Allegorical Fiction, Dystopian Fiction
Lord of the Flies is an allegorical novel that employs the realistic situation of a group of boys stranded on a desert island to embody abstract ideas about human beings’ inherent savagery and the dangers of mob mentality and totalitarian leadership. Allegorical fiction employs specific images, characters, and settings to represent intangible emotions or ideas, such as a character named The Lover personifying the concept of romantic love. In Lord of the Flies, Golding creates a backdrop of global war for a narrative about boys attempting to build a civil society following the presumed destruction of civilization. Characters represent different negative and positive aspects of humanity, such as Piggy, who stands for reason and intellect, and Jack, who stands for violence, cruelty, and totalitarianism. Objects on the island serve allegorical functions as well: most significantly, the conch represents communication and the democratic process. Allegorical fiction as a genre asks readers to the question the concepts governing human interaction, and explores the way larger forces impact individual lives. In telling the story of an isolated group of young boys attempting to remake society, the book asks whether the breakdown of civilizations into war is inevitable, and what forces within us drive us toward self-destruction.
Lord of the Flies deviates from the genre of allegorical fiction in that the main characters are fully-developed, conflicted, believable boys. In traditional allegory, characters are often representative of a single attribute, and the work can feel bombastic in the author’s insistence on the main idea. Most of the characters in Lord of the Flies, in contrast, have a degree of ambivalence and are presented as initially sympathetic. Ralph, who symbolizes fair, progress-minded leadership, is also afflicted by self-doubt and an inability to articulate his thoughts, or even think clearly, at crucial moments. Even Jack, rather than being a symbol of pure evil or mindless violence, experiences moments of weakness, as when the boys vote to keep Ralph chief. Jack is presented sympathetically in the beginning of the novel, and grows increasingly aggressive as he is corrupted by the violence he enacts on the pigs and the other boys. Rather than remaining static, one-dimensional stand-ins for ideas, the characters change over the course of the novel, making it different than classic works of allegorical fiction.
Because Lord of the Flies presents the characters as living in a nightmarish, oppressive society as a result of to their inherently flawed natures, it is also an example of dystopian fiction. In direct contrast to utopian fiction, which posits that human beings are perfectible and a society free of suffering is possible, dystopian fiction asserts that societal injustice is inevitable. The genre became popular during the 20th century, when works like George Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984 presented futuristic worlds beset by tyranny, violence, and suppressed speech. It is an especially popular genre for contemporary young adult novels like The Hunger Games. Although the setting of Lord of the Flies initially appears an Edenic utopia, with abundant fruit, fresh water, and beautiful beaches, it quickly devolves into a dystopian landscape where the boys are hungry, dirty, fearful of the unnamed beast, and tyrannized by an increasingly sadistic leader. Dystopian writers employ fear, suspense, and often violence to warn readers about the dangers of totalitarianism; the message of their novels is that societies can never be truly perfect, but can get better if individuals work together in democratic processes. Ralph, in Lord of the Flies, represents this potential, in his insistence on free speech, voting, and collaborative labor to provide shelter, gather food, and tend the fire.