Lord of the Flies

I don’t know why I put off writing about Lord of the Flies for so long. I read the book twice – first in high school English, then in college English. Typically I’m too lazy (and my memory too good) to read books a second time, but Lord of the Flies was so enjoyable the first time around that I decided to make it one of the rare books I have read twice. So it isn’t that I didn’t enjoy the work.

Perhaps I am just now writing about it because it is low-hanging fruit. Even people that have never read Lord of the Flies know that it is a book about a group of children stranded on a deserted island that attempt to build a nascent society. In other words, pretty much the exact plot of a junior version of Lost. The comparisons are almost too easy to make. Check out Lostpedia’s list of similarities for proof of this. I couldn’t even make half of those connections between the book and Lost. Of course this is part of the reason I kept putting this review off: there are just so many possible similarities, that other people have already stretched so far as to include ridiculously tenuous connections like “both works had parachutists.”

But here we are. I’m going to take a slightly different route with my review this time. Rather than name every possible similarity between the two, I’m just going to write a few thoughts about the formation of societies, which is certainly the most important comparison.

As for Lost, the book itself never appears (that probably would have been too easy, especially for creators that put as much thought into a show as Carlton and Damon). Instead, it is mentioned twice by characters. Sawyer mentions it first when he threatens Jin in the season one episode …In Translation after he accuses Jin of burning the raft. Charlie later refers to the book in the season two episode What Kate Did to describe the rough life that the tail section survivors endured on the other side of the Island.

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The book begins with a group of young boys that are the sole survivors of an airplane crash on a deserted island.* Although the boys initially get along, thanks to a conch shell that brings the survivors together, relationships quickly deteriorate.

* In retrospect, that seems like a pretty large leap of faith. And this coming from a Lost fan.

Ralph emerges as the initial leader of the boys and seems intent on ruling democratically. His plan is to stick close to the beach, keep the signal fire going, and have a little fun in the meantime. Soon though Ralph begins to be usurped by Jack, the head of the hunting team on the island. When the boys become convinced that a monster inhabits the island, Jack declares his own version of martial law. Although there is no actual monster, the boys keep mis-reading random events as caused by the monster (including finding the parachute and mistaking it for the monster). As fear increases, Jack becomes a sort of strongman leader and eventually the group breaks into two tribes, one led by Ralph and one by Jack.

Eventually, another boy named Simon goes off on his own. After a spiritual journey, he realizes that there is no monster – it is nothing but the boys’ imagination. When he runs back to tell Ralph, the leaders of Jack’s tribe surround and kill him.

Jack finds that he needs Piggy’s glasses (an overweight, but intelligent friend of Ralph) to start a fire. He raids Ralph’s group to steal the glasses. In the process, Piggy is killed by a boulder and the conch shell – previously a symbol of democracy – is shattered.

Ralph flees as the sole member left of his group and a manhunt ensues. He is saved at the last minute by a ship that passes by and finds the children. The boys are finally saved, but are embarrassed by their actions.

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The easiest comparison between Lord of the Flies and Lost is the schism that develops between the two tribes. In the book, Ralph leads by popular consent but is eventually challenged by the hunter Jack. Jack eventually comes to rule based on fear; popular consent falls by the wayside when confronted by a terrifying monster.

Many commentators on the internets speculate that Ralph is represented by Jack Shepherd and Jack is represented by John Locke. I don’t think this is true, at least at first. Sure, Locke is the hunting leader, but at no point in season one does he seriously challenge Jack’s authority. In fact, in White Rabbit, he actually encourages Jack to be the leader that the castaways are looking for. Although Jack and Locke verbally spar from time to time, the divide between the two never really occurs completely until the end of season three, when Locke leads his followers to the barracks and Jack leads his to the radio tower. They were certainly cold towards each other, but tended to be on the same page on every major decision until that time.

I was a political science major in school, so I tend to think of the creation of societies in terms of political philosophers. I pointed out in my review of Watership Down that the society created by the bunnies is a Lockean take on democracy. In that book, Hazel is the Jack Shepherd/Ralph of the group of bunnies. Each character is the popular leader for no real reason, other than each shows natural leadership ability. So I think Ralph probably is a good comparison to Jack Shepherd.

But Locke is far too nice to be compared to Jack. Instead, I think we can find Jack’s counterpart on the other side of the Island: Ana Lucia. The tailies had far more run-ins with the Others than the middle section survivors. Because of this, a sort of fear emerged; the tailies were scared of the Others, just as the boys were scared of the monster.

Thomas Hobbes had a different theory of societies than Locke. In his theory, we give up some of our own sovereignty because life in the wild is “nasty, brutish, and short.” This bleak portrayal is exactly what the tail section survivors and the Lord of the Flies boys endured. In short, fear breeds dictatorships. Ana Lucia took advantage of this fear with the tailies. More than once, she forced the other castaways to go along with her because she kept them alive.

Eventually Ana Lucia dies at the hands of Michael. Afterwards, the aforementioned schism does emerge between Jack and Locke. From the end of season three onward, I think it is fair to compare Jack and Locke to Ralph and Jack. Jack is the man of science and becomes the leader of the more rational people on the Island. Locke is the man of faith and becomes the leader of the “believers.” Relations between the two groups are frosty, to say the least.

All this discussion can be summed in the one overriding theme between Lost and Lord of the Flies. Both explore the true nature of man. Are we inherently good or inherently evil? Or perhaps somewhere in between? Or are we merely creations of our surroundings? Deep questions abound.

As I mentioned above, there are many, many, many more similarities that I could point out – but that is bound to happen with two works with such similar settings. I’ll leave it at what I wrote, because I think that is the most important takeaway from the two works.

For more of my book reviews, return to the Literature of Lost series.

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