The Controversy of 'Lord of the Flies'
Racism, sex, and violence, oh my!
On September 17, 1954, the British publishing company Faber and Faber Limited published Lord of the Flies, by English author William Golding. It did not sell well in its early years, but later went on to become a popular novel. Lord of the Flies has been challenged and banned by many different groups and people throughout the years. Certain school districts in states such as Texas, Arizona, and Florida have banned the book because of claims that the book has racism, sex, violence, obscene language, and statements that insult God, women, and minorities throughout it.
Lord of the Flies starts when a British airplane crashes on an island somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. The only survivors of the crash are a group of young, British, boys. The first characters we meet are Ralph, one of the main characters who later becomes the “chief” of the group of boys, and “Piggy,” an overweight boy who has asthma. The two boys find a conch on the beach, which Ralph uses as a horn to signal the other survivors where to meet. Once all the rest of the survivors gather, Ralph is voted by the other boys to become the “chief” of the group. However, a group of boys led by a boy named Jack does not vote for Ralph to be the leader. Eventually, a decision is made to have Ralph, Jack and another boy named Simon be the three leaders of the group.
Once Ralph establishes the goals for the group, Jack and his group of boys go out hunting. At this time factions begin to develop. Jack has his group of boys, Simon has the younger boys which he feels like he needs to take care of, and Ralph’s only friend is Piggy, who is often teased and made fun of by the other boys. As time goes on many of the boys stop tending to their jobs, such as building shelters, and many start to become paranoid about an unknown “beast” that is on the island. The topic of the beast continues to circulate and Ralph quickly tries to put a stop to the rumors. But Jack then promises that he and his group will hunt down and kill the beast. Some time passes and Ralph considers giving up his position as the head leader, but Piggy talks him out of it. Tensions between Ralph and Jack continue to rise. Jack calls for Ralph to be removed from his leadership position but they get little support.
Jack, Roger, who is Jack’s second in command, and another boy then leave the main group to go off and form their own separate tribe. Other boys are then lured into Jack’s new group where they have a feast and participate in a series of rituals and sacrifices to the beast. Simon wanders off into the forest where he finds a pig head, covered with flies, impaled on a stick. He views the head as “The Lord of the Flies” who tells Simon that the only beast on the island is the beast that all the boys created and is inside of them. Simon then returns to the group but is mistaken as the beast and is killed by the group of boys. Jack then wants to take Piggy’s glasses in order to start a fire with them, but Piggy refuses and is eventually also killed by the group. Ralph runs away and Jack orders the group to find him. The boys begin to chase him when suddenly they run into an adult who is dressed in a naval outfit. Overcome by joy all the boys begin to break down and cry.
This book has been challenged and banned numerous times in different parts of the United States. The book was challenged in a school district in Dallas, Texas in 1974, in a South Dakota high school in 1981, and also at a high school in North Carolina because it was “demoralizing inasmuch in that it implies that man is little more than an animal.” It was also challenged in Texas for its “excessive violence and bad language.” The Toronto Board of Education tried to have it removed from schools because of a reference to the word “niggers” and other insults towards African Americans. Schools in Iowa and in Florida both tried to ban the book because of “lurid passages about sex,” and also because of, “statements defamatory to minorities, God, women, and the disabled.” The phrase “Lord of the Flies” means “Beelzebub” who is the devil in the form of a fly according to The Dictionnaire Infernal. Many religious groups could be offended or want to ban the book just because of the implication to the devil. There is also the argument that the book promotes anarchy and disobedience towards authority among the young. Lord of the Flies has been banned from many public libraries and school reading lists. Many parents have also said that they do not want children to read about things such as death and how deep down inside of people there may be an evil side or a “beast.” One of the arguments is that the book contains racism. When the boys crash they still act very civil and normal by society's view, but as time goes on the boys start to become savages who start painting their faces, dancing around a fire, performing rituals and sacrifices, and other actions that some might view as racist against primitive tribes of people. There is also a time in the book where piggy says to the other boys, “Which is better? To be a pack of painted niggers like you are, or to be sensible like Ralph is?” This quote upset the black community who then went to the Toronto Board of Education and tried to have the book banned for being racist. Other groups have tried to have the book banned for its violence, depictions of murder, and the book's profanity.
The book describes a scene where the boys kill a pig while laughing about how it’s squealing and in pain, and then proceed to cut off the pig’s head to leave as a sacrifice to the beast. While they kill the pig they often chant, "Kill the pig. Cut her throat. Spill her blood. Bash her in." Along with the killing of a pig, two boys, Simon and Piggy, are also killed by the group of boys. Simon is brutally beaten to death by the boys, while Piggy is killed when a boulder is pushed on top of him. There is also the occasional swear word found throughout the book that some groups have argued is harmful to children and others who read the book. I believe one of the biggest reasons this book is challenged and banned is the violence and the fact that many people claim this book is very anti-authoritarian and promotes anarchy and disobedience. In the book, Jack and his group try to take away the power from Ralph and create their own group. Some could argue that this could inspire children to revolt against their parents or teachers because they do not agree with what they believe in.
There are three quotes from Socrates that could refute the arguments used to suggest banning Lord of the Flies. “In all of us, even in good men, there is a lawless wild-beast nature, which peers out in sleep.” This quote refers to the idea expressed in the book that deep down inside everyone lies a beast who, when unleashed, goes against our morals and judgment. This can be seen in the book when the boys slowly become more savage as time goes on. The longer they are stranded, the more the beast inside of them begins to come out. It can be said that this is true in all people and that under extreme circumstances, such as the one that the boys were in during the book people may be forced to act in ways that they would not normally act or may be looked down upon as immoral or unjust to the average person. The second quote, “What screws us up the most in life is the picture in our head of what it's supposed to be,” suggests that the way we think something is in our mind is different from that of the real world. In his quote, he is talking about life, but I believe it can be applied to this topic. The people and groups who are trying to ban books have a particular idea in their own mind of what a book is supposed to be and what is allowed in it. A book that disagrees with a person's beliefs may upset them and lead them to try to ban the book because they do not think it should be allowed because it’s not how they envision it. And the third and final quote is, “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” This quote means that no matter how much you think you know, you really know nothing because there is so much knowledge. Those who believe that they know the reasons why a book should be banned really do not know the reasons and have a closed mind on the subject.
Two of the biggest arguments for the banning of this book is that it features gruesome violence and murder, and it has an anti-authoritarian message in it. There are different ways that these arguments can be refuted. Both Simon and Piggy get killed by the boys during the book. Simon died because he is mistaken for the beast, and Piggy is killed when a rock falls on him. People may say this book promotes violence amongst children, but children fight with each other all the time. My brothers and I have play fought and punched each other all the time but never once did it come to the point where I thought about killing my brothers. Children do not just go and kill each other for fun or because they are bored. In the book, the boys were forced into a very extreme and unlikely situation. The boys in the book did not kill Simon on purpose. They mistook him for the beast and wanted to protect themselves, so they attacked and killed Simon. Piggy’s death is not a cold-blooded murder either. He was hit by a rock and fell to his death. Both of these deaths were accidental and were not done on purpose. Yes, the book has some violence in it, but so do many other books, and some could say that if this book is to be banned, then The Bible needs to be banned for its depictions of violence throughout. For the anti-authoritarian argument, it can be said that in fact, the children are not disobeying the people in power. At the very end of the book when they are rescued by the man in the naval suit they all break down and cry because they have been rescued. This scene shows they did not want to be in the situation that they were in. It can also be said that all children go through a normal phase of disobedience or a phase where they do not want to listen to or follow the rules of his or her elders. There are science and psychological research behind this idea that it is normal for teens to rebel against parents or authority. The boys in the book are at the age where they may begin to question things their parents have told them and start to make decisions for themselves. The arguments for banning this book are not strong enough to be valid reasons for banning the book.
Lord of the Flies is a book that has been challenged and banned numerous times in numerous places over the years. Some of the arguments for banning it include that it is violent and promotes disobedience. But the reasons are not strong enough for the book to be banned, and so Lord of the Flies continues to be considered one of history's classic novels.
Golding, William. Lord of the Flies. New York: Coward-McCann, 1962. Print.
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Lord of the Flies. Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 29 Sept. 2015.
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