William Golding

From New World Encyclopedia

Sir William Gerald Golding (September 19, 1911 – June 19, 1993) was a British novelist, poet, and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature (1983), best known for his work Lord of the Flies. He was also awarded the Booker Prize for literature in 1980, for his novel Rites of Passage the first book of the trilogy To the Ends of the Earth. Golding's fiction captures the human dichotomy between reason and barbarism. Golding demonstrates how both operate in his fiction, cutting through the veneer of human "civilization" to reveal a capacity for violence that is both disturbing, yet all too familiar. Golding strips away the mask to show the ugly truth that modern man would like to ignore, showing us that the human heart still very much needs to change in order to society to avoid the pitfall of violence that continues to plague the world.


Early life

Golding was born on September 19, 1911, in St. Columb Minor, Cornwall, England. He showed an active interest in writing even as a child. Though his family later moved from Cornwall, he studied the Cornish language as a young man.

His father was a local school master and intellectual, who held radical convictions in politics and a strong faith in science. His mother, Mildred, was a supporter of the British Suffrage movement. The family moved to Marlborough and Golding attended Marlborough Grammar School. He later attended Oxford University as an undergraduate at Brasenose College, where he studied Natural Sciences and English Literature. His first book, a collection of poems, appeared a year before Golding received his Bachelor of Arts.


William Golding met his future wife, Anne Brookfield, in 1938. After a brief courtship, they married in 1939, the same year he began teaching English and Philosophy at Bishop Wordsworth’s school. Anne and Golding had two children; the first, David, born in 1940; and a daughter, Judith, born in 1945.

Military service

His marriage and new career were quickly interrupted by World War II. Golding joined the Royal Navy and worked in antisubmarine and antiaircraft operations. During his service he was involved in the sinking of Germany's mightiest battleship, the Bismarck. He also participated in the invasion of Normandy on D-Day.

At the end of the war, Golding returned to his teaching position and writing.

Golding’s perspective of man’s true nature altered at this time of his life. While he was in the Royal Navy he saw the “evil” nature of not only the enemy he was fighting against, but also of his partners with whom he was fighting with. This change of view would be used to write his most famous book, Lord of the Flies.


After his return from the war, Golding began in earnest to write, but threw away his first three novels as “rubbish.” His fourth novel, Lord of the Flies, was rejected by more than twenty publishers, before becoming one of the largest selling books of the decade. By 1961, his successful books allowed Golding to leave his teaching post and spend a year as writer-in-residence at Hollins College in Virginia. He then became a full-time writer.

He was a fellow villager of James Lovelock in Wiltshire, and when Lovelock was explaining his Gaia Hypothesis, it was Golding who suggested naming it after the Greek personification of the earth.

He was knighted in 1988.


Sir William Golding died of heart failure in his home at Perranarworthal, near Truro, Cornwall, on June 19, 1993. He was buried in Holy Trinity churchyard, Bowerchalke, Wiltshire, England. He left the draft of a novel, The Double Tongue, which was published posthumously (Faber, 1996).


Golding's often allegorical fiction makes broad use of allusions to classical literature, mythology, and Christianity symbolism. Although no distinct thread unites his novels and his technique varies, Golding deals principally with evil and emerges with what has been characterized as a kind of dark optimism. Golding's first novel, Lord of the Flies (1954; films in 1963 and 1990), introduced one of the recurrent themes of his fiction—the conflict between humanity's innate barbarism and the civilizing influence of reason. The Inheritors (1955) reaches into prehistory, advancing the thesis that mankind's evolutionary ancestors, "the fire-builders," triumphed over a gentler race as much by violence and deceit as by natural superiority. In Pincher Martin (1956) Golding explores the conflict between the good and evil aspects of our nature again as that given to us at birth and what we change it into by our own will, even to the point of futilely challenging our very existence and its demise. The novel caused a great controversy in the humanistic and relativistic literary world of his time, including calls for him to rewrite the ending. Golding sought in several interviews to explain his intent and the “meaning” of the story in religious terms. This so backfired on him that he never again would explain his work, only referring the reader to what he derives from the story. In Free Fall (1959), he explores how the consequences of our actions make us who we have become, using flashbacks. The Spire (1964) is an allegory concerning the protagonist's obsessive determination to build a great cathedral spire, regardless of the consequences.

William Golding has made quite an impact on the world with his most famous work, Lord of the Flies. This novel about a group of young upper class English schoolboys deserted on an island is now required reading in most high schools in America. Based on the premise that human nature, including that of well-bred children, is inherently evil, this book delivers a frightening view of mankind. It has become a modern classic. It has challenged many people’s perspectives on human nature in a way that few other books have. It has assured Golding of his position as one of the most important writers of the post-war period.

Golding's later novels include Darkness Visible (1979), in which he explores dual possibilities of fate in our inner response to tragedies through the twin orphans after World War II, and The Paper Men (1984), about the unraveling of pretentious literary and academic figures. He also wrote a historical sea trilogy To the Ends of the Earth, which includes Rites of Passage (Booker Prize, 1981), Close Quarters (1987), and Fire Down Below (1989). These books frame a critical exposé of British class attitudes of the nineteenth century in a long sea voyage from England to Australia. It has been produced as a BBC drama series.

Lord of the Flies

Lord of the Flies is an allegorical novel about a group of young boys who are stranded on a desert island and subsequently attempt to govern themselves, a task at which they fail disastrously. Its stances on the already controversial subjects of human nature and individual welfare versus the common good earned it position 70 on the American Library Association's list of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990–2000.[1]

Published in 1954, Lord of the Flies was Golding's first novel, and although it was not a great success at the time —selling fewer than 3,000 copies in the United States during 1955 before going out of print—it soon went on to become a bestseller, and by the early 1960s was required reading in many schools and colleges. It was adapted to film in 1963 by Peter Brook, and again in 1990 by Harry Hook.

The title is a reference to the Hebrew name Beelzebub (בעל זבוב, Baal-zvuv, "god of the fly" or "host of the fly") a name sometimes used as a synonym for Satan.

Plot summary

The novel begins with a large number of young boys, ages six to 12, stranded on a desert island. While being evacuated, their plane has been shot down. The first two characters introduced are Ralph, an athletic and charismatic boy, and "Piggy," a fat boy with glasses and asthma. The two boys obtain a conch and use it to call the other boys from across the island. The boys begin to discuss who should be their leader. Ralph and Piggy are the two obvious choices, but one other potential leader arises—Jack Merridew. Jack was a choir leader, and still acts as leader of the other castaway members of his choir. Ralph is elected as leader. Piggy is less popular than Ralph, but is intelligent, and becomes Ralph's "lieutenant." However, it is evident that Jack covets the leadership position. Ralph takes Jack and Simon, another choir singer, to explore the island. During their exploration they find a trapped piglet. Jack pulls out a knife, but hesitates, allowing it to escape. Jack vows never to hesitate again. Early on, the boys are full of optimism, expecting the island to be fun, despite the fact that many of the boys are scared of a "Beastie"—allegedly some kind of dangerous wild animal on the island seen by one of the younger boys with a birthmark on his face.

The boys then make their first attempt at being rescued by starting a signal fire (lit by Piggy's glasses). The fire burns out of control, and scorches half of the island. The boy with a birthmark on his face who saw the "Beastie" goes missing during the fire, and it is assumed that he died. Life on the island continues to deteriorate, becoming more and more disorganized. The major characters (Jack and Ralph) have conflicting aims for the island, and there are only two people, Ralph and Simon, willing to build shelters.

The island's descent into chaos starts, ironically, with the potential for rescue by a passing ship. Jack had led a group off hunting, taking with him the boys who were tending to the signal fire, so the ship sailed past without spotting the boys on the island. An intense argument ensues, in which a lens of Piggy's glasses is broken. Jack continues to push the boundaries of his subordinate role, and eventually becomes a tyrant. Ironically the sound of his choir was originally described as the "voices of angels," but the choir boys are later described as "demonic figures." Although the signal fire is maintained along with a false sense of security, the order among the boys quickly deteriorates as Jack and Ralph continue to struggle for power.

As the novel takes place during a war, a dogfight between two planes occurs over the island. One of the pilots parachutes out of his plane, but dies upon or before landing. Two twins, Sam and Eric ("Samneric," as they become known) assume that the pilot is the Beastie when they saw him in the dark, causing mass panic. An expedition to investigate leads to Ralph, Jack, and Roger, a choir boy, ascending the mountain, but they eventually run away from what they believe is the Beastie. Jack denounces Ralph as a coward, and calls for another election for chief, but does not receive a single vote. He leaves the group to create a new tribe. Most of the older boys eventually leave "Ralph's tribe" to join "Jack's tribe." This new tribe hunts down a pig, and they decide to host a feast. Before that, they sever the pig's head and place it on a stick as an "offering" to the Beastie. Flies swarm around the head of the pig. Simon comes across it, and through hallucination, the dead pig speaks to him. Its message foreshadows Simon's fate, and he runs down from the mountain to break the news about the dead pilot and his conversation with the "Lord of the Flies." However, in doing so, he is mistaken as the Beastie, and is beaten to death by the other boys.

Ralph's tribe dwindles in number. Jack's larger, less civilized tribe, however, needs to steal from Ralph's tribe to maintain their existence. They steal Piggy's glasses to light a fire. Piggy demands his glasses back, but is killed when Roger launches a boulder into him, crushing the conch shell and sending him over a cliff. Jack tries and fails to kill Ralph, and the next day, his tribe tries to hunt him down. In their pursuit, they start a forest fire, which is seen by a passing naval vessel, and one of the ship's officers comes ashore and rescues the boys. Ralph's brush with death is tinged with irony; Ralph had always pushed for a fire to be kept, but the fire that leads to their rescue was originally lit to kill him. For the first time on the island, Ralph cries, weeping for the "end of innocence," "darkness of man's heart," and his friend, Piggy.

Literary significance and criticism

Many people have interpreted Lord of the Flies as a work on moral philosophy. The environment of the island, a paradise with food, water, and all the necessities, is a metaphor for the Garden of Eden. The first appearance of the "beastie" is in a form reminiscent of a serpent, as which evil appears in the Book of Genesis. One of the major themes of the book, on the very nature of evil, is brought to a head in a scene which Simon holds with the head of the pig, which is known as "The Lord of the Flies" (a literal translation of the Hebrew name of Ba'alzevuv, or Beelzebub, which is a powerful demon in hell, sometimes believed to be the devil himself). The conversation held also points to Simon as the character representing religion and good will in the novel, which is reminiscent of the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. Some Christian readers allude the British Naval officers' rescue of the boys as the second coming of Christ (Bible story in Revelation). The "Lord of the Flies" in the end reveals that evil and the terror of the "beastie" is not an external threat, but an inborn evil with the boys themselves.

Others have looked at the novel as a work on political philosophy. The stranding of the boys, without any adult supervision, represents a clean slate upon which they have the power to build a small society without reference to any past authorities (past governments, religion, etc.). The abundance of food and water and all the necessities sets the stage for a utopia, or perfect society. The actions of the boys demonstrate the spectrum of governments, with Ralph and Piggy representing democratic ideals while Jack represents more authoritarian systems.

Another analogy compares the three principal characters to the three Archangels of the Old Testament. Ralph equates to St Michael, the general of the Armies of the Lord; Jack to Lucifer, the fallen angel who takes a hoard of lesser angels with him turning them into demons opposed to God in the process; and Piggy to Gabriel, whose trumpet call announces Judgement Day.

There have been two film adaptations.

  • Lord of the Flies (1963), directed by Peter Brook.
  • Lord of the Flies (1990), directed by Harry Hook.


Major works

  • Poems (1934)
  • Lord of the Flies (1954) ISBN 0-571-06366-7
  • The Inheritors (1955) ISBN 0-571-06529-5
  • Pincher Martin (1956)
  • The Brass Butterfly (1958)
  • Free Fall (1959)
  • The Spire (1964) ISBN 0-571-06492-2
  • The Hot Gates (1965)
  • The Pyramid (1967)
  • The Scorpion God (1971)
  • Darkness Visible (1979)
  • A Moving Target (1982)
  • The Paper Men (1984)
  • An Egyptian Journal (1985)
  • To the Ends of the Earth (trilogy)
    • Rites of Passage (1980),
    • Close Quarters (1987) and
    • Fire Down Below (1989)


  1. American Library Association Retrieved April 14, 2008.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Carey, John and William Golding. William Golding: The Man and His Books: A Tribute on His 75th Birthday. 1987. ISBN 0374290237
  • Friedman, Lawrence S. William Golding (Literature and Life). 1993. ISBN 0826405649
  • McCarron, Kevin. William Golding (Writers & Their Work). 2004. ISBN 0746311435

External Links

All links retrieved May 8, 2023.


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