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Posts Tagged ‘narratology’

Lord of the Flies

In book review on June 3, 2009 at 4:53 pm

Let us say a story, in all its rawness, is a movement from point A to point B. In Golding’s Lord of the Flies, we imagine this to be a straight line. But there is a sense in which this line is tipped, diagonal, so that the experience is like a fall, a progressive descent. The visceral experience of reading it involves a feeling that the original state is sliding to a lower region. We can easily identify this as the descent of innocence and culture to corruption and barbarity. But “descent”, “fall”, “sliding” and even “movement” are mere tropes, because the hierarchy of abstractions is not intrinsic in the relation of the terms (i.e. barbarity is not intrinsically lower than culture). Fiction creates this contrast for us, a contrast that makes the notion of descent or movement possible. We feel this in Shakespeare’s Macbeth (man’s “descent” to madness), and all the derivative stories after it. The question is how this is achieved.

First, a binary. Let us say this binary constitutes X and Y, so that the story is a movement from X to Y. The author predetermines the impressions that the text would elicit by marking one term as negative and the other positive, and he uses an artifact of fiction called ‘character’ to do this (in conjunction with the narrator), since only a subject/consciousness can judge and give valuations. Hence, when the third person omniscient narrator says, “Ralph wept for the end of innocence, the darkness of man’s heart”, it is making the judgment through Ralph, and the contrast between X and Y is predicated upon the verb “weeping”. But a statement does not a story make, and we cannot accurately reduce the story as a movement from X to Z without knowing what’s between them.

In between X to Z are the symbols Golding employed to assist his valuation: conch shell, fire, the head on a stick, the beast, face paint, etc. The space between X to Z is the sustained presence of these symbols, from emergence to end state. If character valuation is responsible for tipping the line and making the possibility of the notion of “descent”, the symbols are responsible for the movement. In the very first chapter, for instance, Ralph and Piggy discover a conch shell which they use to call an assembly on the island. In the beginning, only Ralph, the leader, has right to use it, then eventually it gets passed around, gets stolen, and is finally destroyed. The symbols in Lord of the Flies are clear because they are established as fixtures in the spatio-temporal nexus of the story, so that whatever incremental changes occur to them signal a narrative movement.