In reading it’s easy to forget a character’s complexion, so that in the novel one can forget that children are children, as they adopt adult tendencies; the film adaptation presents us with no such opportunity. The book is what changed my life–though I don’t deny I was prepared for a change to take place, as soon after reading it, some months later, my first depressions set in, and perhaps it’s this book that provided the impetus to pursue literature, which gave me the vocabulary I found necessary for depression. I don’t know–do people grow depressed who are not also well-read? I read this twice in a week, devastated, and ran off to the book store demanding literature that dealt with the subject of “human nature”–they were happy to give me Salinger, and so I first experienced that revelation of revelations, the one you’re supposed to have while reading Catcher. As fascinating as I found this book, the discussion in school was rather abstract and at best literal; the nearest we focused on interpretation was the statement made by Golding somewhere in his introduction or notes on the significance of the boys being rescued at the height of their war by civilized man, who more civilized than a British soldier? in the height of his own war. And so the rescue becomes a singular instance, rescue from the island, rescue from a specific struggle, but not rescue from the larger struggle, which is so vastly expanded, so impersonal, that we can overlook it. War is a struggle between states, not men, it is a distant struggle, subsisting by words in newspapers, words in textbooks, the injuries and deaths negligible by their quantification.
Golding, of course, addresses both the nature of man and of organized society. Throughout there is a need to reach the bottom of things, the bottom of society being the individual, the bottom of the individual being—the child? The basest instincts? The children begin by being isolated from one another, and with the meeting of Ralph and Piggy so begins the structure of society, that is, when Ralph names Piggy, despite Piggy’s suggestion of the name, so Ralph exerts his control over him. This we cannot forget, because though it doesn’t function as an “original sin”—which comes later in the film—it recalls the naming of Adam by God, and of Adam’s naming the animals. Ralph shows an excessive concern over the names of the boys, placing that as the foremost organization task. So we’re left questioning whether Ralph is pure as supralapsarian Adam, or as sinful as the sons of Noah and their attempted tower. Ralph, as the one character who maintains a belief and memory of an omnipotent England (Piggy relinquishes that memory when he denies the murder of Simon), perhaps the protagonist, has this cruelty hang over his head despite the goodness he intends throughout the rest of the film. Piggy remains Piggy. This suggests that Ralph, as the purest character, aside from Simon, who is more a concept than a character in any case, still is plagued with darkness and sin. He may not be so cruel as Jack, but he is cruel.
Our introduction to Jack is as he leads a small choir down the beach. His role as leader is already established. The song they sing, as the film progresses, is repeated as the boys become savages, yet holding a pretty quality. And finally, in the rescue scene, the song is played again, the sound of a military band, voicing a definite confidence. The band’s music provides a calm reassurance, as we know the danger has passed for the boys, and thus the comparison of boys and men, of savagery and civilization. Music has a unique quality of being something that, in its performance, requires no competition: both players and audience reap the benefits, nobody loses. This idea makes all the more poignant the turning of the choir into the band of hunters, whose function is to assure the ultimate competitive situation, even unfairly. It is this group who commits the “original sin” when they kill the sow by spearing her “right in the arse.” Aside from the obvious sexual implications, there’s also the fact that the sow is perhaps the only source of meat on the island. Unlikely, but that’s the impression given. She can create piglets, but nobody can create her. By the same token, these are the boys later responsible for burning down the island’s trees: the trees can create fruit, but nobody can create the trees. And thus, back to the sow, we are brought to the “lord of the flies”—which, as I recall, is the translation of the name Beelzebub, which in itself is a perversion of “Ba’al Zebub” or some such version of the Canaanite god. It doesn’t hold bad connotations until the bible attaches them, and I can’t help but recall Milton’s legions of hell. And this is where I always grow a bit stumped on meaning. Simon, who is something of a transcendentalist, who in the novel is subject to fits not unlike an ancient Middle-Eastern prophet, in the film takes on a Christlike quality, not only in his ritual murder, but also through his ability to instill life in those things that the other boys overlook, sublimating the mountains and the flies in his quiet scrutiny. Simon holds the only vestige of an ultimate higher power, something beyond England. When he suggests they climb the rocks, he questions whether there is anything else they can do; what else is there but to reach to the heights? And he maintains his reserve when he encounters the “beast” long enough to identify it and make his slow return back to the camp—where he is presently murdered—which gives him the power to destroy it, if only through identification of it, through a silent “naming” of the thing, the power of God, not assumed—like Ralph or Jack’s power—but granted.
This suggests to me that the “lord of the flies” is not the sow’s head left as an offering to the beast, nor is “the beast” the dead man in the parachute. As an offering, it might be said that Simon “brings” it to the beast merely through his observation of both. But it is through his virtual “naming” of the beast that he exerts his influence over it, making him something of the beast’s creator, and in his refusal to shy from the sow’s head and its resident flies, Simon is displayed holding a power over the “lord of the flies”—and when he is wrongly murdered as the beast, “wrong” is perhaps the incorrect assumption. Indeed, within Simon is the truth of the beast’s nature, and in his death the terrible secret remains. Simon is the lord of the flies, as he presides over their feast, as he gives definition to the beast. The boys kill him rightly when they act as if control of the beast is itself the exercising of evil, when we observe that the darkness and light may be mistaken for one another, when they are so nearly the same, when Simon tries to explain everything, to bring light to the boys’ fearful darkness, when the light of the boys’ fire casts the shadows that doom Simon.
So it goes in reality, the leaders and their followers preferring darkness to light, for the excuse to act savagely toward one another and toward nature, for the excuse to follow blindly toward a questionable salvation from the supernatural rather than a sure rescue within life. jun 28 07