Savagery, innocence lost, and the struggle between good and evil are all themes that dominate William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, which was published 64 years ago.
So, why is this dark novel so popular, even though Golding himself hated it? Perhaps the story still disturbs our conscience. Lord of the Flies explores what can happen when civilization and its restraints are removed, leaving a group of British schoolboys alone and without consequences.
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It took seven years and 21 rejections from publishers before Golding was able to publish Lord of the Flies. After the novel was published, however, Golding thought himself a monster, calling the book “boring and crude.” Toward the end of his life, he couldn’t even read it.
Yet it may make sense that a British schoolteacher wrote a novel about the evil of human nature, because he saw it in himself. At the time of publication, Golding was working at a grammar school, and just as readers have been haunted by the story for more than a half a century, Golding was also haunted by his own demons. Spectral visions affected Golding’s childhood as a young boy and, coupled with his harsh upbringing, contributed to his alcohol abuse as an adult. In fact, in 1939 he was fired from a teaching job for too much drinking. After serving in World War II, Golding wrote, “I have always understood the Nazis because I am of that sort.” Often drunk, Golding dismembered a Bob Dylan puppet at a friend’s house, because he thought it was Satan. Even his children and wife suffered psychological scars.
And yet, despite its sinister tale, Lord of the Flies is an immensely popular book that helped Golding rise to fame and accomplishment. He won the Booker Prize in 1980, the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1983, and was knighted in 1988. For more, check out Course Hero’s infographic on Lord of the Flies.