Lord of the Flies, Coral Island and the Role of Adults

It is known that to fully appreciate the novel “Lord of the Flies” (1954) by William Golding (1911-1993) it is necessary to have read Robert Michael Ballantyne’s (1825-1894) “Coral Island” (1858), or at least to understand its theme and treatment. And so, since it was Golding’s intention to set himself to write an island story that deliberately challenged Ballantyne’s model in “Coral Island” -by inverting its assumptions and values- we can explore multiple angles from which the two novels can be compared and studied.
An item which seems quite interesting when analysing both texts is that one related to civilization and its adult exponents. After a thorough reading and focusing on very clear and specific elements we happen to notice the differences -as well as some similarities- among the roles and the significance of these adult characters in each novel. We will first refer to Golding’s “Lord of the Flies”, in which there are various examples of the complexity of the adult figure. But we must first refer to Golding’s own experience at war in order to get a clearer picture of his position towards our central concern.
From the first years of his life, he faced the atrocities of war when he took part in the Second World War by joining the British Navy at 1940. The war, as a physical result, changed a lot Golding’s view of life. He could not believe in man’s innocence any longer. He found that even the children are not innocent. No one is innocent. The ideas of W. Golding’s view of human nature can be found in almost any of Golding’s books and particularly, in his first and most famous book, “Lord of the flies” 1. So, let us now focus on the novel itself.

At a moment of uncertainty-anguish the boys beg desperately for a signal from the world of grown-ups: (“Grown-ups know things” said Piggy. “They ain’t afraid of the dark. They’d meet and have tea and discuss. Then things ‘ud be all right—” “They wouldn’t set fire to the island. Or lose—-” “They’d build a ship—-“ The three boys stood in the darkness, striving unsuccessfully to convey the majesty of adult life. “They wouldn’t quarrel—-” […] “If only they could get a message to us,” cried Ralph desperately. “If only they could send us something grown-up… a sign or something. 2) In the next chapter what they get is a dead body of a man hanging from a parachute, a corpse which gets rotten as the story advances. Is this the adult figure they were waiting for? Or, should the question be: Does this ‘gift’ from air help them in any way to strengthen their boundaries with civilization? The answer seems to be ‘no’. On the contrary, it makes them panic, slowly driving them mad and irrational. It unleashes violence, leads them to sacrifices and murder, and takes them back to a primitive stage.
So up to now the adult figure does not seem to be associated with a positive role. However, there is another character in the novel who also becomes very important as regards our analysis of the adult figure. Finally, when on the last pages, Ralph is lying on the sand, ready to accept the blow which will kill him, and he hears the silence around him, and he looks up … up… , he can first see some emblems of power, some symbols of the grown ups’ world and also of his father authority, and only then he can see a man – a naval officer. This man happens to stop Ralph’s brutal chase just by chance. Grown-ups have been dropping bombs and planes, and it was an atomic war which had made the children’s evacuation necessary in the first place. Who have gone crazy and been having an atomic war but the grown-ups themselves? 3 Again, a new question should be made: Is this a real symbol of salvation? Or, How can an ambassador of an atomic war stand for the parental protection or even a mature model to be followed? The naval officer’s ignorance, his lack of understanding of what has been going on, is ironical. Furthermore, what Golding is trying to make clear at this instance is the decadent figure of the human adult, and by extension, of the whole human civilized world. Let us now turn to R. M. Ballantyne’s “Coral Island”. Here, the concern about civilization, seems to be very well defined as well as good and evil are so clearly separated that there cannot be any conflict between them. 5 In spite of this, when we come to a closer look we find a special complexity within a number of characters. Everything about Ballantyne’s boys, who are older by some years than Golding’s boys, is confident and positive.
The novel as a whole, pictures the assumptions and values of the Victorian period in affirming progress, imperialism, self-reliance, the Creator, the goodness of nature and of human nature- when Christianised at least 6 Actually, this is quite an interesting item to focus on. On the one hand there are the dark-skinned people referred to as “the savages”, who are in fact the native inhabitants from the neighbouring islands. They are a kind of primitive adults, constantly characterised as cruel, uncivilised inferior beings.
Their rituals, their form of life, the whole of their culture is described as barbarian and demoniac and Ralph, our young narrator, is deeply horrified at seeing them. They represented a menace to the boys, and they tried to escape from them or to stay in good – but distant- terms with them, so as to keep them away from their coral island. On the other hand there are the pirates, who, paradoxically, are –like the rest of the fair-skinned characters- superior ; their ways are civilised, their clothes being the main symbol of their superiority. What is interesting about these last ones is that they are at first described as representing a dangerous element –as had already been the shark or the very ocean. Nevertheless, as the novel goes on, we are made to think that this wandering adults who travel overseas, robbing ships, conquering all that they found at their pace and kidnapping people, are actually ‘not that bad’. Even the pirates are “better” than the natives, more intelligent, cleaner, etc.
But also, as we reach the end of the novel, we suddenly meet some educated peaceful missionaries who work a miracle when they get to the island the boys are captured in and manage to convert the wild savages into Christians and they embrace our Lord’s Gospel. It must be understood that the priest’s reason for being there is to abolish the beliefs of an entire human group and the pirates are traditionally thought of as being thieves, kidnappers and violent conquerors. But, somehow, this is not the image Ballantyne depicts towards the end of the novel. Given, thus, the complex nature of these beings, a new different question arises.
What is the true nature of adults-civilization for Ballantyne? How come that adults like the priest and the pirates can be representatives of good or salvation? Are the adults capable of completely changing their previous evil nature all of a sudden? Obviously, the answer seems to rely on the moral outlook, the Victorian ethos, which bathes the whole novel. The didactic intentions are clear. His intentions are to teach his readers, not only to inform them about the wonders and terrors of the Pacific Islands, but also to make them reflect on the power, goodness, glory of God and make them better people. As a result, by comparing and contrasting both novels from the opposed perspectives of the two authors , we identify the key elements inherent to each one as regards our main topic. Basically, while in Ballantyne’s “Coral Island” the prevalent view of man was that based on the confidence of the white man 9 in Golding’s “Lord of the Flies” the thesis is based on the man’s fallen nature myth, expressing through it his belief in man’s other nature, the dark and guilty nature. 0 Mainly, both Ballantyne and Golding’s perceptions about adulthood and civilization vary not only because of a completely divergent perception on the world -which derives from their personal experiences- but also because of the time when each novel was written and the totally different socio-political scenery in which they were developed. 1 Material obtained from http://www. geocities. com/Athens/Forum/6249/bio. htm 2 “The Lord of the Flies”, by William Golding (p. 117) Faber and Faber Limited (1954) 3 Notes provided by the teacher on “The Lord of the Flies” by William Golding. Notes provided by the teacher on “The Lord of the Flies” by William Golding. 5 Notes provided by the teacher on “The Lord of the Flies” by William Golding. 6 Notes provided by the teacher on “Coral Island” by R. M. Ballantyne. 7 Macmillan Master Guide, The Lord of the Flies, 1986 8 Notes provided by the teacher on “Coral Island” by R. M. Ballantyne. 9 Notes provided by the teacher on “Coral Island” by R. M. Ballantyne. 10 Notes provided by the teacher on “Coral Island” by R. M. Ballantyne. 11Macmillan Master Guide, The Lord of the Flies, 1986

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