William Golding

When Ralph’s life is saved thanks to the timely arrival of the British officer, he weeps –the narrator says- “for the end of innocence, the darkness of man’s heart, and the fall through the air of the true, wise friend called Piggy”.

In this final fragment of the novel Golding words the main issues he was interested in when writing this his first novel and which were to become recurrent themes along his production, namely in later novels such as The Inheritors, Pincher Martin, and Free Fall. Though not taking a specific Catholic viewpoint, Golding hovers round the great absolutes of good and evil, and the nature of man. Paraphrasing the title of one of his novels, the experience on the island of the wrecked group of children is a kind of “rite of passage” from childhood into adulthood, from light into darkness, from an apparent initial innocence to the discovery of inner fear, brutality, and evil: the cycle of man’s attempt to rise to power or righteousness, followed by his eventual fall from grace.

The place where this process is played out is an island surrounded by unsurpassable reefs, only vaguely located in both space and time, some post-nuclear future that is still at war. The children who have survived the plane crash are all miraculously unhurt and are not very affected by their situation; quite on the contrary, they seem playful and content of being free from adults. And, as children, we assume them as innocent. Initially this microcosm represents Paradise. In the Biblical Paradise Adam and Eve lived according to God’s rules, until the Fall. (After loss of innocence, knowledge ensues, though dearly paid for.) However, in this paradise there is no god, so the children set about organising themselves into a society with a democratically elected chief, a symbol of power, the conch, the distribution of tasks and some basic rules.
Yet, in spite of this, their society fails and paradise becomes hell. A fatal schism divides Jack and Ralph and the children. Struggle over power draws them apart, as well as the experience of killing –necessary for survival- that Jack acquires from being a hunter. Jack and his pack are curiously fouled by this contact with real life, while Ralph and his group remain aloof and clean. Power over life and death triggers of evil. This evil has nothing to do with either supernatural or religious matters, for Golding rejected these as origin of human evil. The source is life itself, added to the fact that man is alone on Earth such as the children are alone on the island.
One is only too tempted to think all this happens because they have no god, and thus their social rules are not strong enough or lack chastisement, but eventually they do have a god. On discovering the presence of the disturbing and numinous Beast, and being unable to track it down, they offer it the head of the wild sow they have hunted, which becomes the icon of this Beast-God. It is an ugly god, yes, a rotting head covered by flies, and its name, Lord of the Flies, is Ba’alzbub, one of Satan’s pseudonyms. Moreover, it has a prophet, Simon, who is also to become its martyr in a rephrasing of Jesus’ lot. But it is a honest god: it tells Simon evil lies in himself, in man himself, in life itself. It also warns him that if he says so he will pay for it: he will not be listened to or believed. Man is not ready –will he ever be?- to admit such a truth about himself.
Golding was deeply pessimistic about man. In a private letter to a friend he said “One of our faults is to believe that evil is somewhere else”. Therefore, his aim is to dismantle all subterfuges man has to discharge himself from guilt. He writes a Christian allegory but does not let Simon bring any salvation to humankind. What is more, his death brings only more bloodshed and violence. He presents two options for society, with a spiritual (Simon) and a rational (Piggy) basis, and condemns both to destruction by the brutal forces of evil. The order Ralph imposes is only temporary, being soon overcome by the more enduring, though destructive impulse of man’s irrationality, represented by Jack. A violence that, eventually, would lead to the destruction of the whole island, which is set on fire at the end of the novel just to facilitate the capturing of Ralph. If the officer was not to turn up, Ralph would have been killed but the others would not have been able to survive on the destroyed island.
At the very end, an officer suddenly appears to rescue the children. His presence makes Ralph cry. The children become children again, and as James Gidding says, “suddenly (…) adult sanity really exists. The horror of the boys’ experience on the island was really a childish game, though a particularly vicious one. (…) The rescue is ultimately a “gimmick”, a trick, a means of cutting down or softening the implications built up within the structure of the boys’ society on the island”. What follows this moment is only suggested and embedded between lines. As Golding said, “The officer having interrupted a manhunt, prepares to take the children off the island in a cruise which will presently be hunting its enemy in the same implacable way. And who will rescue the adult and his cruiser?” David Richter points out, “The rescuers who stop the island war are themselves men of war, as Golding says, “dignified and capable, but in reality enmeshed in the same evil” we have seen in all the children: the viciousness and savagery of human nature”. Moreover, he adds, “By the introduction of actual adults, Golding’s symbolic narrative is broadened to include the grownup world about”, extending “beyond its own immediate significance the morality play which has been enacted on the island. “The darkness of man’s heart” is not evinced merely by the slackening of the bonds of civilization; it is not to be found only on coral islands: it is, in fact, always with us, the ultimate source of all human pain and misery”.
Thus, we wonder. What is this “innocence”, this “wisdom” the loss of which Ralph mourns? Innocence never was and wisdom brings no redemption. And “the darkness of man’s heart”? It is a must. Baker says, “Golding implies that the long course of evolution has brought no fundamental change in human nature. We are today essentially what we were in the past”. And what were we? One only has to read The Inheritors, written after Lord on the Flies, to know what Golding thought about this. The Neanderthals, a comparatively innocent, primitive people, end at the hands of superior Homo Sapiens, in fact a dubious and evil people. Evil –darkness- goes back to man’s roots.
In the end, Golding does not leave man any way out of his particular horror.

Daryl L. Houston, Golding’s Themes, 1995
James R. Baker, William Golding, A Critical Study. New York: Martin’s Press, 1995
James Ginding, “Gimmick and Metaphor in the novels of William Golding, Modern Fiction Studies 6, nº2, 1960
Mirjana Danicic, Biblical Symbolism of the plot and characters in William Golding’s novel Lord of the Flies.

3 pensamientos en “William Golding

  1. Desde chico mi padre me contaba de vez en cuando la historia de ese libro, siempre quise leerlo, nunca me decidí a hacerlo, lo mismo me pasó con un mundo felíz. Ya lo tendré que hacer.

    Como esperanza ingenua, la ciencia se inclina más por la asimilación del Neandertal a través de cruzas o simplemente por la extinción entre el cambio de habitat y la dispersión. Una extinción no violenta. Aunque serviría como metáfora de: “Se corrompieron”.

    Por cierto, tu escrito de Heart of Darkness terminó haciendome leer cada vez más de Conrad, lamentablemente los libros de la escuela y otros de Historia no me dejan leer mucho pero ya leí unos cuantos, los últimos fueron “El Duelo” y “Tifón”.


    • Desde que leí a Golding por primera vez -hace mucho ya, creo que tenía unos 16 años- me ha parecido un maravillosos y muy inquietante novelista. “El Señor de las Moscas” lo leí a raíz de que le dieran a Golding el Premio Nobel de literatura, una razón de peso por aquel entonces, no tanto así ahora. Digo esto por mi propia idiosincrasia leyendo y por los autores a los que conceden este premio, en ocasiones bastante discutibles.
      Junto a esta obra suya, me parecieron también prodigiosas “Los Herederos” y “Pincher Martin”, que leí un par de años después.
      Imagino que ya Golding sabría que las razones por las que los Neanderthales se extinguieron eran imposibles de saber con exactitud. Lo fascinante es que él asocie la idea de supervivencia no a una simple superioridad del tipo que sea sino a un componente de maldad. El mal hace fuerte al hombre, le hace crecer, prosperar y, de paso, destruir. La prosperidad implica destrucción.
      Hay otro muy interesante autor, este teatral, cuya obra gira en torno a la violencia. Es Edward Bond. No es fácil leer su obra; sería, por supuesto, mejor verla representada. En el prólogo a “Lear”, una interpretación moderna del “Rey Lear” de Shakespeare, explica que aunque los animales pueden ser violentos, no lo son hasta el punto de poner en peligro la supervivencia de su propia especie. Los humanos, sí. Una cuestión interesante, esta, sobre la que Golding escribió con frecuencia.
      Mi gran frustración de adolescente (y, por qué no, ahora) era no poder pasar más tiempo leyendo a causa de las tareas escolares. Además, de aquella, también estudiaba música y tocaba el piano a diario. Recuerdo que los libros que nos mandaban leer eran, para mayor fastidio, muy a menudo completamente inadecuados para fomentar la lectura. Yo soy contraria al empeño que ponen las instancias educativas en que los jóvenes lean a los clásicos, y mucho menos ahora, en que a la lectura le han salido tan poderosos competidores como los juegos de ordenador (y las dichosas adaptaciones cinematográficas de libros populares que ya nadie leerá). Uno debe leer lo que le gusta, buscar hasta encontrar lo que le gusta, orientado por alguien que no tenga ningún tipo de prejuicios, y cuando encuentra eso que le gusta, leerlo en abundancia. El que lee con gusto acabará leyendo de todo.
      Un saludo.

  2. En eso estoy de acuerdo, los que no son clásicos son libros extraños que muy pocas veces caen bien, aunque tampoco me voy a quejar, mi profesor de literatura fue excelente, explicaba como ninguno, y cada vez que nos leía fragmentos de importancia para el análisis lo hacía con una claridad, una voz y un amor a la lectura tan grande que era como ver una película. Profesores tan entrañables como ese quedan pocos. Lamentablemente obligarlos a leer tampoco es muy efectivo ya que creo que debo ser uno de los 3 alumnos de mi grado que leyó todos los libros en tiempo y forma para las clases o que tomaba apuntes, el resto lee el resumen en internet, o ni siquiera eso y entregan en blanco, un desastre.

    Ahora mismo estoy leyendo Hijos de los Hombres de P.D James, la película me encantó y vi al libro a un precio muuuuy interesante como para rechazarlo.



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