Mar 6, 2016

Lord of the Flies

The "boys alone" genre (White Water Summer, Toy Soldiers, Bless the Beasts and Children, The New People) usually features a group of teenage boys isolated from adult society, stripped down to their underwear, and working together to survive or fight a common enemy.  It argues that competition, envy, hatred, and strife are plagues of adulthood, that in the primal Eden of adolescence, we are all one.

But William Golding's 1954 novel The Lord of the Flies, based on the children's novel The Coral Islandturns the genre around, arguing for the natural enmity of men without women.  It was required reading in high school: our teacher expected us to have an ephiphany, thinking "Yes, we are savages. Only the adult rules keep us from killing each other."

  It has been filmed twice, in 1963 and 1990.

When their plane crashes, a group of British school boys find themselves stranded on a desert island.  Ralph (James Aubrey, Balthazar Getty) takes charge and establishes a democratic society, as in Heinlein's Tunnel in the Sky.  He organizes the search for food and the rescue fire, and uses a conch shell to call the citizens to a democratic congress.

But the boys fear the Beast who roams the jungle, and develop bizarre manhood rituals.  Jack (Tom Chapin, Chris Furrh), Ralph's best friend in civilized life, leads a rebellion.  His "savages" worship a rotting pig's head (the "Lord of the Flies").

Tensions escalate, and the savages attack.  A boy named Piggy is killed, the conch broken, and Ralph's boys scatter into the jungle.  Jack leads his savages to attack Jack, but just as they close in for the kill, the adult rescuers arrive.  Civilization restored, the boys begin to cry.

Why is this story so different from the others, so depressing, so skeptical of the human spirit?  William Golding is generally a downer  -- his second most famous work, Pincher Martin, is about a man dying on some rocks in the ocean.

But there is an obvious gay subtext. Ralph is a veritable teen idol, strong and handsome, and though he cares for Jack, he doesn't display any homoromantic intensity.

Jack, soft, blond, feminine, "queer," has an unrequited romantic interest in the stronger, more muscular boy.  He manipulates the other boys' fears, orchestrates the mutiny, the bizarre rituals, and finally the attack -- not out of unrequited love, but out of hatred for the civilization which denies his homoromantic potential, which doesn't even have the vocabulary for expressing what he feels.  In the end Lord of the Flies is about what happens to a dream deferred.  Sometimes it explodes.

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