Cultural Context Essay

History of the Lord of the Flies

Lord of the Flies, a brilliant novel of a group of schoolboys marooned on an uninhabited island after an attempt to escape wartime events, via an airplane evacuation. Soon after their plane crashes on the island the boys are driven to segregate their selves into two groups. The first group, which is led by Ralph, uses a sensible and democratic approach, and the second group, led by Jack, with a brutal military-style dictatorship (Faber and Faber, Lord of the Flies, 2011).

Written by Sir William Golding, Lord of the Flies was his “realist answer” (Faber and Faber, Lord of the Flies, 2011) to 1857’s novel The Coral Island1, a book describing the successful experiences of a group of boys, Jack, Ralph, and Peterkin, which were stranded on a deserted island. Lord of the Flies is a novel designed to show the distinction between a democratic and rational setting (Ralph’s group) and the anarchy and dictatorship views of Jack and his choir. This book provides a simple, yet realistic view, of social culture where rules and boundaries are removed (Faber and Faber, Lord of the Flies, 2011).

History of the Lord of the Flies

During Golding’s lifetime, he published a total of 12 novels, along with many different types of plays. He also wrote many reviews, and essays, as well as short stories. Golding’s first novel titled, Lord of the Flies, was published in 1954, when he was only 23 years old. Golding lived through, what is considered to be “the most terrible and inhumane of centuries” (William Golding’s Life). Much of his work is said to have provided the readers with a better understanding of the horror that took place during his lifetime (William Golding’s Life).

Golding had many personal and social issues that were not necessarily made public until recently. A new book titled William Golding2, was published in 2009. This book dives into Golding’s personal life with great detail. The author was given access to hundreds of letters, and other unpublished works of art, such as Golding’s personal journals. The book labels Golding, not only as a war-hero, but also as a reclusive-depressive-alcoholic, who was riddled with phobias, and even considered himself to be a “monster” (Faber and Faber, William Golding). However, above all, he was also a nurturing family man, and someone who trusted his imagination, above all other things (Faber and Faber, William Golding).

Brief Biographical Background

Sir William Golding was born in Cornwell, on September 19th, 1911. Golding was brought up to be a man of science. In 1930, he attended Brasenose College in Oxford to study Natural Sciences. However, a few years later in 1932, he decided to change his major, and focus of study to English Literature (Faber and Faber, A Chronological Account).

In September 1940, Golding’s first child, a son, named David, was born. Sooner after the arrival of his son, Golding enlisted into the Royal Navy. In December of 1940, he left to join the Royal Navy, and start his training. In 1941, he started his first active service. He was stationed in the Northern Atlantic. Then, in 1942, he joined a weapons research unit which was located in Buckinghamshire. Later, in 1943, he requested to be returned to sea, and shortly after, was sent to New York, where he was ordered to help bring minesweepers that were being built in New Jersey, back to the United Kingdom. While in command of Landing Crafts, which were equipped with rocket guns, he took part in the Royal Navy’s support of the D-Day landings, and also the invasion of Walcheren (Faber and Faber, A Chronological Account).

Golding’s second child, Judith, was born in 1945. Golding only had two children. Soon after his daughter was born in September of 1945, he decided to leave the Royal Navy. Upon departing, he returned to a previous teaching position, which he held at Bishop Wordsworth’s School. Six years after moving to Salisbury, in 1946, Golding began work on his first novel entitled Strangers from Within. He submitted his novel for publishing in January of 1953. It was, however, repeatedly rejected, by publisher after publisher, until September 1954. By that time many changes were made to the novel, and it was renamed to Lord of the Flies, before printing (Faber and Faber, A Chronological Account).

Golding continued publishing many more novels over the next eight years. Then, in 1962, he decided to retire from his teaching position, and became a full-time writer. In 1968, he suffered a setback, when he began to find it difficult to write. Nevertheless, he published several more works between 1968, and 1993. In January of 1993, he began work on a new novel; however, in the very early morning of June 19th, at 82 years old, he died from a massive heart failure. He was buried about a week later in the churchyard at Bowerchalke. His wife, Ann, followed shortly after him, passing away in 1995. That same year his final novel entitled, The Double Tongue3, was published (Faber and Faber, A Chronological Account).

Golding’s Intentions

Golding was a war-time hero, having done his civic duty serving in the Royal Navy. He was involved in battles against battleships, submarines, and aircraft. He was on active duty, and present, during the sinking of the Bismarck. When Golding finished his tour in the Royal Navy, he held the rank of Lieutenant in command of a rocket ship (Faber and Faber, Cover Competition, 2012). It’s clear by his history, that he was a man who witnessed, firsthand, the horrors of war, and that he reflected his opinions of this behavior in his first novel, Lord of the Flies.

In an interview with Golding’s daughter, Judy, also an author, she stated that Golding’s book, Lord of the Flies, by his own admission, arose from his experiences in the 2nd world war. She also stated that Golding was a school master, of a boy’s school, and he described the boys in his book exactly as they were in real life (Golding J.). He really seemed to have a solid understanding of boys, and how they operated. She went on to state that she believed there was a very strong link between her father being a school master, in an all-boys school, and him having based the book around boys. However, she claims that it would be a mistake to base Lord of the Flies as coming from her father’s experiences in schools (Golding J.).

There’s a lot of disinformation, and confusion, about the exact meaning of Golding’s book, and his intentions for the novel. However, it’s clear that his intentions were based off of his wartime experiences, and that, on at least one occasion, he had discussed this with family members. Faber and Faber, a publisher of Lord of the Flies, claims that Golding’s intentions for this book were to provide a more realistic view of 1857’s, The Coral Island. A novel which has a happy, and successful ending, after three boys are trapped on an uninhabited island. Golding wanted to provide a realist view on what might really happen, given those same circumstances, when all rules and boundaries are removed (Faber and Faber, Lord of the Flies, 2011).

Trends in Larger Society

Today, Lord of the Flies is taught as required reading material in many schools, including high school, and college English classes. It’s not uncommon for a child graduating from high school to have encountered the book, at some point, during their enrollment.

In early 2010, some teachers were asked to list their favorite, and least favorite books, to teach in English classes. Lord of the Flies made the very short list of books that teachers did not want to teach. It has also been labeled as one of the student’s least favorite books to read (Ojalvo & Doyne, 2010). When the general public was asked for their opinions on Lord of the Flies being taught in schools, most replied, stating that they thought it should, in fact, be taught in school. This stems mainly from its realistic views on human society. However, some felt that it should only be taught to high school juniors and seniors (Should Lord of the Flies be taught in schools?). Students of those ages would (probably) be more likely to comprehend the context of the book, and also be mature enough to manage the horrific scenes. It might also be possible that these teenagers could relate to this story, by looking at their own lives, and what happens around them, in their current school.

In conclusion, Lord of the Flies is a wonderful book, and extremely realistic, and graphic, in its context and details. It brings with it a very solid, and easy-to-comprehend message from Golding. Humans can be a very savage species, and when all social and culture boundaries are removed, our true selves are revealed, even in our children.


1The Coral Island (1857), by R. M. Ballantyne.

2William Golding (2009) by John Carey.

3The Double Tongue (1995) by William Golding.

References – Cultural Context Essay


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