.

Just what Golding means by "realistic" is critical here. His vision of evil at the heart of man is violent and dark. When at the end of Lordof the Flies

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