Monday, January 09, 2017

The Lord of the Flies

[Nyerges has led wilderness and wild food field trips for over 40 years. He is the author of numerous books, including “How to Survive Anywhere,” “Extreme Simplicity,” “Guide to Wild Foods,” and others.  Questions about his classes and books can be directed to or Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041.]

Commentary on the "Lord of the Flies" 

A plane crashes on some remote island, and only the British school children survive. A classic story of survival begins.  The boys –after having attended not a single “survival school” --  learn to hunt, make shelters, make fire (using Piggy’s spectacles, or eye glasses), and to enjoy themselves.  After all, with all the adults gone, there’s no one to enforce rules, so we do what we want, right? Then the battle for power begins. One side is for some sort of orderly life,  and the other side wants to live by rule of might.

“Lord of the Flies” has been widely viewed and widely discussed. What does it mean?  What does it tell us about our basic human nature?  Is our desire to do good and cooperate with others a skill that must be learned and maintained?  Are we essentially animals who need to learn to control our animal natures?

The book (and movie -- see the original; skip the re-make) begins with the boys experiencing a sort of innocent paradise, as they swim and cavort and learn about foods in their adult-free world.  The obvious need for leadership results in a vote between  Ralph, who represents order and the rule of law, and Jack, who represents immediate fulfillment of desires, power, and even savagery.  Ralph wins the election. 

In the beginning, Ralph and Jack are not depicted as being all that different.  Indeed, they are friends.  Ralph is set on doing the best for all, helping the weak, making sure that everyone is fed. Jack seems more intent on his own power ambitions.

A conch shell is chosen as a sign of leadership, and an indication of who has the “floor” during meetings.  But Jack forms his own band and moves away from Ralph.  Jack chooses to disregard the blowing of the conch.  That choice leads to further division and animosity. Eventually, the conch is destroyed when a boulder rolls onto it, symbolizing the loss of one of the symbols of their chosen civility, somewhat akin to someone in a board meeting tossing the gavel out the window.

Jack’s group steals Piggy’s specs to make fire, another strike at cooperation and civility.  Jack’s group also lets the signal fire go out, showing that Jack has lost his focus of trying to get off the island.

In analyzing The Lord of the Flies, countless analogies have been used to describe the social dichotomy that it depicts, such as users vs. takers, or producers vs. consumers, or urban vs. rural, or primitive vs. civilized, etc.  Perhaps it is the same old story of Cain vs. Abel, or the farmers vs. the ranchers. The story has even  been used to illustrate political parties in various countries. But is it that simplistic? 

Jack and his group finally devolved to the point where murder was justified. Jack and his group started to hunt Ralph. Jack’s desire for total power would be solidified with the elimination of Ralph (the last opposing force). As Jack’s group chases Ralph along the beach, they all confront a force they all have to reckon with – the rescuing sailors. The sailors are tall, dressed in white, somber.  It’s as if the children butted up against the gods of the universe, and now the day of reckoning comes.

A group of men landed on the island and watch in amazement at the behavior of the “children”. The look on the children’s faces express their thoughts. Jack realizes his reign as a petty tyrant in his island empire is over; Ralph is relieved his life is saved, and now he’ll be going back to his real home.

We see something in the childrens’ faces:  now they have to account for their actions to a higher power. The choices that each of us  make in life have ramification that ripple through our lives. “Ralph” and “Jack” represent the choices we make. What legacy will we leave? What actions will we ultimately be accountable for when the sailors get to shore?

The amateur film-makers who created the original “Lord of the Flies” did so during the boys’ summer vacation.  They tracked the lives of the boys who acted in this movie, and the boy-actors were all high achievers in their personal lives. The boys later related  that making the movie deeply affected them.  Even though it was described as “just a movie,” many of the boys  realized in their personal adult lives that it was far better to work hard to choose the upward, inclusive way of Ralph, rather than to ever find oneself descending into Jack-ness.

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