Poèmes en prose

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Francis Carco

Following an airplane crash on a deserted island, a group of English schoolboys ranging in ages from 6 to 12 form an assembly and elect a leader named Ralph. Ralph is athletic, handsome, confident, and strong. He is, however, unused to thinking, and his main objective is to have fun until the boys are rescued. The thrill of freedom is foremost in his mind, and he is captivated.

The choir wants Jack for a leader, so Ralph allows Jack to form a band of hunters. Throughout the novel, Ralph and Jack compete for the boys’ loyalty. Ralph comes to accept the reality of their situation and the importance of making a smoke signal just in case a ship happens to pass. Jack, on the other hand, descends into a state of barbarism. Without normal societal conventions to restrain his behavior, Jack sees no reason not to do what he wants, and what he wants is to rebel against Ralph’s authority and to establish his own tribe of savages.

Piggy, a fat boy with asthma and poor eyesight, tries to help Ralph keep order on the island, but his miserable appearance and inability to gain anyone’s respect put him at a disadvantage. Ralph only gradually shows concern for Piggy, and only because he realizes how valuable Piggy’s loyalty actually is.

Jack’s hunters manage to kill a pig and provide meat for the boys. Jack’s kill gives him a stark advantage over Ralph in the sense that he can fill one of the boys’ appetites that Ralph cannot. Jack grows increasingly antagonistic toward Ralph and consistently challenges his authority, his bravery, his ability, and his leadership on several occasions. Ralph manages to assert himself successfully on a number of them. As he faces each new test, however, he begins to look inward and reflect upon the actual order of priorities: Namely, that the first priority should be the maintenance of a signal fire; the second, shelter; the third, meat.

As the days go by, fear seeps into the hearts of the boys. One of the smaller boys speaks of having seen a “beastie.” The beast becomes a cause of concern for all of the boys. Meanwhile, a fighter plane is shot down over the sea, and the airman ejects from the plane. The airman, however, does not survive the descent to earth, and his body is carried by the wind and the parachute to the island’s mountain where the boys have thus far attempted to maintain their signal fire. The boys mistake the airman’s dead body for the reported beast. The “sighting” is the cause of further tension among the boys. Jack insists that he and his hunters can kill it. Ralph insists that it is too big. Simon, the contemplative one, tries to tell the boys that they should at least inspect it in broad daylight to see what they are facing. The boys, including both leaders (Jack and Ralph), are too frightened to do so.

Jack, offended by Ralph’s attitude, leads an open rebellion against Ralph. His passionate display of bravado and Ralph’s bumbling insistence on the importance of maintaining a fire causes most of the boys to abandon Ralph and join Jack. Jack’s new tribe kills a sow nursing its piglets and offers the sow’s head in obeisance to the “beast.” This symbolic act represents a transition in governance from good to evil. Simon, who witnesses the transition, has an interior dialogue with the new master of the island, the Lord of the Flies (a Hebrew name for Beelzebub). Simon ventures up the mountain and discerns the truth of the “beast,” that it is only a dead man in a parachute, and crawls off to tell the others. His proximity to truth and reality, however, cause him to be the first victim of the new savage tribe; in a sense, he is a martyr for truth, which is directly opposed to the uncontrolled ferocity of the Lord of the Flies.

With Simon’s blood now on the boys’ hands, the tribe turns even more vicious in character. It assaults the remainder of Ralph’s group, steals Piggy’s glasses (the only means of starting fire), and tortures anyone who opposes Jack’s rule.

Ralph, Piggy, Sam and Eric venture to Jack’s new fort on the other side of the island and demand the return of Piggy’s glasses. Instead of returning them, Jack’s group seizes Sam and Eric, drops a boulder on Piggy (which knocks him off the cliff to his death), and chases away Ralph with a flying spear assault.

Ralph, isolated and afraid, cannot help but return to Jack’s tribe; Golding thus signifies the human need for society and companionship, even if that society has deteriorated into savagery. Ralph does not go so far as to join the others, but he does try to persuade Sam and Eric to leave and keep company with him. Sam and Eric, unfortunately, are afraid of being tortured by Roger, Jack’s henchman. They give Ralph some meat and tell him to leave for his own sake.

The next day, Ralph’s whereabouts are discovered and the final pursuit is begun. Jack’s tribe sets fire to the island in an attempt to smoke Ralph out of hiding. The massive fire draws the attention of a passing navy cruiser. Just as Ralph is on the brink of being captured and killed, a navy officer appears on the shore to restore order to the now savage island. Ralph, overwhelmed by all that has occurred, cries for the boys’ lost innocence, the evil he has seen, and the death of Piggy, who he realizes represented a kind of practical wisdom.

That Ralph does not cry for Simon, whose vision penetrated more deeply than Piggy’s, underscores the ominous tone of the novel’s conclusion. The fact that the entire world is at war (of which the island is merely a microcosm) suggests that the order which the navy represents is no better than the order of the conch which initially gave Jack his authority over the others. The novel ends on this ironic note, leaving the reader with the uncomfortable thought that civilization everywhere is capable of descending into madness if it loses sight of the transcendent truth capable of opposing the evil represented by the Lord of the Flies. What this truth is, however, Golding leaves untold.

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