Table of Contents
2 Lord of the Flies by William Golding
2.2 Narrative aspects
2.3 Symbolism in the novel
2.4 Philosophical and political aspects in Lord of the Flies
2.5 Robinsonade and anti-robinsonade
3 The Movie Lord of the Flies by Harry Hook
3.2 Narrative aspects
3.3 Symbolism in the film
3.4 Is the film an anti-robinsonade?
Lord of the Flies was first published in 1954 and from then on has been read by millions of pupils, students and adults. Today the book is still popular as it deals with a subject that is timeless and fundamental: the human struggle between civilisation and the savage instinct. The book is a fable showing how the inherent evil in man’s nature threatens order in a society. Golding uses an allegorical story to illustrate this threat to civilisation. Because of it’s timeless topic and because it is an ideal showcase for allegorical structure and literary analysis the novel has been dealt with in numerous school lessons and university courses.
This paper gives an overview of some aspects of Lord of the Flies which are important for understanding the text and interpreting the film. I will first investigate how the characters are presented in the book and comment on some narrative aspects. I will then go on to discuss the role of the book as an anti-robinsonade in the historical context of the English novel. I will also point out some philosophical aspects of Lord of the Flies. I am going to focus on aspects of the view of human nature as argued by Thomas Hobbes in his book The Leviathan and contrast it against the philosophy of Jean Jacques Rousseau.
Being one of the most successful English novels Lord of the Flies has been turned into a movie twice: One version is from 1963 in black and white by Peter Brook and a later one from 1992 by Harry Hook. Due to its better visual quality it is usually the latter one that is chosen to be shown in class by teachers. Unfortunately this version neglects some of the key aspects of the novel. The second part of this paper will investigate how this film has adapted Golding’s novel and point out some of the shortcomings of this adaptation. I will concentrate on differences between the book and the movie. I am going to demonstrate how Hook presents his characters and how he treats symbols. Furthermore I will comment on some narrative features of the film. David Bordwell suggests a definition of ‘narration’ as “the organization of a set of cues for the construction of a story”. I will investigate how Harry Hook organises these cues and how they are conveyed to the audience.
2 Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Golding uses very different characters to build up the conflict in his novel. Each of the main characters can be seen as an allegorical representation of a certain aspect of human nature. All the boys undergo certain changes in their new situation and as Ralph, Jack, Piggy, and Simon have quite unequal personalities the isolation from society has different effects on each of them.
Ralph is the elected leader of the group. Golding introduces him as an athletic and self-confident boy: “There was a stillness about Ralph as he sat that marked him out: there was his size, and attractive appearance; and most obscurely, yet most powerful, there was the conch.". Ralph holds the conch as a symbol of order and democratic freedom; he is confident of civilisation. The other boys quickly start to make use of their new freedom: they play and they are not very concerned about keeping the fire alive or building huts. Ralph on the contrary does not lose his sense of responsibility, he is so used to law and order of the world he has been living in that he tries to copy the political structures he knows from home. However, he is not immune to savage degeneration. Although he manages to hold on to civilisation and democratic principles, he too has natural cruelty inside him. This becomes apparent in his intentional exposure of Piggy to mockery: “’He’s not Fatty,’ cried Ralph, ‘his real name’s Piggy!’ ‘Piggy!’ ‘Piggy!’”. Later in the story he even takes part in hunting and is overwhelmed by the desire to kill: “Ralph too was fighting to get near, to get a handful of that brown, vulnerable flesh. The desire to squeeze and hurt was over-mastering” (LF 126). But Ralph is also a dreamer: “Ignoring Piggy’s ill-omened talk, he dreamed pleasantly.”, (LF 15). He is not as down-to-earth as Piggy and becomes lost in the confusion around him. In spite of his goodwill and commonsense Ralph fails “because he simply does not understand at first the nature of the disease from which they all suffer”. He starts to lose faith in their society and this confuses him so much that his position as a leader is weakened: "Ralph was puzzled by the shutter that flickered in his brain: There was something he wanted to say; then the shutter had come down." (LF 156). The more Ralph despairs the less he is able to assert himself and his believes until at the end of the novel he even needs Piggy to tell him what to say and do.
Piggy (we never learn his real name) is introduced as someone who is very likely to attract children’s derision: “He was shorter than the fair boy and very fat” with “thick spectacles” (LF 7). He talks with an accent and cannot speak Standard English (“I can’t hardly move…”, “All them other kids…”, “We was attacked”, LF 7f). Despite his lack of language ability he is the most intelligent and most rational boy on the island. He has the best ideas but the group hardly listen to his insights. Piggy doesn’t get involved in savage activities such as hunting as he is excluded by most of the other boys and especially Jack’s tribe (“We don’t want you.” LF 26). This puts him into a position from which he can observe the events on the island and the degeneration into savagery more or less objectively from an outsider’s perspective. Piggy is used to mockery and cruelty from others but on the island he learns how far people are willing to take this cruelty. However, until his death Piggy believes in democracy and retains his civilisation. Both Ralph and Piggy desperately try to stick to rationality, but they too are susceptible to superstition: “Ralph prayed that the beast would prefer littluns. […] ’It’s come!’ gasped Piggy. ‘It’s real!’” (LF 184).
Jack is presented explicitly as the arrogant, bossy leader of the choir and he definitely has a great desire for power: “’I ought to be chief,’ said Jack with simple arrogance…” (LF 23. In contrast to Piggy who "was the only boy on the island whose hair never seemed to grow" (LF 70), Jack and the others become shock-headed, discard their clothes and Jack starts to paint his face. Golding uses the boys’ outer appearance to indicate their interior state of civilisation. During the first days on the island Jack is not yet able to act out his desire for cruelty and kill the pig “because of the enormity of the knife descending and cutting into living flesh; because of the unbearable blood” (LF 34). But very soon he discards his ethical scruples. He kills a pig and paints his face with war paint “behind which Jack hid, liberated from shame and self-consciousness" (LF 69). Jack is despotic and manipulative; he amplifies the boys’ fear of the beast and uses it to make the boys follow his orders.
Simon is a small, skinny boy and seems to be the only one who is good, rational and civilised by nature. He has a very close connection to nature: He walks into the woods just to sit at a forest glade and enjoy the beauty around him (LF 61f). Jack complains that Simon is “always throwing a faint” (LF 22); this is an allusion to Simon being an epileptic. In some cultures epileptics are worshiped as saints as their seizures are interpreted as a kind of religious trance. Indeed Simon faints at his moment of spiritual enlightenment when he recognises the true nature of the “Lord of the Flies”. Many critics think of Simon as a Christ-like figure as he is tempted by Beelzebub (the devil), then recognises the truth, and is killed when trying to convey it to the people.
 “Goldings didaktisch und metaphysisch geprägte Romane [...] behandeln zeitlose Grundprobleme der menschlichen Existenz“, Nünning, 20. Jhdt. 1998: 106-107
 Bordwell 1985: 62
 William Golding Lord of the Flies. 1958: 24
All quotations from Golding’s novel are from Golding, William. Lord of the Flies. London: Faber and Faber, 1958 and are abbreviated as LF in the text
 Golding 1965: 89
 Crowther 2002: 15