Have just finished chapter one of a re-read of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. This was a set work in school many years ago but it was, without doubt, one of the books that had the most influence on me and one which, years later, continues to resonate. The idea that men are little more than animals covered with a thin veneer of civility is one which has formed the basis for many a tale, one which continues to both entertain and disquiet.
Chapter one introduces us to three of the primary characters: Ralph, Jack and Piggy. Until they come upon the trapped pig toward the end of the chapter the tone is optimistic. Golding uses light in an incredible way to paint the backdrop of a tropical canvas. Even the news that there has been an atomic blast and they’re all dead seems a disconnected whisper against the verdant foliage, the luxurious pools of glittering fish, the bright palm fringed sands.
We are left somewhat disquieted by the glimpses of what is to come. when Jack, Ralph and Simon climb to the top of the mountain to survey their island home they proclaim excitedly “This belongs to us,” and later triumphantly, they savoured the right of domination. They were lifted up: were friends. we had already witness the faux democracy and the election of Ralph as chief. Already the children are playing with the building blocks of adults without fully understanding them.
On their way back down the mountain, returning to the other children, the three come across a trapped and terrified piglet. Jack raises the knife to kill it but pauses. We see how easily the savagery comes to him. This is not how civilised people behave and so he stays his hand. The three are embarrassed but still defend the act to one another. Is this the pivotal moment, the seed planted that violence would have been justified, the stepping stone to moving towards that dark place, the group acceptance? Next time there would be no mercy.
I can’t help but draw some parallels to religious fundamentalism finding safe harbour within the confines of more benign belief. There has to be some tacit acceptance that acts of savagery are somewhat justifiable. At this point we cannot envision Piggy or Ralph killing the pig but they accept Jacks action and so we cannot be surprised by what will surface later.