Monday, May 24, 2021

To be Ralph in a despairing world: Hope in Lord of the Flies

This book really speaks to me of hope. I closed the novel, my mind churning at a thousand miles a minute. When I've shared this sentiment with different friends, it's been met with chuckles and raised eyebrows. I can understand these reactions, because hope is not something people generally associate with Lord of the Flies, by William Golding. Even people who haven't read the book often (rightly) associate this book with savagery. Yet, while Lord of the Flies depicts young British schoolboys caught up in a "survival of the fittest" scenario in all of its brutality, hope glimmers through. 

When the boys in Lord of the Flies discover that they are stranded an an island, with no adults in sight, they realize that they need certain things to survive. As in any group of imperfect, desperate humans, they argue and divide themselves as they try to create a method for survival. Ultimately, the boys rally behind two leaders, Ralph and Jack. Ralph's priority is to keep a fire burning, so that a passing ship may see them and come to their aid. Jack Merridew, on the other hand, recognizes his immediate hunger, and his priority is hunting pigs. 

Realizing their own hunger and desire for food, more and more boys walk away from Ralph, and slip into Jack's group of hunters. Ralph sees these young boys fall into anonymity and bloodlust as they paint their faces and gather around their prey. He hears the frenzied chant rising from their lips: "Kill the beast! Cut his throat! Spill his blood!"

Although Ralph needs food too, and observes the sense of belonging that these boys possess, he steps to the edge. One by one, the boys have left, but he won't allow himself to be fully consumed by bloodlust and collective savagery. Instead, he holds onto the hope that someone will come to save them. They must keep the fire burning, so that they can be rescued--and to Ralph, this is something worth fighting for. Even when he is running for his life, Ralph won't give in to the mob rule that is overtaking the island. He fights to survive, his hope driving him on as he hides from Jack and the hunters. 

There are times when life feels a little bit like Lord of the Flies.

As I look around our current cultural climate, I can't help but see similarities to this novel. Many people in our country are currently under a lot of stress, anxiety, and pressure. We want to survive, but we disagree about how we should go about things. People pit themselves against each other, descending into savagery that, although it may not always result in physical combat and death (though sadly, does at times), is brutal and violent in its language and actions. If we just look around our society, we see the chaos of mobs routinely cropping up across the nation. We, too, can be flung by impulses into flocking behind whoever is the loudest, whoever is the strongest, whoever promises that our immediate needs of food will be met. We can join this despairing throng as they gather, metaphorically or literally, around whoever stands in their way; chopping down or cancelling whatever causes them fear or discomfort. 

Or, we can step back. We can be like Ralph in a place overrun by Jack Merridew and his minions. We can hold tightly onto hope, and rationally examine our situation. We can see where we are, look at where we want to be, and try to calmly, orderly, craft a solution. We can seek to keep the fire burning. The fire of our Faith, the fire of our hope, the fire of love for each other. As I ponder Ralph's determined hope and perseverance, I find myself thinking of St. Paul's words to the Romans, as he exhorts: 

"Let love be sincere; hate what is evil, hold on to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; anticipate one another in showing honor. Do not grow slack in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer." (Rom 12:9-12)

We could fall into the despair that overtakes our country. We can join in with the throng and live our lives by some variation of the chaotic chant that Jack and the hunters proclaim: Kill the beast! Cut his throat! Spill his blood!

Instead, let us practice hope and trust in God, and recite--along with St. Paul--a different message: Rejoice in hope! Endure in affliction! Persevere in prayer!

Like Ralph, let's fight for hope and life in a culture of despair. 

1 comment:

  1. Good points, AnneMarie! I've never read this, but read a synopsis somewhat recently and was conflicted if I should pick it up at some point. Sounds quite relevant from what you said! It can be easy to get caught up in things, but I want to be the kind of person who is grounded and always keeps hope alive.