Chapter 2b: Boys Will Be Boys

The second of our duelling books is by British-born William Golding, that of Lord of the Flies, which came directly out of his experience with The Coral Island. The longer he thought about the book the more it drove him to refute it. In fact, The Coral Island had been a favourite of his when he was a child, but as he read the adventure story to his children, about boys who were virtuous and moral and the British who were considered superior, he was bothered. He was a teacher and he knew children didn’t act like this.

In Fable, Golding writes about how the Second World War changed everything for him. Before the war he believed people could become better and if the right structure was found to run society, goodwill would ensue. As a result, social problems could be solved by finding the right key. But after the war he discovered what one man could do to another. It went beyond acts of war with men being killed and even the extermination and liquidation of Jews and those that defended them. Not unlike the Teacher who wrote Ecclesiastes, he asks questions:

How did the idealist concepts of primitive socialism turn at last into Stalinism? How could the political and philosophical idealism of Germany produce as its ultimate fruit, the rule of Adolf Hitler? My own conviction grew, that what had happened was that [people] were putting the cart before the horse. They were looking at the system rather than the people.

To combat these views, he wrote Lord of the Flies. Like Ralph, Jack and Peterkin in The Coral Island, the boys in Golding’s novel find themselves marooned on an earthly paradise, a world of boundless wealth, beauty, and resources. The boys are too young to be interested in sex, they don’t have to fight for survival, and disaster doesn’t come through class exploitation but “simply and solely out of the nature of the brute. The overall picture was to be the tragic lesson that the English have had to learn over a period of one hundred years; that one lot of people is inherently like any other lot of people; and that the only enemy of man is inside him.”

The “boys are suffering from the terrible disease of being human.”

They form opposing teams and fight for dominance and power. They try to follow rules of survival like keeping a fire going but fail miserably. When they are finally rescued, the British officer observes their filth and asks how British boys could behave this way.

Unlike Ballantyne’s book, Lord of the Flies was rejected by twenty-one publishers for various reasons. Many felt the moral of the novel was too pessimistic and dark. But Golding reread the book and knew it was good, even thought, rightly, he would win the Nobel prize. As the difficulties of wars and protests asserted themselves it sold 65,000 copies. Sales fell and rose as the world changed. It was often on banned book lists. Golding watched this happen and became bitter. He felt it wasn’t a change in the times but a longing for fairy tale endings that caused it to fall out of favour.

The battle lines were drawn. Our bus, storm tossed and under attack, chugs on.


And in the middle of them, with filthy body, matted hair, and unwiped nose, Ralph wept for the end of innocence, the darkness of man’s heart, and the fall through the air of the true, wise friend called Piggy.

William Golding, The Lord of the Flies


Off the Beaten Path:

Thug discusses Lord of the Flies:

A short biography of William Golding:

You may be surprised to hear William Golding’s findings of optimism in Lord of the Flies:

William Golding’s Lord of the Flies is available as a novel or two versions in movie form released in 1963 and 1990. Find a comparison of the two movies here:

The seeds of trouble are sown in Lord of the Flies: