Lord of the Flies (Ryan Werts) (2023)

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In the society of today, we view ourselves as civilized, intelligent beings. We do not find ourselves scavenging for food or water, struggling to survive. For the most part, people today get to live quite comfortably when compared to generations that have passed before us. However, if the luxuries of life were unavailable to us, would we still be the same people? Is our civilized and relatively mannerly behavior inherent, or is it how we act due to the luxury of being able to survive comfortably? This topic of discussion is brought about in William Golding’s novel The Lord of the Flies. Many argue that this novel suggests that humans are at their core simply savage and animalistic. Due to this viewpoint and theme, many have challenged the appropriateness of this book. Before diving into who challenged this novel and why, let’s look at the book itself and how these themes are brought about.

Lord of the Flies takes place on a deserted island. A group of young boys survive a plane crash and find themselves to be the only ones on the island. They gather themselves together and decide they must have a leader, this ends up being Ralph the oldest boy who is only twelve. Ralph makes his best attempts at getting the group to work together and organizing meetings, tasks, etc. However, over a short course of time, the boys become uninterested in mundane tasks such as building huts and scavenging for food.

Another boy, Jack, desires to hunt. The island has proven to house pigs, so Jack and some other boys form a small clan of hunters and pursue these animals relentlessly. These boys take on this role of hunting all too easily, painting their faces, constructing weapons, devising hunting strategies. On their first kill, these boys rejoice, chanting “Kill the pig. Cut her throat. Bash her in.” (Golding 75), a level of excitement and passion for killing that would not be imagined when referring to young boys. Later in the novel, Jack succeeds from Ralph’s former group, taking almost everyone with him. Two notable characters that remain with Ralph are Simon and Piggy, both older than most of the population. Simon and Piggy are both what would be defined as ‘good’ people, they do not become savage like the rest of the group.

Towards the end of this book, Simon is accidentally killed being mistaken for a monster. Piggy also meets his death on the island, however, his death was intentional. A boy named Roger, who is a close follower of Jack and quite sadistic, rolls a boulder that crushes Piggy. The novel ends with Ralph fleeing from Jack and his followers. Ralph runs to the beach and discovers a British naval ship officer there, all the boys break down crying.

Lord of the Flies was first published in 1954. Initially, the novel was unpopular, selling only three thousand copies in its first year. However, over the years as more and more critics read and appraised the novel, it gained traction and attention. English teachers and professors admired the novel and found it suitable material to assess and analyze in their courses. This is where questioning of having a novel in a school curriculum began to arise.

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According to the American Library Association (ALA), this book has been challenged multiple times over the years 1974-2000. Thelist of the places it was challenged and/or banned is as follows:

  • 1974- Independent School District- Dallas, Texas
  • 1981- Sully Buttes High School- South Dakota
  • 1981- Owen High School- North Carolina; “demoralizing inasmuch as it implies man is little more than an animal”
  • 1983- Marana High School- Arizona; “inappropriate reading assignment”
  • 1984- Independent School District- Olney, Texas; “Excessive violence and bad language”
  • 1988- Toronto Board of Education; “racist and recommend that it be removed from all schools”
  • 1992- Waterloo, Iowa; “profanity, lurid passages about sex, and statements defamatory to minorities, God, women and the disabled”
  • 2000- Bloomfield, New York; “retained on the ninth-grade accelerated English reading list”

Now this list does not include every single instance this book was questioned, challenged, or banned. It only contains official reports obtained by the ALA. The same organization also states Lord of the Flies is #68 on the list of most frequently challenged books for the decade of 1990-1999.

This novel was challenged exclusively in the U.S. with the exception of one instance in Canada. The United States is one of the most modern countries in the world today, and for the most part, is very civilized. Thus moral and ethical standards are expected to be relatively high. The various arguments made over the years aren’t incorrect, each one does have evidence to back it up.

The subject of humans being savage is clearly present in Lord of the Flies. The transformation of the previously mild mannered school boys is shocking. The contrast of their attitudes and behaviors from the beginning and the end of the novel is apparent. Piggy even questions, “What are we? Humans? Or animals? Or savages?” (Golding 129). Many view this transformation of character as a theme and message that humans are inherently evil and uncivilized. Scholar Leon Levitt argues this notion. He states, “I confess that I was for a long time guilty of the common error of believing that Golding’s tale of marooned English schoolboys does make the case for a … concoction of the evil in man’s nature, with salvation to be found in some ultimate evolution of Western society” (Levitt 521-522). Then when discussing his reevaluation of the novel, he follows up with “but, on the contrary, clearly confirms the premise that Western society, Western culture, Western values, Western traditions wherein the evil lurks, not primordially in the hearts of men.” (Levitt 522). Therefore he is saying that the evil is not natural, but rather created. Most challenges on Lord of the Flies have been made without this viewpoint in mind. Would this change how the book is viewed? Would people become even more upset or would they take the message and reassess some aspects of society and life? These questions may never be resolved, but Levitt’s take on Golding’s themes provide a valuable insight on the novel.

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Another significant symbol used in this novel that offended people who challenged it is the painted faces of the boys who becomes hunters and savages. Some have claimed this to be racist, comparing these boys to people in real life who still do paint their faces to hunt as part of traditional practice. Thereby they believe that Golding is comparing this practice to uncivilized savagery. Kimlyn Bender, a Jamestown College professor, thinks otherwise. He wrote an article specifically about the themes that lie behind this face painting. He writes, “Jack and the hunters in Lord of the Flies find a freedom behind the mask that allows them to commit savage acts that otherwise, ostensibly, their moral consciences would not allow. Of all humanity’s contrivances, the mask creates the greatest freedom; it enables the extension of the will into the immoral, simultaneously freeing the individual from the moral conscience and personal responsibility.” (Bender 161). According to Bender, Golding’s intention was for the mask created by the face painting to represent a moral freedom from right and wrong, rather than representing what Golding believes is wrong. Although racist ties aren’t impossible to be found, with close analysis this connection was most likely something Golding did not intended for his readers to create.

Lord of the Flies has become a staple reading assignment in most curriculum across the United States and other countries over the past few decades. A fairly large amount of people have read this book, and are familiar with its concepts and ideas. I feel a significant fact to mention is that Lord of the Flies, according to the ALA has not been banned, or even challenged in the past 16 years. This is most likely due to more content being published or presented that proves to be much more questionable than the ideas that were previously questioned in Lord of the Flies. However, this does not mean the novel still can’t be questioned.There are other ideas also presented such as discrimination. This takes place when everyone makes fun of Piggy’s asthma using the term “Ass-mar”, and the older boys constant belittling of the younger boys. Have we become desensitized to certain ideas because more graphic and vulgar ones take their place? One can only guess or assume what a proper sensibility, and sense of moral compass contains. This is due to the blatant fact that everyone is different. In my opinion, a banning of Lord of the Flies is unnecessary. The novel provides a valuable insight into people and society. However, this is just my personal opinion. A discussion of banning books, and what is acceptable or unacceptable is healthy to have. Without moral and ethical compasses, we lose a sense of right and wrong; with all the constant change in the world, it’s good to consistently evaluate this sense. Lord of the Flies has equally justifiable evidence to be banned or not banned, the decision that is made is up to you.



“Banned And/or Challenged Books from the Radcliffe Publishing Course Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century.” American Library Association. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Apr. 2016

BENDER, KIMLYN, Elie Wiesel, and Thomas L. Friedman. “The Mask: The Loss of Moral Conscience and Personal Responsibility”.An Ethical Compass: Coming of Age in the 21st Century. Yale University Press, 2010. 161–173. Web.

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Golding, William. Lord of the Flies. New York: Coward-McCann, 1962. Print.

Levitt, Leon. “Trust the Tale: A Second Reading of “Lord of the Flies””The English Journal 58.4 (1969): 521. Web. 17 Apr. 2016.

“Lord of the Flies.” Http://wdb.sad17.k12.me.us/. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Apr. 2016. <http%3A%2F%2Fwdb.sad17.k12.me.us%2Fteachers%2Fbburns%2Fcom%2Fdocuments%2Fliterature%2Flof%2Findex.htm>.

“100 Most Frequently Challenged Books: 1990–1999.” American Library Association. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Apr. 2016.



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