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.”

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.

Don’t Miss Your Ship: Lord of the Flies, Chapter 4

Roger led the way straight through the castles, kicking them over, burying the flowers, scattering the chosen stones.

“Painted Faces and Long Hair,” Lord of the Flies, William Golding

I told you to watch out for Roger! Here he is, leading the way. And what is he up to exactly? Kicking over sand castles that the “littluns” had been building. That’s just wrong, Roger. Being mean to little kids is a special type of evil.

Here’s what’s going on with the littluns in this chapter: lots of diarrhea, stomachaches, and night terrors. And sand castles getting kicked over.

Here’s what’s going on with the bigguns: more blatant cruelty, violence, painted faces, long hair, the thrill of power, and some good, ol’ fashioned selfishness.

Cruelty: Roger and Maurice kick over sand castles. Maurice “still felt the unease of wrongdoing.” Roger? Not so much.

We may not go around kicking over little kids’ sand castles, but are we without cruelty all the time? I’m sure we never think of ourselves as cruel, but maybe we ought to really ask ourselves if there are times that we are. If we’re having an argument with our spouse or our parents or even our kids, are we cruel in our tone of voice? Are we cruel in the things we say to them? I bet the answer is yes. Even if ours is “righteous” anger, there’s no reason to be cruel. Ultimately — hopefully — the objective of an argument is to resolve an issue. Yelling or having a sarcastic tone of voice or bringing up garbage from the past is taking steps away from resolution, not towards it. We thank Roger and the sand castles for this lesson.

Violence: Jack gets annoyed with Piggy (surprise!) and punches him in the gut. Smacks him, too. Breaks one of the lenses of his glasses. (That’s bad. Really bad. Not only can Piggy now see out of only one eye, the boys now have only the one lens to use to start fires. Poor planning, boys.)

Again, you may not go around punching and smacking and breaking people’s glasses, but you might let it happen, which some say is just as bad. You might punch and smack and break indirectly by the leader you vote for, the laws you create or follow or promote, the organizations and people you support, the products you buy, the flag that you fly. Be aware. Don’t follow a Jack. Or, heaven forbid, a Roger.

Painted Faces: “Jack planned his new face.” Yikes. Jack paints a mask onto his face, behind which he “hid, liberated from shame and self-consciousness.” Shame and self-consciousness are necessary emotions for Jack (and all people) to have. We can only imagine what idiot moves Jack is going to pull in the rest of the book without experiencing shame or self-consciousness (it’s Piggy’s gut and glasses now; what will it be next?).

Well, well, well. What are the painted-face masks that we have? This is one I think we can all resonate with because we actively choose how we want the world to see us. Some of us might use social media as a mask. Some might use a happy, I’ve-got-my-life-totally-together face as a mask. Some might use busyness as a mask. I could go on. So what is it for you? What is your mask, and what is it hiding?

People will do anything, no matter how absurd, to avoid facing their own souls.

Carl Jung, psychiatrist

Long hair: The boys clearly are becoming little uncivilized savages because oh my gosh look at their long, shaggy hair. Yes, Golding, we see what you’re doing there.

Hey. Hey there, Friend. I know we’ve been in quarantine. But that doesn’t mean you have to turn into a savage. If you feel you need to, I encourage you to go ahead and cut your hair. Here’s the video I watched to learn how to cut my own hair.

Thrill of power: There’s a special kid in this chapter. His name is Henry. He is playing down at the beach, dragging his stick into the sand to create runnels for the water and these little sea creatures called “transparencies” to flow into. This may not seem significant, but it is. First of all, the transparencies are said to be scavengers. Just tuck that fact away for later. Second, Henry is enjoying his game a little too much: “He became absorbed beyond mere happiness as he felt himself exercising control over other living things.” This is not about a boy dragging a stick in the sand, creating runnels for the water and the creatures. It’s about absolute power and the thrill it gives.

I ask you this: what or whom in your life do you have unhealthy control over? There’s probably something. Or someone. And there’s a difference between being a parent, exercising healthy control over our kids, and becoming absorbed beyond mere happiness as we feel ourselves exercising control over other living things. *uncomfortable clearing of throat* So, Friends, let’s all take a minute and make sure we’re not being like Henry.

Good, ol’ fashioned selfishness: Jack wants to hunt pig. Jack wants to hunt pig with other boys. Jack takes boys tending the fire away from fire to hunt pig. Fire goes out. Ship comes. No smoke. Ship leaves. Jack realizes what he’s done. Isn’t sorry. But is excited about hunting pig: “We needed meat.”

This is the classic needs versus wants discussion. We’ve all thought about it. Maybe we’ve even talked about it with a spouse or a therapist or a pastor or a friend. Maybe we’ve made a T-chart! Well, good for us! But we need to continue to think about it. Every single day. You never know when you might miss your ship because you wanted to hunt pig.

Takeaways from chapter 4: don’t be like Roger, don’t be like Jack, and don’t be like Henry. See ya next time for chapter 5, “Beast from Water.”

Sharpened Sticks and Tattered Shorts: Lord of the Flies, Chapter 3

A sharpened stick about five feet long trailed from his right hand, and except for a pair of tattered shorts held up by his knife belt he was naked.

“Huts on the Beach,” Lord of the Flies, William Golding

The boys are really gettin’ naked now. And skinny. And with longer hair. This book could have taken a wildly different direction if Golding had realized that the boys are basically turning into runway models.

The chapter begins with Jack “bent double” — oh, how very devolutionary, Golding. This is always a special day when I teach. I make sure to wear pants this day, and I definitely get down on my hands and knees on the classroom floor to demonstrate how Jack is “bent double” — so low to the ground, in fact, that he can cock his head up to see the underside of a tendril, polished from the bristly-backed pigs running through and to feel the warmth emanating from the “olive green, smooth,” steaming pile of pig poop. He hears the “hard patter of hoofs” and it feels to him “seductive.” Yikes. (I say that a lot during this book. I feel that a lot during this book.)

The question here is: What weird (gross?) thing in our lives is seductive to us? Maybe for the hunters out there reading my blog, it actually is pig poop … or deer poop … or some other kind of animal poop. But maybe it’s something more socially acceptable and ubiquitous like money. Do we want to get so close to money that we can feel its warmth and see its steam? In this chapter, Jack’s eyes are described as “bolting and nearly mad,” but I don’t know that that’s too far off from our eyes when we become lustful for whatever it is we decide we want. Yikes.

He tried to convey the convulsion to track down and kill that was swallowing him up.

Whoa. That’s seems pretty deep for 12-year-old Jack. And two lines down from that:

The madness came into his eyes again.

And then he acknowledges,

“But you can feel as if you’re not hunting, but — being hunted, as if something’s behind you all the time in the jungle.”

Just a friendly reminder, Readers, that this is not just a story about boys running around in tattered shorts getting sunburns on an island. This is about us. When Jack senses something hunting him, it hits us that he’s not talking about a literal beast. He’s talking about something intangible. He’s talking about his own evil nature. And, Golding might add, it’s not about Jack. It’s about us — the inevitability of our own evil natures constantly hunting us.

How refreshingly pleasant.

This is where I remind my students that just because we’re reading this book does NOT mean we have to believe in Golding’s philosophy. (I actually hope they don’t!) While we probably all have evil within us, we don’t have to live feeling like we’re being hunted down by it. I believe we have hope against evil. I hope my students believe that. And I hope you believe that, too. (Sucks to your ass-mar, William Golding!!)

But as their pee gets absorbed into the sand, so does their hope. Their clothes (symbol of civility) are in tatters, their shelters (symbol of civility) are shaky at best, their short hair (symbol of civility) is now long and unkempt. Oh, and the adults are still fighting in that war, you know, killing each other. But maybe there is a little hope. After all, hope is the thing with feathers as they say (well, Dickinson, anyway). I’m afraid, though, that the hope-birds flew away a long time ago when the boys hurled a boulder down the side of the mountain in chapter 1:

Echoes and birds flew, white and pink dust floated, the forest further down shook as with the passage of an enraged monster: and then the island was still.

Just to make sure we get the enormity of the hopelessness here, Golding mentions, “Jack had to think for a moment before he could remember what rescue was.” Jack was so obsessed with hunting pigs, he forgot what rescue was. HUH?? How could he possibly forget rescue? It’s literally the boys’ one job. The question begs: What is the “rescue” in our lives? What is the one thing we should be striving for in life? That might look a little different for everyone, but possibly some answers might be:

  • loving well
  • being kind
  • doing good
  • being honest
  • staying humble

All good things, I think. But, like Jack, we get distracted (or even obsessed) by other things. For him it was hunting pig.

But more importantly, what is it for us?

Other things of note in chapter 3:

  • Jack decides they should paint their faces in order to better sneak up on the pigs (here we go with mask symbolism).
  • Simon peaces out. The boys think he’s weird. He probably is. He finds a secret spot surrounded by a screen of leaves. This is a spot he’ll return to later in the book. He seems to enjoy time alone to do some deep thinking. (Remember that critics out there think Simon is a Jesus figure.)

See ya next time. Until then, read chapter 4, “Painted Faces and Long Hair.”