We’re Burning Down Our Own Island: Lord of the Flies, Chapter 12

Roger sharpened a stick at both ends.

“Cry of the Hunters,” Lord of the Flies, William Golding

Oh, boy. A stick sharpened at both ends. You know what that means, right? One end for the head, the other to stick in the ground. And who are the boys hunting in this final chapter?

Ralph.

A stick sharpened at both ends.

Ralph lies in a covert (like a pig), knowing that if he’s found, he will be stabbed to death.

How did things get to this point? How did the boys go from building shelters, getting water, building sandcastles, and swimming . . . to this?

Humans have done (and are doing) some horrific things to each other, and I do find myself asking How did things get to this point?

And we think of ourselves, here, and just know that we’d never do something so bad as take the life of another human. We’re good, honest people after all.

I think the point of this chapter is to show that even “good” humans can get to an unrecognizably evil point.

In the Hidden Brain podcast “Everybody Lies, And That’s Not Always A Bad Thing,” guest Dan Ariely talks about how it’s not about humans being good or evil, honest or dishonest — it’s about opportunity. He gives an example of cyclist Joe Papp who ended up becoming a drug user and a drug dealer. The compelling part of the story is that it all began with Papp simply filling a prescription for EPO (a drug that increases red blood cells — i.e., energy) that his doctor ordered and that insurance covered. Something seemingly mundane and completely justifiable. But something that would lead him down the path to eventually become someone who imports EPO from China for himself and others. He becomes a drug user and a drug dealer. But Ariely assures us that even though Papp ended up doing things that are deemed “bad,” that there’s so much good in humans — more good than bad, actually. So Ariely might agree with Ralph when Ralph, thinking back to the murder of Simon and Piggy, says, “No. They’re not as bad as that. It was an accident.” Ariely might just say “opportunity” instead.

So the boys on the island are hunting Ralph, and have realized that the best way to catch him is to smoke him out. They light a fire. I should rephrase that. They light the island on fire.

And then out of nowhere, we have God from the machine — deus ex machina — AKA, a uniformed naval officer who appears and saves all the boys, especially Ralph, just in the nick of time. How lovely! Ralph was about to be murdered and beheaded, and the boys were literally burning down their home, the island (conveniently, this is what alerts the officer to the island — you know, an entire island in flames and smoking). Before the officer appeared, things were looking grim for the boys.

The officer asks the boys if anyone’s been killed (they say two, forgetting the boy with the mulberry birthmark) and how many of them are there (they don’t know — remember, Piggy tried to get a list but everyone scattered to build that very first fire). The officer seems surprised (“I would have thought that a pack of British boys … would have put up a better show than that…”). It’s all about the “show” to the officer, and he’s disappointed that the boys haven’t put up a better one.

But is that what it’s about? Putting on a good show? This diction is alarming. It makes you think that maybe this naval officer believes killing humans is just part of a good “war show,” full of heroes overcoming the evil villains. And if we think of war in that way, it’s palatable. It becomes a movie, a show, about the good guys winning.

And it’s justifiable.

But it gets tricky when throughout our human history we have had to justify murdering people. Something just doesn’t seem right about it.

Golding ponders in Notes on Lord of the Flies that even though the officer rescues the boys in the midst of a manhunt, “who will rescue the adult and his cruiser?” In other words, that’s nice that the manhunt got thwarted, but who’s going to thwart THE WAR?

Who will rescue the adult and his cruiser?

It’s the *big question* of the entire book, and the one that should resonate with you long after you finish reading.

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.

And while Ralph weeps for the end of innocence and the darkness of man’s heart, I implore you to hold fast to what is good. As we end out on this series of posts, I’d like to leave you with some prayers from the book Prayer: Forty Days of Practice by Justin McRoberts and Scott Erickson:

May I have the courage
to expect good for my life
and world,
And resilience if and when
those expectations are disappointed.

May love and forgiveness for others
be less and less optional.

Even in conflict, may I see people
as beloved
Instead of problematic.

And finally:

May I have the eyes to see this
as a good world in need of
restoration
Rather than a bad world and
an obstacle to my personal peace
and rest.

Amen.

White Fragility and More Murder: Lord of the Flies, Chapter 11

What’s grownups goin’ to think?

Piggy, “Castle Rock,” Lord of the Flies, William Golding

I play a game with my students towards the end of the book. I read various quotes, and they race to raise their hands to tell me who said them. This Piggy quote is definitely one of them. At this point in the book, you should well know that Piggy is concerned — nay, obsessed — with what grownups think.

I should also tell you that the game is basically their test — but on paper. “Fun game!” — what all my students are thinking, I’m sure.

But this line is so important (and so Piggy) because it underscores yet again the biggest irony of the book: the grownups — the people kids are taught to obey and respect — are the ones killing each other in a war. Piggy, bless him, can’t see this, though. Even after his words Piggy said back in chapter 5 — “There isn’t no fear…unless we get frightened of people” — he still can’t see it.

People are the problem. Piggy, you’re right! But in his myopic view, he can’t see past the boys on the island to realize the scope of his words.

Aren’t we a lot like Piggy sometimes? We know truth, but we suppress it. We’ll take just enough truth to be in reality and live among other humans. But digging deeper into that truth? It starts getting messy. And humans don’t like messy.

Flashback to chapter 10 when Piggy thought that Jack’s raid was to get the conch. Piggy understood the truth of Jack’s being bad and stealing, but denied himself the real truth of Jack’s stealing his glasses. Think about it: had Jack’s concern been the conch, that would have given everyone a glimmer of hope. He would have acknowledged his respect for what the conch symbolized: order and rules. But he didn’t want the conch.

Flash to the current reality of our leader acknowledging the coronavirus (part of the truth), but denying the fact that at this time the US is 8th on the list of mortality rates (the full truth). He said that the US has “one of the lowest mortality rates in the world.” That’s like Piggy saying that all we need to do is “meet and have tea and discuss” like grownups do and we’ll be alright when in reality the grownups are blowing each other’s brains out. Piggy, buddy, friend, champ — we do NOT want to be like grownups. We do need to be frightened of people, and not just the boys on the island.

Part of the truth isn’t good enough.

But even a little bit of truth is threatening to people like Jack and Roger. They’ve painted themselves, moved camp to a rocky section of island that is unsustainable for life, beaten poor Wilfred up just for kicks, and, of course, stolen Piggy’s glasses. Suffice it to say, they are not concerned with the truth of their situation. They get to do whatever they want with no consequences! What human doesn’t want that sometimes?

So when Ralph confronts Jack about stealing Piggy’s specs and tells him, “You’ve got to give them back,” Jack responds by saying, “Got to? Says who?” Jack doesn’t have to follow rules! He’s dictator! He does whatever he wants whenever he wants!

Ralph and Jack then proceed to do what we expect them to do at this point: fight with sharpened sticks. Meanwhile Roger is hanging out by a big boulder (watch him). Piggy is desperately clinging to the rock, knowing that one wrong step for him means falling to his death. But Piggy realizes the importance of coming to face Jack, and he tries to remind Ralph: “remember what we came for. The fire. My specs.”

Poor Piggy. He can’t even see what’s going on, but I’m sure he can hear them fighting. I’m sure he’s thinking “meet . . . have tea . . . discuss.”

Then, somehow in the scuffle, the twins are grabbed and tied up. Jack’s pretty proud of this, but Ralph loses it. He yells, “You’re a beast and a swine and a bloody, bloody thief!” (Interesting to note here that Ralph uses the word “beast” — the evil thing the boys are so afraid of throughout the story.)

Piggy decides to speak up and delivers several logical, rhetorical questions to the boys:

“Which is better — to be a pack of painted Indians like you are, or to be sensible like Ralph is?”

(Answer: sensible.)

“Which is better — to have rules and agree, or to hunt and kill?”

(Answer: have rules and agree.)

“Which is better — law and rescue, or hunting and breaking things up?”

(Answer: law and rescue.)

Can you imagine presenting logic to a group only to be met with “booing,” “clamor,” “yelling,” and “Zup” ? Sounds like my department meetings. It’s aggravating, really, when people can’t understand what the right thing to do is.

(But have you been watching Roger in this chapter? Hanging out next to the boulder? Leaning on a lever that — with his weight — would tip the boulder onto the path right where Piggy is standing?)

Piggy finishes, holds up his fragile white talisman while the sound of the boys becomes an “incantation of hatred.”

It is at this point that by Piggy presenting bits of truth and bits of logic, something becomes unsettled in Roger and he, “with a sense of delirious abandonment, leaned all his weight on the lever,” releasing the boulder — directly towards Piggy.

Piggy falls forty feet to his death, the tide pulls his body out to sea, the conch “exploded into a thousand white fragments and ceased to exist,” and the twins have now been taken captive.

Piggy thought that the only fear is the fear of people.

Simon thought that the beast was really inside them all.

Both of them verbalizing ugly truths about humans. Both of them murdered. By humans.

When truth seems threatening, it’s our chance to face it and reconcile with it. Is it true that Black Americans have been discriminated against since the forming of our nation? YES. Now what are we going to do about it? Feel threatened? Hear “Black Lives Matter” and have to clap-back with “No, no, no — all lives matter” and “No, no, no — blue lives matter”? All lives matter is the part-truth — the part where we tell ourselves that the focus needs to be on everyone, that giving anything extra to black people is wrong and unfair. But when white people have been getting extra for over a century, maybe the fair thing now is some reparations. Let’s even things out. Maybe we can talk about equality. Maybe we can go from this:

To this:

The chapter ends with Roger advancing upon the twins “as one wielding a nameless authority.” Friends, this is evil. Recognize it. Resist it. Don’t be like Roger. And don’t follow leaders like Jack.

See you next time for our very last LOTF post! Read chapter 12, “Cry of the Hunters,” and as you read, ask yourself “How can lessons learned through the reading of this book make me a better human?” Because that’s what it’s all about:

Being better humans.

He Was Asking for It: Lord of the Flies, Chapter 10

That was Simon. That was murder.

Ralph, “The Shell and the Glasses,” Lord of the Flies, William Golding

Ralph admits it.

They murdered Simon.

And remember what Piggy said back in chapter 5? “There isn’t no fear…unless we get frightened of people.”

Well, Ralph is frightened now:

“I’m frightened. Of us.”

Can you just take a moment and think about how you’d feel if the most frightening thing in your world was other people? Having just finished reading The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson, I have been shocked and heartbroken to understand just how frightening white people have been to black people in our American history. Even after the Civil War. Even in the North. Even after the Civil Rights Movement. Even still. Today.

But even after his insight about fear, interestingly, Piggy is the one giving excuses about killing Simon: “It was an accident . . . Coming in the dark — he hadn’t no business crawling like that out of the dark . . . He was batty . . . He asked for it . . . It was an accident.”

He asked for it.

When the police are out there killing people, even with the body cams recording everything, they (maybe we?) are still saying that what they did was justified. That from our angle, we couldn’t see that actually the black man was threatening in some fill-in-the-blank way. That from the limited footage, we don’t really get the full picture of what happened. You know what that is? It’s Piggy Speak. It’s a distortion of reality. Here are the facts:

That was Philando Castile. That was murder.

That was Breonna Taylor. That was murder.

That was George Floyd. That was murder.

So let’s stop with the Piggy Speak already.

But after Piggy spews Piggy Speak, he begins to backpedal. He realizes that he can’t justify what they did, so he switches tactics to denial: “We was on the outside. We never done nothing, we never seen nothing.” Interesting to think about what we’d actually see if one of the boys was recording all of it with his cell phone. And then even more interesting to hear how Piggy would Piggy Speak it.

Piggy Speak aside, though, we need to be aware of our response to injustices. We can’t allow ourselves to justify bad behavior, but we also can’t allow ourselves to become desensitized to it. In his article “Videos of Police Killings Are Numbing Us to the Spectacle of Black Death,” Tamil Smith says the following:

Unfortunately, the increased visibility of trauma and death at the hands of cops isn’t doing as much as it should be. The legacy of our increased exposure to black death has merely been the deadening of our collective senses.
. . .
I tremble to think what act, or accompanying footage, will be required for the powers that be to finally see what’s going on.

After reading that, it seems silly to talk about a fictional book about little boys running around on an island. It’s easy to think that the events in this fictional book don’t matter. And they don’t! But what they represent matters. Because remember: Lord of the Flies is an allegory. It’s not really about boys on an island. It’s about us.

Later in the chapter, the sadistic side of Jack is revealed further to us when Robert says, “[Jack’s] going to beat Wilfred . . . He got angry and made us tie Wilfred up.” Robert doesn’t understand why Jack is going to do this, but he’s giggling excitedly about it nonetheless when he says that Wilfred has been “tied for hours, waiting.”

Upon hearing this, Roger (remember to keep an eye on him) “sat still, assimilating the possibilities of irresponsible authority.” I’ll tell you right now, Roger is excited about this irresponsible authority. And that, readers, should scare us.

And this irresponsible authority? Well, Jack is in full denial of Simon’s murder. He tweets claims that “[the beast] came — disguised.” And that any source that says otherwise is #fakenews.

The chapter ends with Jack and crew sneaking into Ralph’s camp in the middle of the night to steal Piggy’s glasses. During the scuffle and in the darkness, Ralph doesn’t realize what is happening or who is there, and, desperately, he “prayed that the beast would prefer littluns.”

So Jack’s tribe now has control of fire. And Piggy has been rendered effectively blind, although if you were to ask me, Piggy has been going blind for awhile now (so blind, in fact, that when Jack et al. came to steal the glasses, Piggy thought he was coming for the conch).

As we live our lives, let’s make sure our eyes are open, especially as people led by irresponsible authority are lying in wait, ready to snatch the glasses right off our face.

Lots to think about. Lots to do. And on top of all that, you’re to read chapter 11, “Castle Rock.”

Another Murder of an Unarmed Youth: Lord of the Flies, Chapter 9

Evening was come, not with a calm beauty but with a threat of violence.

“A View to a Death,” Lord of the Flies, William Golding

Well we knew it was coming.

Murder.

But maybe you thought it’d be Piggy. After all, he’s been the one bullied and made fun of the entire story so far.

Who would have guessed it would have been . . .

Simon.

The chapter starts with Jack, “painted and garlanded, [sitting] like an idol,” claiming ” ‘the conch doesn’t count on this end of the island.’ ” The symbol of rules and order — not counting? That’s foreshadowing alright, and not of anything good. And remember in chapter 4 how when Jack painted on his mask he felt liberated of shame and self consciousness? Now he’s painted, garlanded, and completely free from any rules that the conch might have previously dictated.

This is not good.

So when the boys get a big fire going, cook up their pig, and even Ralph and Piggy enjoy the feast, Jack is feeling pretty good about himself. He thinks that since Ralph and Piggy ate of the feast, they are beholden to him. (R & P might be feeling a little regret at this point. When Ralph challenges Jack about the importance of fire over food while literally holding a gnawed up pig bone in his hands, well, he doesn’t make a great case for himself: “Ralph went crimson.” Awkward.)

Tension among the boys is high (and in the air, too, as a storm has been building up since the beginning of the chapter).

And then:

“All at once the thunder struck. Instead of the dull boom there was a point of impact in the explosion.”

Piggy knows there’s going to be trouble when he says “There’s going to be trouble.” He urges Ralph to leave, but they don’t.

Rain starts pelting them, the littluns get scared, and Jack, the true and wise leader that he is, yells,

“Do our dance! Come on! Dance!”

Cut to // Simon discovering that the “beast” is really just a dead parachute dude, then crawling down the mountain to let everyone know. The storm is raging at this point, and the boys are dancing around like little savages, yelling “Kill the beast! Cut his throat! Spill his blood!” These boys are AMPED UP. So when “A thing was crawling out of the forest . . . darkly, uncertainly,” we know that thing is going to be stabbed to death by boys with sharpened sticks doing their “dance.”

This “beast” was “crying out . . . about a body on the hill,” but the boys didn’t listen or care, even when they probably realized it was Simon. Instead, they “leapt on to the beast, screamed, struck, bit, tore.”

“There were no words, and no movements but the tearing of teeth and claws.”

It doesn’t even sound human.

Even Piggy and Ralph are in on it:

“Piggy and Ralph, under the threat of the sky, found themselves eager to take place in this demented but partly secure society.”

These boys convinced themselves that Simon was the beast, and it didn’t matter that he wasn’t. They decided he was a threat before he even got a chance to explain to them where he had been and what he had seen.

To be clear: Simon was not a threat. He was unarmed. He came to help the boys.

And yet.

The boys perceived a threat, perception became justification, and then it was too late for poor, kind, introspective Simon. Sounds eerily familiar to a name that’s been in the news lately: Elijah McClain, a kind, introspective, violin-playing, animal-loving 23-year-old black man. Here’s the description from an article from The New York Times:


Mr. McClain
 was walking home from a convenience store on Aug. 24 when someone called 911, saying he “looked sketchy” and was wearing a ski mask and waving his arms.

The police arrived, and after struggling to handcuff Mr. McClain, officers brought him to the ground and used a carotid hold, which restricts blood to the brain to render someone unconscious. When medical responders arrived, after about 15 minutes, paramedics injected him with ketamine, a powerful sedative.

Mr. McClain went into cardiac arrest on the way to a hospital. He died a few days later.

It doesn’t sound human. Elijah was not a threat. Elijah was unarmed.

And yet.

There are lessons to be learned — when you look for them — even from a book about barely-dressed boys dancing around fires with sharpened sticks.

Homework: Work to understand humans before perceiving them as threats. Think before acting. Oh, and read chapter 10, “The Shell and the Glasses.”