Boys (With Sharpened Sticks) Just Wanna Have Fun: Lord of the Flies, Chapter 8

Fancy thinking the beast was something you could hunt and kill!

Pig Head, “Gift for the Darkness,” Lord of the Flies, William Golding

Goody goody gumdrops. This is a fun chapter. And by fun I mean highly, highly disturbing.

Just look at the chapter title: “Gift for the Darkness.” Eek. Here’s a quick run-down:

Piggy calls Jack’s hunters “Boys armed with sticks,” Jacks gets very offended about it, Ralph and Jack disagree about what’s to be done with the beast (really just the dead parachute dude, remember), Jack calls Ralph a coward then asks the boys to raise hands if they don’t want Ralph to be chief, the boys awkwardly don’t raise hands, Jack runs away like a little brat-baby . . .

(take a breath . . . )

One by one the boys start leaving to join Jack’s tribe, Ralph and Piggy and Samneric remain, Simon’s off to his secret spot and gets thirsty (cue critics who say he’s like Jesus fasting in the wilderness), Jack and his crew decide to “Forget the beast” and instead hunt a mama pig with piglets, Roger stabs a piglet, the boys kill the sow . . .

AND THEN THINGS GET WEIRD.

–Pause on the quick run-down for a few moments.–

Here, struck down by the heat, the sow fell and the hunters hurled themselves at her. This dreadful eruption from an unknown world made her frantic; she squealed and bucked and the air was full of sweat and noise and blood and terror. Roger ran round the heap, prodding with his spear whenever pigflesh appeared. Jack was on top of the sow, stabbing downward with his knife. Roger found a lodgment for his point and began to push till he was leaning with his whole weight. The spear moved forward inch by inch and the terrified sqealing became a high-pitched scream. Then Jack found the throat and the hot blood spouted over his hands. The sow collapsed under them and they were heavy and fulfilled upon her. The butterflies still danced, preoccupied in the center of the clearing.

So that was awkward.

I remind my students that this is an allegory and that the boys literally have hunted and speared and killed a pig.

And yet.

On a deeper level, it is clearly rape. The boys derive pleasure from the violent killing of the mama pig. They derive pleasure from pain.

What’s more disturbing, though, is that Golding is writing this story to highlight elements of human nature. Little did Golding know about the Me Too Movement to come in 2006 with women sharing their experiences of men sexually harassing and abusing them. The Me Too hashtag started becoming viral in 2017, showing the world just how ubiquitous sexual harassment and abuse really is.

BUT WHY IS THIS THE CASE? Why do some men derive pleasure from the pain of women?

In LOTF, the boys feel a raw power over another living thing. Remember how Jack’s hair is red? And how red represents blood-lust?

Let’s be mindful to be good humans out in this big world of ours. If you feel the need to exert power over someone, get yourself a punching bag.

–Resume run-down–

So after the boys kill the sow (and after Robert yells “Right up her ass!”), they cut off its head, sharpen a stick at both ends, slam one end of the stick in the ground and “jammed the soft throat of the pig down on the point end of the stick which pierced through into the mouth.” Pig head on a stick. Gift for the darkness, indeed.

Pan over to Simon in his secret spot: he finds himself face to face with the pig head. On account of the spilled guts, there are LOTS of flies buzzing about, drinking in the runnels of his sweat, and “in front of Simon, the Lord of the Flies hung on his stick and grinned.” So the pig head now has a name and a gender. It is Lord of the Flies. And it is male.

Meanwhile, Jack and his tribe cook up the pig, and invite Ralph and Piggy and Samneric to join in the feast. They’re not sure about going “in the jungle.”

Back again to Simon in his secret spot: Lord of the Flies (the pig head) starts in with a full convo, and Simon is not about it. LOTF taunts Simon and chides him like a little schoolboy, telling him “we shall do you . . . Jack and Maurice and Robert and Bill and Piggy and Ralph. Do you. See?” Sounds a lot like a threat to me — a violent threat (and perhaps a little like Satan tempting Jesus in the wilderness). And did you notice that Piggy and Ralph are part of the group of boys that LOTF says will do Simon? Ugh, say it isn’t so.

And that’s the chapter, folks! Take note that the boys went ahead and killed off their food supply (the piglets will soon die without their mama, and with mama dead, she won’t be getting pregnant and birthing any more pigs). Interesting to remember that the boys on the island are . . . boys. There is no way for them to procreate. So the fact that they killed the mama pig is fitting I suppose. Boys-only island!

Oh, and one last quote to finish off:

“Sucks to your ass-mar.” — Ralph to Piggy

Catch ya next time for chapter 9, “A View to a Death” (oh, no…).

Dead Parachute Dudes Are Scary: Lord of the Flies, Chapter 7

“You’ll get back all right.”

Simon, “Shadows and Tall Trees,” Lord of the Flies, William Golding

Simon is talking to Ralph here, and please notice the pronoun usage. It’s not first person collective (“we”); Simon is not including himself in “getting back all right.” So we wonder what Simon knows that we (and Ralph) don’t.

Meanwhile, Jack is nosing his way towards pig droppings — “droppings that steamed” — bending down to them “as though he loved them.” Ick.

Even Ralph is getting caught up in the craziness, feeling proud when he hits a pig and his spear sticks in. He feels so good about it, in fact, that “he sunned himself in their new respect and felt that hunting was good after all.” (It’s like people who — after seeing all the heinous things Trump has said and done — decide that Trump is good after all. Ick.)

When Robert pretends to be a pig, and the boys pretend to spear him, Ralph continues to be lured into the craziness: “Ralph … [fought] to get near, to get a handful of that brown, vulnerable flesh.” He admits to himself “the desire to squeeze and hurt was over-mastering.”

Well that’s only totally disturbing.

Ralph, buddy, you’re supposed to be our protagonist, the good guy, the hope. What happened? Have you been on the island around these negative influences for so long that your rational thought is weakening as your primitive urges are strengthening?

Luckily for Ralph, he’s not at a Trump rally. He’s simply on a beautiful island that boasts plenty of fruit and freshwater. A much better prognosis indeed. And remember — the boys were just pretending to kill Robert. If they start actually killing each other, well, we’ll have to start some psycho-therapy sessions immediately. Just to be on the safe side (better safe than sorry), take a quick look around the room where you are. Is there a comfy couch for a potential psycho-therapy session? Good.

After the boys’ little pretend kill-the-pig game when at one point “Robert was screaming and struggling with the strength of frenzy,” Robert tells them “You want a real pig because you’ve got to kill him.”

To which our favorite character Jack replies, “Use a littlun.”

So that couch . . . is it within leaping distance?

Later in the chapter Jack is described as a “stain in the darkness,” but two indents after that, Golding mentions that that the stain vanishes and “another took its place.” This stain?

It’s Roger.

I told you.

Watch out for Roger.

He’s evil.

The chapter ends with Jack and Roger and Ralph walking up the mountain, looking for the beast. What they find, of course, is the dead parachute dude. But as the boys see it, it’s “something like a great ape . . . sitting asleep with its head between its knees.” Then a gust of wind, and it becomes a “creature.” And then “the creature lifted its head, holding toward them the ruin of a face.”

You better believe the boys don’t dilly dally at this point. They get the heck outta Dodge, away from “the thing that bowed.”

Aren’t we all scared of what we don’t understand? But to the boys’ credit, even if they understood what they were looking it, it was still scary! Perhaps Golding wanted to reinforce the atrocities of war and humans’ capacity for evil.

It’s something that should be reinforced to the reader, especially as we see that humans’ capacity for evil will probably never go away. Golding wrote LOTF in 1954, but just take a look at the names of black Americans killed in the last six years by police officers, the very people who are supposed to protect humans (as compiled by NPR with the help of The Washington Post):

It’s something we don’t understand.

And it’s frightening.

See ya next time for chapter 8, “Gift for the Darkness.” And in the meantime, be a good person. Prove Golding wrong.

And a Sign Came Down: Lord of the Flies, Chapter 6

But a sign came down from the world of grownups …

“Beast from Air,” Lord of the Flies, William Golding

Remember the “sign” that Ralph so desperately asks for at the end of chapter 5 (“If only they could send us a something grownup . . . a sign or something.”)? Well here it is: “a figure dropping swiftly beneath a parachute, a figure that hung with dangling limbs.”

So the “sign” from the world of grownups is a dead parachute dude. Hmm. Doesn’t seem like a great sign … And let’s remember the chapter title: “Beast from Air.”

After getting dragged up the mountain by the wind filling up the parachute, the dead figure comes to rest at the “shattered rocks of the mountaintop” where its head rests between its knees until the wind picks up, filling the parachute, causing the figure to bow and sink, bow and sink.

To recap, we’ve got a dead dude bowing and sinking at the top of the mountain in the middle of the dark night. Satanic much?

Sometimes in life we want a sign. We want answers. Some might say that the heart wants what it wants. But does it, really? I’m sure Ralph wasn’t thinking that the sign he was asking for was going to come in the form of a charred, dead parachutist.

Luckily for him, he won’t even know about this sign until the next chapter.

So the boys carry on doing whatever it is they do (build fire, putter around, hunt with sharpened sticks, etc.) and even the woodlice are “unable to avoid the flames” just as that rando birthmark kid from the beginning of the book (remember him?). And as flames began mastering branches and wood explodes, we are reminded yet again that the sign from the grownups comes because the adults are killing each other in a war.

Here’s the thing. We may not be in the midst of a “war.” But I think Golding’s point here is that we are always in a war against evil. And while Golding may think that it’s inevitable that the flames master the branches, I happen to think that we’re better than branches. And woodlice, for that matter.

Or maybe we actually are in the midst of a war or two. As we’ve been warring against Covid-19, the war against systemic racism has begun to rage as well. I hold onto hope that good can win out here — that evil will not be our master. That we will be able to avoid the flames. So let’s take a quick look at some good that humans are up to:

Simon, who — remember — is considered by some a Christ figure, knows that true evil lies inside of humans: “However Simon thought of the beast, there rose before his inward sight the picture of a human at once heroic and sick.”

Interestingly, Simon isn’t all doom and gloom. He does use the word “heroic.” And doesn’t that give a bit of hope? (Hold that thought for what happens to Simon in chapter 9. . . )

But just as Simon maybe offers a glimmer of hope, the majority of the boys decides that the rocky part of the island would be a good place for their fort. Keep in mind that the section of the island doesn’t have a lot going for it. Here are some descriptions of this *great* new fort area:

  • “a half-cave that held nothing more terrible than a clutch of rotten eggs”
  • “a rotten place”
  • “no food here”
  • “no shelter”
  • “not much fresh water”

But don’t dismay! The boys realize that it’s OK because they can … “roll rocks”!! (wink, wink, ahem — foreshadowing)

The most disturbing part of the chapter, though, comes at the end when the tribe splits between Ralph and Jack. Ralph is pleading with the boys to listen to him because he’s chief, and when he asks them if they’re “off their rockers” for letting the signal go out, the boys fall silent. Mutinously so.

The chapter ends with “Jack [leading] the way down the rock and across the bridge” towards the rocks. A simple sentence with a huge implication. Jack is leading now. Ralph’s reign is over.

See ya back for chapter 7, “Shadows and Tall Trees.”

Blackout (Tea) Tuesday: Lord of the Flies, Chapter 5

Things are breaking up.

“Beast from Water,” Lord of the Flies, William Golding

Indeed they are. We start the chapter reading about the tide, and I always stop here and reflect: the tide is a beautiful and consistent force in nature. It comes in. It goes out. The tide rises. The tide falls. It never stops. So when we read about the tide in literature, more than likely we’re catching the wave motif of inevitability. For the boys on the island, there hasn’t been much hope for good, and now with the tide coming in (in the chapter entitled “Beast from Water”), it’s looking like more of the same: bad decisions, immorality, and poop near the fruit.

The big realization in this chapter comes from Piggy, but it starts with Jack. Take a look:

Jack: “There aren’t any beasts to be afraid of on this island.”

Piggy: “What would a beast eat?”

Boys: “Pig.”

Piggy: “We eat pig.”

Did you catch that? Piggy is starting to put it together. He’s realizing that there may be some similarities between the boys and the beast. Maybe more than just similarities, as Simon also notes:

Piggy: “There isn’t no fear…unless we get frightened of people.”

Simon: “What I mean is…maybe it’s only us.”

This is a scary chapter because the boys begin to realize that the beast is within them. They realize that they have the capacity for evil and for violence. When Jack yells out “Bollocks to the rules,” it seems any semblance of order is on its way out with the tide.

Piggy doggedly holds onto his picture of grownups (“Grownups know things. They ain’t afraid of the dark. They’d meet and have tea and discuss. Then things ‘ud be all right — “)

And Ralph tenuously hopes for “a sign or something” from the world of grownups. And a sign he gets in the second paragraph of the next chapter — don’t miss it! (Spoiler: It’s not a good sign.)

So things are bleak. And evil is inevitable.

But here’s where we really break off from the book to examine our own lives. This is where I remind my students that we don’t read books bouncing along, bobble-head nodding in agreement with the author’s point of view.

I can’t help but feel that bleak feeling right now, though. In the midst of a pandemic we’re in the midst of racism and murder and violence and protests and looting.

Have we learned nothing from history? It might be time for us to realize that “the grownups” might not know what’s best this time. If what they’re doing is demeaning, degrading, or disgracing others, maybe it’s time to take a step back and do some rewriting of the rules. Perhaps take a more human-centered approach. Maybe train our law enforcement to respect human life more than they do.

Luckily, we don’t have some metaphorical tide of inevitability in our lives. We have hope for better things. As much as we chuckle at Piggy’s naivete, he hits on something important: meeting and having tea and discussing. It might be a good first step. Let’s come together. Maybe have a cup of tea. And discuss how black lives matter.

Up next? Being better humans. Making black lives matter. Action.

But for the boys? All we know is that the next chapter is called “Beast from Air.” So grab a cuppa, and meet me back here for chapter 6.

There isn’t no fearunless we get frightened of people.