Lord of the Flies
Lord of the Flies has become an exceedingly popular novel since its first publication in 1954. The novel has been translated into 26 different languages and become a standard in English readings in both high schools and colleges (Lambert, 1993). But what is the reason for this popularity? Why does Lord of the Flies stand out so much from other novels?
The popularity of Lord of the Flies is not something that is understood very well. In fact, Lord of the Flies did not start off very popular at all. When it was decided to produce the Lord of the Flies movie in 1960, the novel was still a commercial failure (LIFE magazine, 1963). In fact, a Web site that was designed and dedicated to the Lord of the Flies states that the novel’s popularity can be blamed on nothing more than a stroke of good luck (LIFE magazine, 1963). There are, however, others that believe there are specific reasons why Lord of the Flies became so popular, and they do not believe that it was just a stroke of good luck.
After being rejected by several prominent American houses, the novel was published in the United States by Coward-McCann. The novel was originally published in a hard cover edition. The sales, however, were very minimal. Edmund Epstein, who was the editor of Capricorn Books, wanted to see if Lord of the Flies would catch on in modern literature courses. So, the novel was then published in a paperback edition in 1959, so that it could be sold to various schools. It turns out that Epstein’s instincts were spot on. Not only did the novel catch on, but it sold nearly a half million copies by the end of 1962. By the time William Golding decided to visit the United States in 1961, the book had become so popular that Golding was inundated with requests for personal speaking engagements (Weber, 2012).
So, what made Lord of the Flies so popular within modern literature courses? One of the things that this novel demonstrates, is that human nature is violent, even in children. When a group of young boys is left alone on an island, they slowly start to break off into groups, with one group being rational and the other irrational. The novel goes on to provide a depressing assessment of humans and their chances of survival, not only on this island, but also as a civilization. This type of view echoes that of a young child’s often-gloomy worldview. This is what some claim makes the novel so popular with students, or young readers (Braunr, 2012).
Lord of the Flies is also a very symbolic novel. It has a wide array of different symbols to decode. This is another reason that young readers are so attracted to the novel. Lord of the Flies provides many scenes which are very realistic, and believable. The novel offers readers many different scenes of haunting, and memorable moments, to help the reader remember what they have read, far into the future (Braunr, 2012). Lord of the Flies is not a book that someone can read, and then easily forget about.
The novel starts when a plane filled with young boys crash lands on an uninhabited island, with no adults around. There is no one to answer to, and no one to give orders. It is a dream come true for most young readers. It symbolizes freedom, and a way to get away from the challenges that a young child’s life may bring (Braunr, 2012). The freedom, and lack of challenges, of course, comes to an end soon enough, as both Ralph and Jack fight for leadership of the boys.
Lord of the Flies is also filled with childish humor. There are scenes of the children making fun of Piggy, the fat boy who wears glasses, both signs of weakness. There are dances, face painting, and play fighting. There is a point in the novel, where one of the boys claims that he saw a beast while out in the woods after dark. When the boy is asked why he was out in the woods after dark, another boy screams: “he was taken short!” (Golding, 1962). Then there is Piggy’s hilarious ass-mar. These are all childish behaviors in which most young readers will be able to relate with.
Freudian Psychoanalytic Theory
Freudian Psychoanalytic Theory is a literary theory, that can help describe the human mind. This theory fits perfect with Lord of the Flies and can be used to help describe the ways in which the novel matches with the human psyche, and why the novel is so popular among modern literature.
Freudian Psychoanalytic Theory has three primary parts that will be covered hereafter. Those parts being the “superego”, “ego”, and “id”. Both the superego and the id are flawed components. The superego would require 100 percent perfection and the id is too instinctual, i.e., no civilized thought processes would take place within the id. The ego is a mix of both the superego (rationality) and the id (fear). When the two come together, you are left with the ego (Project Lit Crit, 2011).
In the Lord of the Flies, the superego can be used to describe Piggy. Piggy has great ideas and wants to do things according to plan, but at the same time, lacks the knowledge, and skills, to carry out most of those plans. Piggy’s character tries to implement things learned from society. Piggy tries to do what is right, and obey the laws, even when those laws, and cultural boundaries, have been removed, because they are stranded on an uninhabited island, with no adults.
Ralph’s character could easily represent the ego. The ego shows great balance between the superego and the id. As the little kids approach the group, and start talking about beasts, and monsters, in the woods, Ralph exclaims that no such beats can exist. At times, Ralph makes claims of being scared, and the id starts to show. Ralph then uses the superego to talk the fear down and remind the other children that something like that can’t exist in real life. This is an example of how the id (Ralph’s fear) and the superego (what Ralph has learned from social and cultural laws) can come together to create balance.
Jack is a perfect example of the id. Jack’s character is very impulsive. Jack has complete disregard for all rules, and laws, and is completely irrational. Jack has many inner desires, such as killing, not only for food, but also to secure a position as a leader of the group. When other children refuse to obey what Jack says, they are beaten and sometimes even killed. Jack’s character represents the opposite of the superego, where social and cultural boundaries are followed perfectly.
So how does all this fit into the popularity of the novel amongst young children? The parts of the Freudian Psychoanalytical approach discussed here can have a reflection on the human psyche at many different developmental stages throughout a child’s life. When a child is born, they are driven by pure emotion (the id). When a baby is hungry, it cries; when the baby is happy, it laughs. There are no extra thought processes that take place, until later in the developmental process.
As a child starts to mature, the child may flop back and forth between the various stages of the id, ego, and superego. There are times when what children do is completely irrational, and clearly not thought out, and other times when things are too idealistic, i.e., the child might have great ideas, but not the logistics to carry out those ideas, representing the superego. There are also times when there is balance and rational thinking. Peer pressure starts to set in, and the child is suddenly aware of how they are perceived.
All these processes take place within an educational environment, as children start to develop mentally, and emotionally, and children will probably be able to relate any past or present life experiences with what is happening in the Lord of the Flies. There are many ways that a child, or any other reader, can start to connect with the characters in the novel, and with what is happening during the different scenes.
It is almost certain that every educational environment will have children at each stage in the development process. There will be a Piggy, Ralph, and Jack, in any environment that can be studied. Piggy can be related to the children that are teased and tormented, while Ralph might be the over-achiever that everyone dislikes, and Jack might be the bull-headed football star that everyone “likes” because he is purely rebellious-no one wants to be on Jack’s bad side.
There are many ways in which a reader can relate to what is happening during the various scenes of the Lord of the Flies, and this can be part of what helps bring the novel to life, and part of what makes it so memorable and enjoyable to read. This novel has a story to tell, and that story goes a lot deeper than a group of young boys stranded on an uninhabited island.
Braunr, A. (2012). Lord of the flies review. Retrieved from http://classiclit.about.com/od/lordoftheflieswg/fr/aa_lordofflies.htm
Golding, W. (1962). Lord of the flies. New York: Coward-McCann, Inc.
Lambert, B. (1993, June 20). William golding is dead at 81; the author of ‘lord of the flies’. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/learning/general/onthisday/bday/0919.html
LIFE magazine. (1963, October 25). Wild pack in “lord of flies”. Retrieved from http://lordoftheflies.org/img/life.htm
Project Lit Crit. (2011, April 25). An overview of psychoanalytic criticism. Retrieved from http://projectlitcrit.weebly.com/psychoanalytic-criticism.html
Weber, B. (2012, April 7). Edmund l. epstein, scholar who saved ‘lord of the flies,’ dies at 80. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/08/books/edmund-epstein-dies-at-80-gave-lord-of-the-flies-wings.html