What Lord of the Flies is really about | Letter from Judy Golding Carver

My father distrusted simple judgments, but he did say his novel was about the importance of the rule of law, and the complexity of human beings, says William Golding’s daughter Judy Golding Carver

David Shariatmadari’s account of my father’s novel Lord of the Flies was a little sweeping when he declared: “William Golding sought to show that boys were, by their nature, little devils” (A real-life Lord of the Flies: the troubling legacy of the Robbers Cave experiment, 17 April) .

The boys in Lord of the Flies make quite a good fist of creating a democratic society, at least to begin with. Ralph, the democratically elected leader, admonishes Jack to stick to “the rules”, because “the rules are the only thing we’ve got”. In an interview the author said that the novel was about the importance of the rule of law. It was also about the complexity of human beings.

My father greatly distrusted simple judgments. He was careful to give Jack some good qualities, and to make him attractive. It’s possible to imagine that under different circumstances Jack and Ralph would have been friends, would have helped each other’s weaknesses, and admired each other’s strengths. But the author shows that this cannot happen on the island because the boys in their isolation are suffering unchecked “from the terrible disease of being human”.

Your writer states that, in contrast to Lord of the Flies, “context was everything” in the Robbers Cave experiment, and that Muzafer Sherif believed that “competition over scarce resources could drive people to enmity; place a common obstacle in their way, and they cooperate” (though this begs the questions how well they cooperate and for how long). But William Golding also sought to examine the boys’ reaction in the face of such obstacles; it is the removal of law and order that engenders the eventual savage responses. For him too, context was everything, not least the novel’s opening, in the savage context of a nuclear war.
Judy Golding Carver
Bristol

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