GCSE Exam Question and Answer
Q: Explore how far ‘Lord of the Flies’ is a religious text.
Start with an overview about the ideas of religion in the novel
‘Lord of the Flies’ is not simply a gripping story of a group of schoolboys stranded on an island; it works on a deeper level by using religious references to explore the complex nature of humankind: our desire for savagery and our desire for spirituality.
Make the point that Golding uses many religious references in the novel
Golding possibly uses ‘Lord of the Flies’ to present a religious allegory with the boys beginning the novel in a wonderful Garden of Eden and then falling into sin and darkness. The setting is reminiscent of the unspoilt Garden of Eden from the opening pages and Golding describes a bird as a ‘vision of red and yellow’. The colour adjectives give a sense of glorious brightness and the word ‘vision’ suggests that the bird is a thing of wonder. Yet the bird also has a ‘witch-like cry’. The simile suggests that the bird is evil with unpleasant intentions, perhaps foreshadowing the horrors that the boys will experience. The island is therefore established as a place of ambiguity and this is unsettling for the boys and for the readers. There is a sense that the island is a place of unspoilt beauty yet, just as the snake lived in the garden of Eden, there is evil on the island and the bird’s cry reminds us of this.
Continue with the exploration of the novel as a religious allegory
The concept of the novel as a religious allegory is continually returned to; an example of this is Golding’s presentation of Simon as a Christ figure. Simon withdraws into the forest to be alone with nature, finding a peaceful, beautiful place with ‘candle-like buds’ where it is quiet and serene; the imagery of the buds being ‘candle-like’ helps create an atmosphere of a church or a temple. His perception and spirituality sets him apart as an outsider and links to stories in the New Testament of how Jesus would leave his companions for solitary prayer.
Simon also displays innate kindness and generosity when he ‘pulled off the choicest’ fruit for the littleuns from the trees. His selflessness is shown in the superlative adjective ‘choicest’, demonstrating how he takes time to look after the weaker young boys and gives the best fruit to the others rather than keeping it for himself; this again connects him with the purity and selflessness of Christ. Simon’s goodness and inherent understanding reflects how religion draws us to spirituality and away from savagery. As the Christ- figure, Simon brings understanding and perception and provides hope that religion can protect us from our brutal inner desires.
Explore whether the novel is an anti-religious text
Yet this hope is destroyed with the death of Simon, who is murdered in a frenzy of blood-lust with the boys chanting ‘kill the beast! Cut his throat! Spill his blood!’ There is a sacrificial element to Simon’s death, again reflecting his association with Christ who was murdered by his own people. Simon’s death marks a changing point in the novel as the boys’ descent into savagery is now unstoppable; by killing Simon, who embodies spirituality and goodness, they are now free to unleash the darkness within them and any positive power of religion is easily disposed of with the murder of Simon. Indeed, the boys seem to use religion as a means of exploring their inner savagery. An example of this is just before Simon’s death when Jack is elevated to god-like status; the hunters drag out a log where ‘Jack, painted and garlanded, sat there like an idol’. With this status of a deity to be worshipped, he is able to whip the boys into violence which ends in murder. Golding is possibly suggesting that humankind needs religion to justify our natural brutality. This inner brutality or evil is linked to ideas of the devil; the boys give tributes such as the pig’s head to the beast out of fear and reverence for the power that they think the beast holds. This pagan practice to avert supernatural evil is something the boys quickly turn to and the pig’s head on the stick is named the ‘Lord of the Flies’ which translates into ‘Beelzebub’ in Greek, which is a name for the devil. Golding did hold religious beliefs but was not a member of an established church and he explores a number of ideas about faith within the novel. It is Simon who realises that the evil is an intrinsic part of human nature as he talks to the Lord of the Flies who says ‘I’m part of you. Close, close, close!’
There is a sense of foreshadowing in the repetition of the word ‘close’; each time, the Lord of the Flies reminds Simon just how fragile the human conscience and how fragile the veneer of civilisation is. Simon has the perception to see that the Beast is inside us all, and to recognise the darkness of man’s heart.
Golding fought in World War Two and saw even the best of men give in to savagery and brutality. Golding viewed the violence and cruelty in us as the ‘terrible disease’ of being human; he saw evil as an internal force that is part of us. There is no external devil to be frightened of but we should be frightened of ourselves.
Continue to explore whether the novel is an anti-religious text
It would seem, therefore, that ‘Lord of the Flies’ presents religion as a weak force for the good but possibly a powerful force for savage behaviour. This is evident in the bullying of Piggy. Piggy is defined by his plump build and Jack takes the first opportunity to mock him about this, telling him to ‘shut up, Fatty’. As laughter surrounds him, Piggy is immediately established as a victim, as someone who is physically weaker and therefore open to abuse. Piggy generates hate and contempt; he is a vent for the boys’ instinctive dark urges to hurt and humiliate, and Jack leads the way in constantly bullying him. Golding lived through the 1930s and 1940s and would have been aware of the horrific persecution that the Jewish people experienced in Europe. It is possible, in an allegorical novel where Jack represents the dictator Hitler, that Piggy represents the Jewish people. Golding illustrates how people are persecuted because of their religion, and how religion can generate terrible hostility.
Finish with an overview of your answer
Religious references, both Christian and pagan, weave their way through the novel. While it is possible to view religion as a force for the good in the figure of the Christ figure Simon, there are many instances where religion is presented as a catalyst for evil. This pessimistic presentation fits in with the general message of the novel, that mankind has an ‘essential illness’ , and that religion is not powerful enough to contain our inner savagery.
Essential Exam Tip
Make sure your answer covers the whole novel. Don’t make all your points about just the start or just the end. Show the examiner that you have a good knowledge of how the story develops and how the characters change.