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Lord of the Flies

Lord of the Flies - Edmund L. Epstein, William Golding Manny's review of The Authoritarians got me thinking about Lord of the Flies (LOTF) this week. I'm surprised at all the negative reviews out there on LOTF, but not in a bad way. I just always thought the merits of the book were apparent, and widely acknowledged. Some of the criticisms have been quite fair, however. ((((GoodReads)))) I've been taking them all in, and they've opened my eyes to some of the book's flaws. But I still think it is wonderful. Let's be fair to the critics. I concede LOTF's message comes on a bit strong in places. When Simon gets killed before he can reveal the identity of the mysterious "beast", I suppose I can appreciate how that might seem overly dramtic, and probably unrealistic. And it's true: the allegories are not subtle. The correlates to Piggy, Ralph and Jack in modern history are not hard to sort out. When ecumenical Ralph gets elected to lead the boys, and he allows aggressive Jack to retain authority over the hunters, I guess I can understand readers rolling their eyes and muttering "Oh, here it comes..." But I am willing to overlook these vulgarities, because it seems obvious from early on where the book is going. I can't imagine that anybody could read Lord of the Flies and be dumbfounded at the end, when it turns out to be a cynical commentary on politics and human nature! No, the genius of the book is that it distills the mechanics of a complex society down into a few key players, and tells a moving story about the roles they play. That's important, because when I close the book and look at the world around me, it isn't hard to see Lord of the Flies in current events. What's hard is deciding which of those characters I'm going to be.Does that sound like a sermon? Like the subtext of what I'm saying is really "We should all be like Ralph, because he was civilized and idealistic"? Part of me feels like that, but Ralph was hunted down like an animal, and only survived in this story by the grace of the deus ex machina appearance of British rescue forces. In real life, people like Chiang Kai-shek and Prince Norodom Sihanouk are Ralph, and that's nothing to aspire to. Then there's Piggy. I tend to intellectualize things, which puts me in the Piggy role a lot of the time... but he got squashed by a rock, and I'm not keen on that. Dictators always hate intellectuals, because intellectuals (1) appeal to a higher power than the dictator- be that "science" or "The Truth" or natural law; and (2) intellectuals have the courage to imagine how things could be better- which almost always entails removal of the dictator. I like to appeal to The Truth, and to imagine how things could be better, but intellectuals never seem to be able to hold sway when they most need to. Piggy holds the conch shell, which means it's his turn to speak, but Jack just keeps talking over him, and convinces the Little 'Uns to run up the hill with him. Piggy's got a sensible plan and the conch shell. And nobody to back him up. Dietrich Bahnhoffer was Piggy. Sometimes I worry that Ron Paul is Piggy. We're running out of options. What other choices are there? Should I be Simon... the hippy-trippy Cassandra who sees the path to enlightenment, and whom absolutely nobody listens to? The first one to die, when times get tough? No thanks. Well, what's left? Follow Jack? Hitler was Jack. Stalin was Jack. Cheney would have been Jack, if only he had a little more opportunity. Following Jack isn't an option, which is kind of Golding's point, isn't it? There are often no good options. Please, please somebody speak up on the comment thread and say "you have to create your own options"... somebody who's lived through times of political and economic upheaval, who created their own options, and can show us how to do the same.Where does that leave us? Searching for the courage to stand behind Ralph. Golding does a good job with Ralph. Here's an enduring tragic figure, if ever there was one. He takes up the burden and responsibilities of power, without exploiting its many potential benefits. He rules fairly and in the interest of his subjects, and when a crisis arises, he tries to deal with it rationally. Ralph is everything a sensible public would want in a leader- and they abandon him for a thug like Jack, who has nothing to offer but feel-good quick solutions (a hunting party) to manufactured fears (the "beast"- who is really nothing but an unfortunate paratrooper who died when his parachute didn't open properly). Ralph is all the best human nature has to offer, there for the taking, and the public turns their nose up at him, because they don't have the courage or the critical thinking skills to assess where their own interests lay. Somebody please show me why this isn't one of the most tragic and important books written in the last one-hundred years.