The following is an essay I had to write a few years ago, in which had to compare Golding's work (LOTF) to another work of my choice (Les Mis).
William Golding’s Lord of the Flies is a written reaction to the second World War. It is a timeless tale about the loss of innocence, insanity, and the effects of war. While comparing Golding’s work to that of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, you see many similarities concerning symbolism, character types, settings, and themes that come into play.
Lord of the Flies is a tale of a dozen or so boys who get trapped on an island, without an adult to be found. The boys try to reign with order and common sense at first, but things quickly turn to ruin as insanity nips at the young boys’ minds.
One of the most recognizable characters in Golding’s story is Jack Merridew, a choir boy. He struggles with loss of power and spirals into madness. A fellow choirboy, Simon, is a god-like figure who tries to make peace and cares for the littleuns, up until his untimely death at the hands of Jack’s tribe.
As we try to look at symbols in Golding’s work in comparison to Hugo’s, we will have a narrowed focus, which will be on the following:
Jack Merridew vs. French Monarchy, Simon vs. Jean Prouvaire, and finally loss of innocence vs. the fall of the Barricade.
Loss of innocence, being a fairly large theme in both novels, is one of the main themes we will be focusing on. How are these two groups of school boys alike? What symbols and themes do these works have in common? What are recurring character personality types?
Jack Merridew: A power hungry boy, used to having a seat of authority, and an obvious symbol of anarchy/ absolute monarchy. Jack has a certain complex…. this ‘tick’ that he has. He feels that he always needs to be the authority figure. And it comes from a definite cause: As a choir boy in his old school, he was the choir master , as well as ‘head boy’. In Golding’s work, there are multiple times where Jack’s ego gets in the way of his common sense. On page 20-21, it is stated that “(Piggy) was intimidated by this uniformed superiority and the offhand authority in Merridew’s voice.” (Golding, Chapter 1, page 20-21) . Jack certainly has power emanating off of him, and the rest of the boys are quite aware of it. Jack has been used to represent the French system of absolute monarchy. The French monarchy (around the French revolutionary era) is known to have its many flaws, including that of: The King being the absolute monarch, whatever he says goes; a very apparent feudal system, and the ignoring of the poor and in need. Jack has all of these qualities. After his success in forming his own tribe, Jack becomes the immediate and absolute ruler, persay. He believes he is above everyone else, thus creating a feudal system, with the nobles on top, and sirfs at the bottom. He is an ignorant king, for a king should help his people if they are in need. Jack does little past providing them with food and white lies of killing the beast. The French monarchy was extremely controlling, and had faulty leadership values. Jack takes this ‘leader’ act much too far when he convinces all the other boys, including Ralph and Piggy, to kill Simon (Although, they were all under the impression that Simon was the Beast) . And like the French monarchy, Jack eventually falls and is replaced with a democracy ( Or in Jack’s case, order, parading in an adult’s disguise.) Jack was not to be taken seriously in the adult world, as shown in the following quote: “A semicircle of little boys, their bodies streaked with colored clay, sharp sticks in their hands, were standing on the beach, making no noise at all. ‘Fun and games,’ said the officer.” (Golding, Chapter 12, page 200) His downfall is due to the return of adults, aka the return of order.
Ah, yes. The noble Simon. Soft spoken, lover of people and nature. Finding a match for Simon’s personality in Hugo’s Les Mis didn’t take that long. Jehan Prouvaire. Just like Simon, he was a lover of people and nature, and intrepid. The following quote from Les Mis
might clarify it even more.
“ (Jehan) Prouvaire was in love; he cultivated a pot of flowers…. made verses, loved the people… wept over the child…”
Taking a look back at Simon, we first meet him as he is fainting from the heat of the island. Despite the vomiting, hallucinations, and fainting, Simon’s quite the passionate fellow. He is perceived as a weak character, but he’s intrepid, to say the least. He enjoys being surrounded in nature (his Grotto), as well as peace and quiet. He’s got quite a philosophical view of the world. His insight leads him to realize that the island is changing the boys, and not for the better. His views also lead him to his death.
Looking back at Hugo’s quote describing Jehan, it states that he is a poet. Poetry is not typically something for cynics, so the reader can infer that Jehan has a philosophical view as well. He adores nature, like Simon, and this is shown by Hugo’s mention of his pot of flowers. Jehan, joining the rest of his ‘brothers’ at the barricade, is mercilessly executed by the French National Guard. He was, like Simon, too good to stay in this world, so he was chosen to move onto the next. Jehan is very aware that the true evil resides inside of us. He’s a supporter of John Locke’s theory that every man is born as a ‘clean slate’. Both Simon and Jehan are pretty compassionate people, which eventually gets them both killed. Lovers of people always die alone.
“Softly, surrounded by a fringe of inquisitive bright creatures, itself a silver shape beneath the steadfast constellations, Simon’s dead body moved out toward the open sea.” (Golding, Chapter 9, pg. 154)
“They heard a manly voice shout out: ‘Vive la France! Long live France! Long live the future!’ They recognized the voice of Prouvaire. A flash passed, a report rang out. Silence fell again. ‘They have killed him,’ exclaimed Combeferre.” (Hugo, Chap. 5, Book 14, pg. 710)
As far as similar symbols go for LOTF and Les Mis, one of the biggest ones is actually more of a theme. The ‘Loss of Innocence’ plays, as beforementioned, a very large part in both Hugo’s and Golding’s work. In LOTF, the loss of innocence is portrayed as the boys slowly lose their humanity, turning to murder, and anarchy; as well as accepting the tribal face paint. And there’s doubt that you’d dare say that those boys never had problems later in life. The boys are saved in the end, but that does not bring back what was lost on the island. Like the blemish that scars the island, these boys are scarred themselves.
In Les Mis, the loss of innocence comes in a much more brutal way. While fighting for their country, the children of the barricade are brutally killed by the very government they were defying. They were abandoned by those who called them friends. That was the loss of innocence for them. For them, and their mothers and fathers and siblings. They had it ripped from them. Even though one of them survives, he is scarred from what had happened. He lost all of his friends in one day, in the hands of his country. You can infer that he developed extreme PTSD, and this event would haunt him for the rest of his life, just as their experience would haunt the LOTF boys.
Themes, symbols, and character types can be seen throughout all types of media. To recap comparing LOTF to Les Mis: we had the soft spoken Simon and Jehan, the power hungry Jack as the French Gov., and the loss of innocence as the Fall of the Barricade. Golding’s message is written in bold, red letters: Innocence cannot last. We need not adapt society to suit ourselves, but ourselves to society. Do not always follow the inner mad man. If you do, only then can you be capable of truly horrible things.
“The officer, surrounded by these noises, was moved and a little embarrassed. He turned away from to give them time to pull themselves together; and waited, allowing his eyes to rest on the trim cruiser in the distance.” (Golding, Chap. 12, pg. 202)
“He sleeps. Although so much he was denied, he lived. He died when he had no longer his angel. The thing came to pass simply, of itself, as the night comes when the day is gone.”
(Hugo, Chapter VI, Book 9, Vol. V, page 908)
(Mic drop)I hope you enjoyed! Please forgive any quote, grammatical, or spelling errors