Saturday, February 12, 2005

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Just finished watching 'Lord of the Flies', based on Nobel Laureate William Golding's classic novel. Although I had read the novel a few years ago, somehow the story did not make a real impact on me then. It's one of the most thought provoking movies I have seen in recent times (of course it's really the STORY that's thought provoking).
In a nutshell, the story challenges the idea of civilization that we take so much for granted and asks whether human beings are truly civilized or not. Of course, the negative answer for this can be supported by scores of events in world history; the holocaust being the most prominent example. However, in the Lord of the Flies, Golding makes the perspective somewhat more chilling and penetrating as it's seen through a child's eyes.

The Lord of the Flies brings up again the fundamental issues associated with heirarchy and mob psychology. It tells the story of a group of English schoolchildren stranded on an island during WW2. In order to survive, they must work together, and Ralph, a natural leader takes a democratic attitude towards this, delegating tasks and taking votes before embarking on endeavors and decisions. Supporting him is his sidekick Piggy, a chubby boy with a rational mind. However, quite naturally, away from the restraints of home and parents, many of the other boys want to play, swim, or hunt pigs. Gradually, Ralph starts to lose his touch, and his suggestions start being neglected, and then downright opposed. Leading the opposition is Jack, an aggressive and short-tempered boy. Slowly, he forms a clique of his own, which finally includes most of the other boys. In his new role, Jack assumes a totalitarian bearing. Rumours of a 'monster' in a cave further fuel Jack's group's crazy emotions, and finally, during a savage looking dance of glee (which follows just after they have killed a pig), they end up spearing to death one of Ralph's proteges, mistaking him in the night for the 'monster'. After this, things slide down completely, as the last threads of civilization are broken. During a seemingly benign act, in which Ralph and Piggy try to establish a truce with Jack's group, Piggy is killed with a big rock from the top of a cliff by two boys from Jack's band. The whole story finally ends with Ralph barely escaping with his life, pursued by Jack and his savage eyed henchmen. (The boys are finally and quite unexpectedly rescued by Navy officers).
The Lord of the Rings raises a number of questions about mob psychology and the robe of civilization that we claim to have donned. I thought that the most pertinent were the following two:

2. The Lord of the Flies really talks about the true meaning of being civilized. It reinforces the message that we seem to be civilized merely because of the restraints of society, and given an opportunity, even the most benign among us can engage in barbarism, especially when controlled by mob psychology (A fact again exemplified by the story of many brutal regimes). The fact that this story is about children makes it very much striking. For the boys on the island, the simple fact that there were no elders or parents to keep them in check led them to commiting unspeakable acts. (I will let a child psychologist build on that aspect of the story)

3. In my opinion, the other note the story concludes with is more optimistic. In The Lord of the Flies, evidently, the conflict between the boys is a matter of the survival of the fittest. It is also obvious that, in the end, the 'fittest' is not signified by the clear headed and pacifist Ralph, but by the belligerent Jack. Interestingly, in a civilized and 'normal' modern world, Ralph, with his level-headedness and non-agressive and democratic nature, probably would have been a much more successful leader than Jack! In fact, Jack could have easily been cast on the sidelines because of his aggressive and rash personality. This fact only reassures us that with the passage of civilization, the shift of preference from Jack to Ralph probably demonstrates that we HAVE become civilized.

Thus, in my opinion, the Lord of the Flies leaves us with two important messages; that civilization has been a hard earned legacy, and that we should still keep on fighting to preserve it, since even now it's linked to our sanity by a surprisingly fragile connection.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I sure hope you're right, or my essay is going to be quite unsatisfactory.

9:46 AM  

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