Thursday, July 25, 2013

26: Lord of the Flies - William Golding

He wanted to explain how people were never quite what you thought they were.

I first read Lord of the Flies in middle school, but have very little memory of the experience - no idea whether I loved it or hated it or cried or anything. I did remember that horrible things happened on the island, so I re-read it with a sense of doom. I had vague images of beatings and betrayal, but I couldn't remember who had done what to whom, so I was very anxious throughout and after each awful event I hoped that there wouldn't be any more. I also honestly could not remember how it ended, so as we follow the end of the novel I felt like a first time reader wondering, "Would an author really let it have such a terrible ending?" Great book overall, groundbreaking for its time, perfect reminder that the children-being-horrible genre is not new. Stephen King writes this edition's introduction, and he says "My rule of thumb as a writer and as a reader is Feel it first, think about it later. Analyze all you want, but first dig the experience." This book is a perfect example of something that can be read as pop lit, fun and page turning, or more academically analytical. 

This is one of the summer reading assignments for my honors freshman next year, so it's a little weird to think of it as a teacher because I don't actually know how much time I am supposed to spend on their summer reading and what I'm supposed to be covering with them. If I were handling it during the school year, I would probably go crazy with this book in a few different areas. 

First, I couldn't stop thinking about all the horrible things that supposedly normal people do to each other which makes the book so utterly believable. Honestly, I would expect more people to die than do in Lord of the Flies. With my students, I would want to talk about the Stanford prison experiment, about Abu Ghraib, about Child Soldiers, about the 7 kids (ages 12-15) who beat a 13-year-old girl unconscious on a school bus. There are endless stories about teenagers being horrible to each other and people being horrible to each other that this could last forever.

Second, I couldn't stop thinking about all the survivalist stories that I read as a young adult that I loved: Hatchet, Island of the Blue Dolphins, My Side of the Mountain, Life of Pi, Hunger Games (ok, I read that as an adult). If I were teaching this, I think I would require students to find a more contemporary novel to read as a companion to it. 

Third, I couldn't stop thinking about survivalist skills in general. I have a friend who is learning about edible plants of the Pacific Northwest, and I have a friend who is a pretty hardcore survivalist (he can make fire and suture with agave and all kinds of cool stuff), and I know...almost nothing. And my kids also know almost nothing, so I think I would have them research and learn a survivalist skill and then give a short how-to speech that demonstrates their knowledge. My hardcore survivalist friend was talking to another survivalist guy who said, "Society is where it's hard to survive because you cannot survive without money. Most of the rest of the planet has everything you need to survive." Of course that is assuming that the rest of your planet isn't an island with horrible teenage boys who will kill you. (A really fun assignment would be to imagine what the island would be like if there had been girls trapped there with them. Would having both genders have inspired everyone to keep up society longer or would it have descended even faster into brutality with the possibility of rape? Imagine what the island would be like if there had been only girls trapped on the island. I once subbed in an all-girls middle school math class (it was an experiment to segregate girls and boys in math and science) and I was very surprised to see how un-girly they were without any guys around. Burping, farting, and cheeto-dust wiped all over everywhere was totally ok in that room. 

Ralph was running with the swiftness of fear through the undergrowth.

Now having the experience of running away from a bear, I was totally like, "Ralph, I know EXACTLY how you feel." Fear makes you a swift and silent runner, that is for sure. 

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