To Ban or Not to Ban?
A formal writing assignment for Lord of the Flies
William Golding’s novel Lord of the Flies is highly controversial in today’s society in many ways. Lord of the Flies offers a chilling and terrifying view of a situation where a group of boys are stranded on an island together and forced to survive without adults and their authority. Their civilized ways slowly digress into savagery as the instinct for survival takes over the need for order. The reader can only watch helplessly as this group of boys loses their childhood and innocence to instinct, cruelty, and even murder. This realistic situation was designed to express Golding’s theory that “man is inherently evil,” especially when there is no authority or law to suppress it. Ironically, despite the excess of violence in the novel, Golding’s work won the Nobel Peace Prize for literature. Golding’s winning of this prestigious award is one of the controversial subjects over this book. Other debates over the book include interpretations of symbolism, quality of the ending, the writing style Golding used, and how long the boys were actually stranded on the island. However, one of the fieriest disputes about Lord of the Flies is its appropriateness for use in schools, including its accessibility to children and young adults.
There are several reasons why Lord of the Flies has been banned or challenged throughout its existence. In 1981 in the Owen High School, North Carolina, it was challenged because the novel “implies that man is little more than an animal,” and in Texas, the Olney Independent School District challenged it on the basis of “excessive violence and bad language” in 1984. The Toronto Board of Education stated that Lord of the Flies should be removed from all schools due to racism after members and parents of the black community complained of its use of the word ‘nigger’. In 1992, Waterloo, Iowa schools challenged it for “profanity, lurid passages about sex, and statements defamatory to minorities, God, women, and the disabled” (Doyle). Ever since the ruling of the Engel v. Vitale case in 1962, religion and school have been separated, and it is unconstitutional for any state in the U.S. to regulate religious practice in school (Engel). Due to the religious allegory that was (admittedly) created by Golding in Lord of the Flies, there is controversy about its suitability for state education. The character Simon was supposed to represent a pure, innocent figure, and was allegorically symbolic of Jesus. The name of the pig’s head, who represents and encourages the evil and savagery in the boys, is the Lord of the Flies. Lord of the Flies directly translates to Beelzebub, a pseudonym for Satan. The island they are stranded on is meant to be the parallel of the Garden of Evil (What Caused). A pair of parents from Apalachee High School, Georgia petitioned against a curricular discussion that was based on comparing the killing of the mother sow in Lord of the Flies to rape. The discussion was brought about due to the essay written by Epstein at the end of the book, which states “the killing of the sow is accomplished in terms of sexual intercourse”. It was asked that the discussion be omitted from the curriculum and that Epstein’s essay be removed from the school’s existing editions, or that new books without the essay be purchased. A committee was called, and fourteen of the fifteen members voted that students should be allowed to choose an alternative book and to refuse participation in the class discussion. The parents’ response was; “We didn’t feel that was a sufficient answer to it, either… It’s a violent book, it’s about violence…[but] I would have never thought they would discuss rape.” It is evident from this case that sexual references in the novel are a large concern (Defeo).
Especially in today’s society, where unequal treatment of people of all religions, cultures, ethnicities, genders, and physical and mental capabilities is one of the most frowned upon practices, it is understandable why people would be upset about Golding’s ideas in his famous work. In defense of Golding, however, I do not believe his use of racism, sexism, religious reference, and degrading depiction towards the physically impaired (shown through the character Piggy) is sufficient reason for banning the book. In no way, shape, or form did Golding support or encourage any of these activities in his writing. These negative ideas are used by his fictitious characters to enhance their hostility and bullying manner towards one other, thus further adding to his theme that “man is inherently evil.”
Violence and profanity are other issues broached in his novel, both of which are a common concern of parents. This is apparent in modern society, especially when you look at the theater industry. Depending on a movie’s violence, profanity, and sexual rating, people of younger ages may or may not be allowed to attend. Lord of the Flies is generally taught in schools from as young as grade nine and on up through college. Although parent’s concern is understandable over the matters of profanity and violence, from the opinion and experience of a high school sophomore, I can admit that everything that is considered ‘unacceptable’ in the claims made for the banning of Golding’s novel is nothing new to me. Swearing, violence, and sexual references are perfectly accessible to children my age and younger in almost all forms of today’s media. If anyone in their sophomore year were to come forward and claim they had not been previously exposed to any of this, they would be promptly accused of lying. For the most part, kids in high school are guilty of even participating in swearing, violence, and/or sexual experimentation at one time or another. Although adolescents may often be considered too immature to handle such issues, this is the age where we begin to experiment with these subjects, thus beginning the part of our lives where we start to learn how to make our own decisions independently from adult aid. This is an essential part of life, and without it, we would not be prepared for our entrance into the adult world. For a parent to stop their adolescent from discovering these things is nearly impossible. In my belief, the longer a parent shelters and over-protects their child from the evils, calamities, and decisions of life, the worse off the child will be, as they will find themselves unprepared for life on their own and unprepared to defend themselves from harm.
This concept can also be applied to the rape discussion brought up by the parents from Georgia. Not only did the parents seem to be appalled by the rape discussion, they appeared to deem that the subject of rape was unsuitable for high school children to be exposed to. “‘We can't do anything about what was done to our daughter,’ Smith [the parent] said. ‘We can try to do something about the other kids coming up that we don't want to see put through the same thing’”(Defeo). Although this parent seems to be expressing an interest in protecting other children from rape (it is implied that Smith’s own daughter was a rape victim), at the same time, Smith is trying to omit a rape discussion from class. Is there no truth in the statement that knowledge is power, then? Isn’t the first step to protecting yourself from a situation learning about it? In my opinion, Smith is absurd in saying that one way to protect high school students from rape is by taking discussion of it out of the curriculum. If we’re going to learn about rape eventually, why not in an academic setting where many angles can be examined with adult guidance, and where questions can be answered and opinions can be considered? If an entire class is participating in a discussion, even students who choose not to participate can learn from listening. Talking about and debating a subject, like rape, is not promoting it, as Smith seems to be implying. In a classroom, when matters like rape, bullying, and discrimination are broached, the ensuing discussions usually show the students how negative these matters are, and instead of encouraging them, it shows the students how to take a stand against them. So, while sheltering leaves a child unprepared, discussion and exposure in an academic forum can essentially provide more good than harm in the end.
Of all the reasons brought up to support the banning of Lord of the Flies, the one I most strongly disagree with is the statement made by the Owen High School in North Carolina that Golding’s novel should be prohibited because it “implies that man is little more than an animal”(Doyle). If one would like to get technical about it, Homo Sapiens are, in fact, animals; mammals to be exact. The definition of a mammal is “any vertebrate of the class Mammalia, having a body more or less covered with hair, nourishing the young with milk from the mammary glands, and, with the exception of the egg-laying monotremes, giving birth to live young” (Mammal). I believe, however, in the school’s claim of comparing man to animal, they were referring more towards the comparison of the civilized and the instinctual-based, the intelligent and non-intelligent, not the specifics of science. Either way, I find both interpretations arguable. By finding Golding’s link between civilized man and savage animal inappropriate, this claim is perhaps suggesting that the idea of the civilized British boys being reduced to paint-wearing, violent, and blood thirsty heathens is unrealistic. However, the boys were placed in a situation where they had to choose between the importance of order and the importance of survival. In the end, the instinctual need for survival will always win out. Although, admittedly, the boys could’ve been more sensible and wise about some of the decisions they made, such as splitting into two opposing groups, cooperating, and balancing the need for hunting and keeping a signal fire, Golding’s rendition of what would happen in the situation of the stranded boys seems extremely accurate. The main point he was trying to make throughout the book was that “man is inherently evil,” and he demonstrates this by placing the children in a situation where they have to make their own decisions without authority, thus showing how order and law suppresses man’s evil. When it is lifted, mayhem occurs. The boys fight, violently kill pigs, make offerings to a feared ‘beast’, paint themselves, and murder one another. Then, in a true show of irony, when the boys are finally rescued in the end, with the presence of adult authority they realize and feel guilty about their wrongs. The irony comes from their rescuer, a war officer who lands on the island in his ship after seeing the smoke from the burning forest. He is taken aback by the ‘war’ they were having that had legitimate casualties, and lightly scolded them for their actions. Epstein could not have put this irony better in his evaluating essay at the end of the novel; “The officer, having interrupted a man-hunt [of Ralph], prepares to take the children off the island in a cruiser which will presently be hunting its enemy in the same implacable way. And who will rescue the adult and his cruiser?” So, for the Owen High School to claim that Golding’s implication of man being little more than animal is inappropriate, frankly, is ridiculous. All one has to do is look at the simple statement that Epstein wrote to see the truth of the matter. The boys were having their own little war, each side having the true desire to kill its enemy, and this was also true with the officer. Outside of the island, mankind was currently at war, as was made obvious by the aerial dogfight that occurred over the isle during the boys’ sleep, which resulted in the descent of a dead paratrooper onto the mountain. War, which is accepted as a natural way to solve problems by many in today’s society, is no less savage and ‘animalistic’ than the manhunt that occurred during the boys’ confinement. War comes down to a simple primordial instinct that can be seen in almost any species of animals. When there is a disagreement, you fight, and the winner gets what they want. Bucks spar for mates, wolves fight tooth to jugular for authority and meat, and kangaroos kick-box for mates. Humans are no different, with the exception that we have weapons to do our dirty work, and that we fight not necessarily for mates and food, but for authority, resources, and discriminatory hate. In my judgment, Golding was spot on in his attempt to mold the island into a microcosm of the world, and wasn’t in the least unrealistic about it.
As humans, we all have opinions, which we are entitled to. Parents and educational authorities are entitled to their concern over the level of maturity required to read the material in Lord of the Flies, and whether children should be exposed to it. In my opinion, despite these concerns, Lord of the Flies teaches an important lesson, and did not win the Nobel Peace Prize for nothing. Perhaps it is a good thing that Golding’s work scares so many into wanting to hide this piece of literature from kids. Lord of the Flies reveals to us the true nature of ourselves, and in the case of the claim made by Owens High School, I think their statement is more denial than an attempt to provide censoring for adolescents. Perhaps the opposition against the powerful novel is due to fear of ourselves, and the potential of our supposed natural evil. In the end, however, no matter how much people try to stop the message delivered in Lord of the Flies, they will never fully succeed. This theory is worded well in the article “Books Banned in the United States” from Adler and Robin Books; “In January 1997 a Minneapolis, Minnesota parent inspired an investigation of whether R.L. Stine's Goosebumps should be banned in the school library because it is too scary for children. Never mind that there are 180 million copies of Goosebumps in print (not a hard book for a child to obtain) this library's nine copies might be dangerous.” A school can ban Lord of the Flies, as can public libraries. But once a book has been published, especially in the case of one that is famous world-wide like Golding’s, its accessibility is exceedingly easy to someone who truly wants to get their hands on it. Even if all the copies of Lord of the Flies were burned, the ideas expressed in this epic work of literature can never die. Those who are passionate about it and its subject have the power to speak it to anyone who wants to know. In short, do I believe William Golding’s Lord of the Flies should continue to be taught in school? Yes. Despite the cynical message Golding delivers in his work, if it inspires humans (especially children; our future) to strive to fight their inner evil he insists they have, perhaps there is hope for mankind’s tomorrow.