Many things such as social and political environments can impact literature. British involvement in WWII directly influenced Golding’s novel, Lord of the Flies. As all authors use their life and times as reference points in their works, Golding drew heavily on sociological, cultural, and military events. Lord of the Flies is an allegorical parallel to the world, as Golding perceived it. The island, the boys, and many other objects and events described in his work represent Golding’s view of the world and humankind in general.
He specifically incorporates characteristics and values reflective of the British culture. … The war taught me different and a lot of others like me,” Golding said in the New Republic (Davis 28-30). Golding was referring to his experiences as captain of a British rocket-launching craft in the North Atlantic. He was present at the sinking of the Bismarck, a German battleship, and participated in the D-Day invasion of German occupied France. He was also directly affected by England’s devastation as a result of the German Air Force that severely damaged the nation’s infrastructure and marked the beginning of a serious decline in the British economy.
Wartime rationing continued well into the postwar period. Items like meat, bread, sugar, gasoline, and tobacco were all in short supply and considered luxuries, which is exemplified in Golding’s work. Golding’s writing reflects significant personal life experiences. Golding spent two years as a science student at Oxford University before he left this field to pursue a degree in English Literature. This was his first step toward rejecting scientific rationalism, a philosophy in which his father believed.
Having joined the British Royal Navy when World War II began, Golding was involved in the invasion of Normandy on D-Day. After his military experience, he became a schoolteacher. For fifteen years he frequently read the Greek classics because, according to him, “this is where the meat is. “(Davis 28-30) He felt that Greek drama had a great influence on his work. Drawing from Golding’s own life experiences, Lord of the Flies investigates three key aspects of the human experience that form the basis of the themes the author wants to convey.
The first is the desire for social and political order through parliaments, governments, and legislatures, which represented by the platform and the conch. The second is natural inclination toward evil and violence, demonstrated in every country’s need for a military, which is represented by the choir-boys-turned-hunters-turned-murderers, and in the war going on in the world beyond the island. The third is the belief in supernatural or divine intervention in human destiny, which is represented by the ceremonial dances, and sacrifices intended to appease the “beast”, as well as Simon’s Jesus-like allegorical references.
By juxtaposing the evil, aggressive nature of the boys with the proper and civil British behavior that their cultural background implies, Golding places the boys in a series of life experiences that lead some, like Jack, deeper into their corrupt psyche, and others, like Ralph, who recognize the tendency toward evil in themselves, to suddenly realize the person they were meant to be. This awareness is the only hope for humankind to choose good over evil. Golding wrote Lord of the Flies in 1954, less than a decade after World War II, when the world was in the midst of the Cold War.
The atrocities of the Holocaust, the horrific effects of the atomic bomb, and the ominous threat of the Communist demon behind the Iron Curtain were all present in the minds of the Western public and the author. This environment of fear combined with technology’s rapid advances act as a backdrop to the island experiences: the shot-down plane, for example, and the boys’ concern that the “Reds” might find them before the British do. Historically, in times of widespread socio-economic distress and fear, the general public feels itself vulnerable and turns to the leader who exhibits the most strength or seems to offer the most protection.
In Lord of the Flies, Jack and the hunters, who offer the luxury of meat and the comforts of a dictatorship, fill that role. In exchange for his protection, the other boys sacrifice any moral reservations they may have about his policies and enthusiastically persecute the boys who resist joining their tribe. These circumstances somewhat mirror Germany’s economic suffering, which paved the way for the radical politics of Adolph Hitler’s Nazism in the aftermath of World War I and in the worldwide depression of the 1930s.
Based upon his wartime experiences in the British Navy, Golding asserted that the unlimited brutality shown by the Nazis was a capacity not limited to Germans or indeed to any particular group. While the world was horrified by news of the Nazi death camps, Golding felt that none of the nations was too far from committing atrocities of the same magnitude. According to Golding, humankind’s inclination toward evil and violence tied with the “psychology of fear” motivates humanity to act in unconscionable ways (Davis 28-30).
When the United States used the atomic bomb in Japan, more than 100,000 innocent civilians were killed in three days by dropping two bombs. Overall, a total of 55 million people lost their lives in World War II. Such catastrophic violence and loss of life was clearly not lost on Golding: An atomic war causes the boys’ evacuation in Lord of the Flies, and the sign from the world of grown-ups that the boys so wish for turns out to be the body of a dead paratrooper, floating down from an aerial battle. Such a fatalistic view of humanity directly conflicted with the rationalism on which Golding was raised.
His father’s rationalist optimism claimed that humankind can be perfected with enough effort, purged of aggressive or anti-social tendencies. Golding’s view is much more pessimistic regarding mankind’s true makeup. He perceived good and evil to be equal components of human nature, permanently intertwined. Rather than looking to social reform to cure humanity of its cruelty, Golding felt that breakdown in the social order, such as occurs in Lord of the Flies, is directly traceable to moral meltdown at the individual’s level.
Golding’s representation of humanity’s inherent evil is a treatment of the Judeo-Christian concept of original sin. When Lord of the Flies was published, many critics were not impressed by it because Golding was not part of one of the contemporary literary movements, which concerned themselves not with theology or mysticism, but with existential and sociological themes (Davis 28-30). Instead, Golding was a 43-year-old schoolteacher with a wife and children addressing classic themes of good and evil.
As a schoolteacher, however, Golding experienced the reality of schoolboy behavior and tendencies, which provided him with valuable literary material. That reality was quite different from the picture painted in many children’s adventure stories, such as R. M. Ballantyne’s classic Victorian tale, Coral Island. Coral Island exemplified certain assumptions about English schoolboys and British culture that Golding knew to be false, such as the idea that British, Christian children were naturally virtuous and innocent.
Golding wrote Lord of the Flies as a solemn parody of Coral Island, showing that barbarians and outsiders do not always practice savage behavior, but that the behavior can live in each individual’s heart (Henningfeld). Another issue Golding addressed was the Western World’s post-war confidence in technology, another spin on the rationalist idea that human society can be perfected; Rationalism’s anti-mystical attitude is a part of technology worship.
Included in the scientific advances of the first half of the twentieth century was the field of psychiatry, which promised to explain emotional disturbances in a logical way, a technology of the mind. Golding wove in references to technology’s influence in Lord of the Flies through Piggy, who asserts that psychiatry can explain away their fears, and that ghosts cannot exist because if they did, television and streetlights wouldn’t work (Henningfeld).
While Golding’s novel does not prove the existence of ghosts, it does address the underlying fears and true demons found in humanity and the personal soul. William Golding set Lord of the Flies at a time when Europe is in the midst of nuclear destruction. The group of boys, being evacuated from England to Australia, crash land on a tropical island, creating situations of political and social distress. This event parallels the real world outside of the island. In the moment that the savages are about to capture Ralph, an adult naval officer appears.
Suddenly, about to be rescued, the savages revert to little boys and they begin to cry. The officer cannot seem to understand what has happened on the island. “Fun and games,” he says, unconsciously echoing Ralph’s words from the opening chapter (Henningfeld). Ralph breaks down and sobs, mourning Simon and mourning Piggy. In the final line of the book, Golding reminds the reader that although adults have arrived, the rescue is a faulty one. The officer looks out to sea at his “trim cruiser in the distance.
Echoing William Golding’s thoughts: “The world, after all, is still at war. ” All literature is indeed impacted by its author’s personal experiences. The surrounding environments, in both social and cultural aspects, affect these personal experiences. William Golding’s involvement and experiences witnessed first hand in World War II resulted in the happenings and outcomes of his novel Lord of the Flies. Even fictional stories such as this novel can have aspects of reality added, giving them the inner-soul to inspire readers, and even writers everywhere.
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