A'alaa AlMajnouni

A Marxist Analysis on Class Conflict in the Novel of Sir William Golding’s Lord of the Flies

In My Research Papers & Essays on June 9, 2011 at 6:45 pm

Mahatma Gandhi once declared that; “Liberty and democracy become unholy when their hands are dyed red with innocent blood” (Non-violence in Peace and War, 1948). Thus far, Sir William Golding’s Lord of the Flies overarches a premise that humanity is pessimistic and corrupted and brutally chaotic instincts throughput a characters of children. In order to have a better understanding, this novel is first Published in 1954 shortly after the WWII and its firmly rooted in the sociopolitical concerns of its era. It advertingly narrates London Blitz (1940-1941) where children were evacuated from the metropolitan area: some were sent to Scotland, some to Canada and Australia (teachrobb.com) and to provide an authentic environment to the text. Thus, this paper seeks to point out the Ideology of Golding in Lord of the Flies through a Marxist reading over the Class Conflict.

The Ideology of Sir Golding alludes to the Cold War conflict in between the Liberal Democracy in his presentation of “Ralph’s” whereas “Jack Merridew” is the totalitarian communism (teachrobb.com). Since “Marxists do not see any literary works as an aesthetic objects but a product of the socioeconomic aspects.” (Dobie 94) appropriately, the novel of Lord of the Flies substantiates a Marxist principle elucidated by the Class Conflict throughput the boys’ attempts of civilization and devolution. Despite the boys mimicry of the social organization that they think would reflect the adult world realistically (“Article Myriad”) it turned into savagery and bloody violence.

Terry Eagelton had stated that; “Marxism is as inseparable from modern civilization… as much part of our “historical unconscious”…” (Bressler 161).  Therefore, Lord of the Flies as work of fiction is an applicable text accepts the elemental perspective of Marxism. The story revolves on a conflict between groups of English boys who trapped on a deserted island with no grownups survivors. The philosophy of Sir Golding and the “historical unconscious” of the Cold War materialized allegorically. Additionally, to know that Sir Golding as a British naval commander in WWII and to know some of the facts of the British involvement in the war helps in understanding a relation to the premise of the text (“Article Myriad”). Thus again, the Children Conflicts presented all through the struggle among the characters to develop their sociopolitical system until they get rescued! Yet, Karl Marx proclaimed about the social constructions that:

“It is not our philosophical or religious beliefs that make us who we are, for we are not spiritual beings but socially constructed ones. We are not products of divine design but creation of our own cultural and social circumstances.”   (Dobie 92).

Then subsequently the struggle of the groups turned to be a completed dystopian[1] society and the children alone are the champions.

By scrutinizing the major three childish characters in the Lord of the Flies, Sir Golding uses “Ralph” and “Piggy” together and “Jack Merridew” along with “Roger” as major characters to portray his theory that; when Man is left in certain situations to survive and fend for themselves, they will ultimately resort to cruelty and evilness (“Article Myriad”).  For “Ralph”, he is the embodiment of Democracy and the protagonist of the story. He is one of the oldest boys on the island and quickly the leader and a Crouch-holder. This young boy is around the twelve years old, well built and in the novel you would get the impression he might grow into a boxer one day yet never to a ‘Devil’! (qtd. Golding viii). “Ralph” embodies democracy by the qualities of being fair, sunny, decent with the other boys, sensible and considerate as well as the quality of leadership stated in the novel as; “There’s another thing. We can help them to find us. If a ship comes near the island they may not notice us. So we must make smoke on top of the mountains. We must make a fire.” (46; ch.2) and through this; “‘I’m chief. We’ve got to make certain [that there is no beast] There’s no signal showing [on the mountain]. There may be a ship out there.'” (98; ch.6). However he does not understand the world around a lot – and that’s why he needs the help of “Piggy”, still as a Democrat he has two things in his mind very clearly fixed: (1) they will be rescued yet not when and how. (2) In order to be rescued he sees that they must hang together! These two facts of “Ralph” is stated as; “This is our island. It’s a good island. Until the grown-ups come to fetch us we’ll have fun.” (41; ch.2). Although to “Ralph” calmness and rationality, with sound judgment and a strong moral sensibility he is yet susceptible to the same instinctive influences that affect suicide the other boys. It is demonstrated by his contribution to both Simon’s death and Piggy’s, stated at the end of the novel; “Ralph wept for the end of innocence, the darkness of man’s heart, and the fall through the air of a true, wise friend called Piggy.” (248; ch.12) which as well shows the shaking base of the Democratic Party through the Cold War. Nevertheless, “Ralph” remains the most civilized character throughout the novel with his strong commitment to justice and equality as described in the novel; “Ralph launched himself like a cat; stabbed, snarling, with the spear, and the savage doubled up.” (279; ch.12) and when the Officer at the novel closing asked; “ who’s boss here? “I am,” said Ralph loudly.” (283; ch.12).

On the other hand, the character of “Piggy” is a bit multifaceted, for he represents culture within the democratic system embodied by “Ralph”. Although he is described as chubby, awkward, and averse to physical labor for his asthmatic condition, “Piggy” still sensitive, conscientious and the intellectualist of the island (qtd. Golding viii). “Piggy’s” intellectual talent endears him to “Ralph” in particular, who comes to admire and respect him and make him the Brain Trust. “Piggy” is dedicated to the ideal of civilization and consistently reprimands the other boys for behaving as Savages; “We’ve got to have rules and obey them. After all, we’re not savages. We’re English, and the English are best at everything.” (40; ch.2).

Yet, on the contrary, is the character of “Jack Merridew”, the leader of a boys’ choir; “Jack” exemplifies Militarism as it borders on Authoritarianism. He is cruel and sadistic, preoccupied with hunting and killing pigs, stated: Kill the pig. Cut her throat. Bash her in” (75; ch.4). His sadism intensifies throughout the novel, and he eventually turns cruelly on the other boys; “[Jack and the two hunters] weremasked in black and green.” (160; ch.11). He feigns an interest in the rules of order established on the island, but only if they allow him to inflict punishment. For he represents anarchy which proved by the rejection of “Ralph’s” imposed order: “‘Which is better — to be a pack of painted Indians like you are, or to be sensible like Ralph…” (164; ch.11). But the bloody results of this act indicate the danger inherent in an anarchic system based only on self-interest. “Jack’s” transformation from civilized bully to savage killer has begun. He’s obsessed with hunting at the expense of all else, even rescue; They knew very well why he hadn’t: because of the enormity of the knife descending and cutting into living flesh; because of the unbearable blood.” (31; ch.1) “Jack” fears killing the pig at first, a fear he overcomes as he sheds civilization and adopts the way of the savage, but; “He tried to convey the compulsion to track down and kill that was swallowing him up.” (51; ch.4.). Thus, his hunting mask has obliterated that small semblance of civility, for Jack had: “The mask was a thing of its own, behind which Jack had liberated from shame and self-consciousness (64; ch.4).

However, the Children Conflict at Lord of the Flies holds the reader to a critical purpose towards the childish constructed government that indicates allegorically a relevant of our modern politics. Sir Golding visualizes the naïve; inexperienced boys into a place where there are no adults, no social institutions and no order yet a try to mimic the social organization that they think would reflect the adult world faithfully (“Article Myriad”). The children government is shaped and it is created out of necessity: they identified a leader by election to be “Ralph”; “‘All right. Who wants Jack for chief?’ ‘With a dreary obedience the choir raised their hands.’ ‘Who wants me? [Ralph] ‘Every hand outside the choir except Piggy’s was raised immediately.” (23; ch.1). Selected an item that give their society-building significance illustrated by the ‘Conch-shell’ to be Democracy that brings all the voices together. Established rules to fulfill their basic human needs; making ‘Fire’ in order to get rescued by the smoke, warmth and sheltered. Besides initiating workable relationships with one another stated in the text:

“[The boys] found themselves eager to take a place in this demented but partly secure society. They were glad to touch the brown backs of the fence that hemmed in the terror [of the makeshift beast] and made it governable.   (138; ch.9)

Nevertheless, it starts smoothly at first yet the group moved violently. It emerged first between “Ralph” civilization’s representative and “Jack” the incivility transformer, each by his group. These two groups are fighting each for diverse perceptions of the word ‘Survive’ and ‘Rescue’; the group of “Ralph” focuses on Fire, whereas the group of “Jack” focuses on Meat. At the beginning of the novel, “Ralph” has been elected as a chief, and has the majority of the Conch, an item of power at the novel. Yet, “Ralph” found “Jack” unpleasant by the election result so as a Democrat who seek to please his fellows he gave him the hunters; “‘Jack’s face disappeared under a blush of mortification. He started up, then changed his mind… Ralph looked at him, eager to offer something.’ ‘The choir belongs to you, of course.’ ‘They could be an army or hunters—.’” (23; ch.1).  This was a quietly good idea, thus “Jack” will drive his focus on other than Ralph being the chief. The materialism along with the thirst of power in “Jack’s” character prolongs after “Ralph” and exceeded to thought he was better and the only deserver! Consequently “Jack” wanted something just to show that he still had some type of power, so he started to dominate the Group a bit more than usual (teachrobb.com). Now “Jack” got the Hunters ‘Choir’ and the Meat, he is no longer interested to get rescued, gradually “Ralph’s loss of boys and Meat left his slowly weaker and powerless and “Jack” is capitalizing on the Island, as stated: “‘Which is better — to be a pack of painted Indians like you are, or to be sensible like Ralph is….Which is better — to have laws and agree, or to hunt and kill?'” (164; ch.11) in the quote, “Jack” was lecturing the other boys and declaring the uselessness of “Ralph’s” Authority. To sum up the Group Struggle, these boys however young are not innocent. Each of them reflects the influence of Man’s infection of Evilness. They also mirrors the Cold War terror, humanity in the children turned savagely inhuman, two boys got killed and the others went wild and this all explained at the end of the novel by:

“The officer grinned cheerfully at Ralph. ‘We saw your smoke. What have you been doing? Having a war or something?’ Ralph nodded. ‘Nobody killed, I hope? Any dead bodies?’ [Ralph] ‘Only two. And they’ve gone.’ [Officer] ‘Two? Killed?’ Ralph nodded again. Behind him, the whole island was shuddering with flame.’  (282-283; ch.12).

To conclude, Lord of the Flies provided a political theme-tale in a children framed society. Sir Golding alludes to the modern society between the same forces translated through both of “Ralph” and “Jack” (qtd. Epstein 293). So, it is not a book of confrontation but a sample that; “may help few grownups to be less complacent and more compassionate, to support Ralph, respect Piggy, control Jack, and lighten a little the darkness of Man’s Heart.” (qtd, Golding xii). As a permissible perception to the Marxist critic in order to express the personal view of the Ideology, I agree with Sir Golding attempt to trace the defect of society back to the defect of human nature stated in; “‘Maybe there is a beast….maybe it’s only us.'” (80 ;ch.5).

Works Cited

Bressler, Charles E. Literary Criticism: an Introduction to Theory and Practice. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2003.

Burris, Skylar Hamilton. “What Makes Things Break up like They Do?” Alternative Explanations For the Societal Breakdown in William Golding’s Lord of the Flie (1999). Web. <http://www.rbhs.w-cook.k12.il.us/Mancoff/lofancient.htm&gt;.

Dobie, Ann Brewster. Theory into Practice. Australia: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2008.

Golding, William. Lord of the Flies. New York: Penguin, 2003.

Harmon, William, C. Hugh Holman, and William Flint Thrall. A Handbook to Literature. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Prentice Hall, 2006.

Lund, Mark. Literary Criticism: A Primer An English Office Publication. Thesis. Baltimore County Public Schools, 1996. Towson, MD. <http://www.teachrobb.com/documents/Criticism.htm&gt;.

Smith, Nicole. “Article Myriad.” The Role of Government in “Lord of the Flies” by William Golding(2010). <http://www.articlemyriad.com/lord_flies_government_society.htm


[1] In another words, the construction of the novel is an exemplar of Dystopia; an imaginary place – the coral island- where life is extremely difficult and a lot of unfair or immoral things happen.

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