Lord of the Flies and the Atomic Age
Writing in an era following the Second World War known as the ‘atomic age,’ Golding tapped into a widespread cultural panic over nuclear destruction and man’s capacity for warfare in
As a member of the British Navy during the Second World War, Golding had been the captain of a ship that assisted in the invasion at Normandy, or D-Day, when the allies invaded Nazi occupied France, and this experience directly informed his view of man’s capacity for cruelty. Golding wrote “before the Second World War I believed in the perfectibility of social man.... but after the war I did not because I was unable to. I had discovered what one man could do to another...” Following the war, Golding worked as a headmaster at a boys’ school, which influenced his writing as well. By setting his story among schoolboys, rather than grown men fighting an actual war, he made his themes of brutality and the breakdown of civilization innate and inevitable. He intended his novel to be a direct warning about the specific dangers of nuclear proliferation, but his editor at Faber and Faber, Charles Monteith, edited out a lengthy beginning describing a nuclear war that sets the plot in motion, leaving the sense of global apocalypse, and the boys’ swift and inexorable descent toward the warfare that landed them on the island.
Golding does not just critique the inherent dangers of unchecked nuclear armament in his book, but also criticizes the totalitarian regimes rising up in the East. In the 1950s, the Soviet Union was ascendant, and Western countries began learning about Soviet gulags for political dissenters, their violent political purges, and the breadth of the Soviet government’s domestic power. At the same time, awareness grew of the holocaust in Nazi Germany and the fascist regime that perpetrated it. When Jack ties up dissenters and beats them, or Roger delights in terrorizing boys into submission, Golding creates parallels to the use of force to establish a brutal, repressive system of authority. Golding was particularly interested in “groupthink,” a term coined by George Orwell in