Life Meets Fiction
“We have met the enemy and he is us.”
– Walt Kelly, Pogo
The frightening descent from initial unity to violence among a gaggle of pre-teen boys lost on a faraway island and the competition for leadership between Ralph and Jack, the two oldest, is a study of good and evil.
And it mirrors a striking resemblance to American politics today.
I am re-reading “Lord of the Flies” for the first time since high school. It’s a better, more meaningful read as an adult.
English author William Golding painted a remarkable portrait of human nature in his 1954 allegorical novel. What does it mean when civilization collapses little by little, like a frog in a pot of water warming over a menacing flame, unaware it soon will boil and die?
I couldn’t resist opening that slim novel again when it occurred to me the stark differences between fair-haired Ralph, 12, and red-haired Jack, about the same age, a skinny boy with a “crumpled and freckled” face, eventually split apart the unsupervised castaways.
Ralph insisted on building and maintaining a smokey signal fire to attract a passing ship that could rescue the boys. He urged them to erect shelters against bad weather, a sign of taking adult-like responsibility.
“’If a ship comes near the island they may not notice us,’” [Ralph said.] “’So we must make smoke on top of the mountain. We must make a fire.’”
“We are working again,” President Joe Biden said in his State of the Union address April 28. “Dreaming again. Discovering again. Leading the world again.”
Jack wasn’t interested in building a fire and let the boys paint their faces as savages and hunt for wild pigs so they could eat meat instead of relying solely on the island’s abundant edible fruit, to have fun.
“It’s going to disappear,” President Donald Trump told Black leaders Feb. 27, 2020, referring to the deadly coronavirus. “One day — it’s like a miracle — it will disappear.”
The boys overwhelmingly elected Ralph as their leader, partly because he discovered the “deep cream” conch shell that can be used like a horn to call a meeting. The conch acts as a symbol of law and order, of authority, of democracy. Whoever held the conch with its touches of “fading pink” had the right to speak to the other boys.
They voted for chief: “’Him with the shell,” [a boy said.] “’Ralph! Ralph!’” [another boy said.] “’Let him be chief with the trumpet-thing,’” [still another boy said.] “Ralph counted.” “’I’m chief then,’” [he said.]
“This is the time to heal in America,” Biden said when he was projected to win as president-elect in November 2020.
Jack believed he should have been elected chief because he led his school’s choir, some of whose boys are with him on the island. He wanted to be a hunter and planned to break away from the group.
“’I ought to be chief . . . because I’m chapter chorister and head boy,’” [Jack says.] “’I can sing C sharp.’”
“NO WAY WE LOST THIS ELECTION,” Trump wrote on Twitter.
“So remember,” Ralph said. “The rocks for a lavatory. Keep the fire going and smoke showing as a signal. Don’t take the fire from the mountain. Take your food up there” [instead of building little fires].
“This historic legislation is about rebuilding the backbone of this country and giving some people in this nation, working people, middle class folks, the people who built the country — a fighting chance,” Biden said before signing his $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan.
“Bollocks to the rules!” [Jack said]. “We’re strong — we hunt! If there’s a beast, we’ll hunt it down. We’ll close in and beat and beat and beat — “
Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., posted a doctored 90-second anime video on Twitter of him flying around with swords, like a weird Superman, first killing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., by stabbing her in the neck and then waving the weapons at Biden.
“’Well, we won’t be painted’ [as hunters], said Ralph, “because we aren’t savages.’”
Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, D-Miss., chair of the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol, in his opening statement July 27: “We need to understand how and why the Big Lie festered. We need to know minute by minute how January 6th unfolded. We need to understand how the rotten lie behind January 6th has continued to spread the forces that would undermine American democracy.”
“All at once, Robert was screaming and struggling with the strength of frenzy. Jack had him by the hair and was brandishing his knife. Behind him was Roger, fighting to get close. The chant rose ritually, as at the last moment of a dance or a hunt.”
“Kill the pig! Cut his throat! Kill the pig! Bash him in!”
Trump addressing a huge crowd at the Ellipse Jan. 6: “We fight like hell. And if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”
“’Lord of the Flies’ is not only about survival. It’s also about the human capacity for evil, the savagery of groups, fear of the other, and the breakdown of the social order,” an editor wrote in a summary passage at the end of the novel. Familiar?
The Lord of the Flies is the head of a pig impaled on a stick stuck into the soil of a clearing on the mountain, flies swarming on its rotting flesh.
It represents Satan, referred to in ancient Hebrew and Christian texts as Beelzebub or Beelzebul. The name is derived from a Philistine deity. Beelzebub also was referred to as Lord of the Flyers or Lord of the Flies.
Life can echo art.
Richard C. Gross, a correspondent, bureau chief and foreign editor of United Press International at home and abroad, retired as the opinion page editor of The Baltimore Sun.