Are Writers And Film Makers Responsible For The Interpretation Of Their Own Texts
As seen with William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, composers of texts are not responsible for the interpretation of their works as the reading of a text is greatly influenced by the audience’s personal beliefs and ideals. Texts such as Lord of the Flies have been so greatly scrutinised since being published that it is impossible to contribute one’s reading and interpretation of the text solely to the author. Influences and beliefs such as those demonstrated from a Christian, Marxist and Freudian viewpoint make it apparent that the characters, themes, motifs and underlying meanings within Lord of the Flies can be interpreted in any number of ways and, as such, writers are not responsible for the interpretation of their own texts.
The nature of Golding’s text is such that it allows a multiplicity of potential readings and, as a result, many have interpreted the Lord of the Flies differently to the author. A widely believed interpretation of the text is that from a Christian perspective. Throughout the text, the island on which the boys are stranded is associated with Eden: a beautiful, pristine and verdant garden, surrounded by darkness and violence. They live free of all constraints of the modern adult world. Like Adam and Eve, the boys are not aware of the capacity for evil that lies within them and, as upper-class British schoolboys, their initial reaction to being on the island is one of excitement at the absence of adults, as well as one of faith that they will be able to establish a civilized society like the one to which they are accustomed (Oldsey, 1965, p. 29). The Christian interpretation of the text draws parallels between the clairvoyant character of Simon and Jesus Christ, Simon being the one who arrives at the moral truth of the novel, and ultimately is killed sacrificially by the other boys as a consequence of having discovered this truth; he is killed as the beast, while trying to impart that there is no beast. The most gentle, compassionate, and unbeastly of the boys is mistaken for the beast and killed by a frenzied crowd, as Christ was killed by the Jews who thought him to be a blasphemer and a false prophet. Simon’s conversation with the Lord of the Flies, also referred to as Beezlebub, parallels the confrontation between Jesus and the devil during Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness, as told in the Christian Gospels. Many have interpreted the text in such a way as they draw strong parallels between the Lord of the Flies and the story of Jesus Christ in the bible. They view the text as having being influenced by the teachings of the Christian doctrine of original sin; that is, the truth about man is not merely that he is, by nature, savage and afraid, but that he refuses deliverance, and murders the messenger of light (Dick, 1987, p. 197). While numerous parallels can be drawn to the bible, the idea behind a Christian interpretation of Golding’s text is just one of many and, as a result, it cannot be irrefutably said that the author is responsible for the reader’s interpretation.
Although Golding’s story is confined to the microcosm that is the group of boys, it resonates with implications far beyond the bounds of the small island and explores problems and questions universal to the human experience. Readers and critics have interpreted Lord of the Flies in widely varying ways over the years since its publication.
Psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud taught that the human mind was the site of a constant battle among different impulses – the id (instinctual needs and desires), the ego (the conscious, rational mind), and the superego (the sense of conscience and morality). Over the course of Lord of the Flies, Ralph, Piggy and Jack increasingly personify the attitudes, ideals and drives of the ego, superego and id, respectively. The beginning of the book identifies the characters in their respective roles. Piggy, who finds little good with the conduct of the boys, is the superego or “the internalization of standards of morality and propriety” (Abrams, 1999, p. 249-250). He aids in the establishment of order by introducing the conch; he also scorns the boys for “acting like a crowd of kids” (Golding, 1969, p. 42). Piggy’s nemesis comes in the character of Jack, the large, rude leader of the choir. Jack is the id of the boys, incorporating “libidinal and other primal desires” (Abrams, 1999, p. 249). He volunteers himself and his choir mates as hunters – a decidedly primal job. The balance of the two boys is Ralph, who both laughs “delightedly” (Golding, 1969, p. 11) at the prospects of the wild island, and thinks quickly to establish a signal fire. Ralph is the ego, which “tries as best it can to negotiate the conflicts between the insatiable demands of the id [and] the impossibly stringent requirements of the superego” (Abrams, 1999, p. 250). He is well suited to the job, as he is chief: this allows him to both control and listen to the wills of the id and superego. All goes well with the tribe of boys – their “psyche” of Ralph, Piggy and Jack is reasonably balanced – until Jack makes a fateful decision: he lets the fire go out when he abandons it to hunt; a ship passes by the island but, without a signal fire to alert it, does not rescue them. As the id, he has made a key move: he has bypassed the balancing effects of the ego and made a decision on his own, therefore putting him closer to the primal, wild world he wishes to create. From this point the balance on the island breaks down, with the result being the death of Piggy (superego), the exile of Ralph (ego) and the coming to power of Jack (id). The “darkness of man’s heart” (Golding, 1969, p. 223) is a prominent theme throughout Lord of the Flies and in modern society today; it seems best explained by the savagery of the id. At first, it seems as if Jack, the id, is balanced: Ralph’s control and Piggy’s rational thought keep his primal urges in check. But the boys are on a wild island, a setting conducive to primal urges: the sanctum of the id. Without the balance of Ralph and Piggy, Jack roams unchallenged. The boys grow savage and unthinking, free to explore the primal desires of the id, and free to lose all of what society defines as humanity. Such readings as that from a Freudian perspective demonstrate that an individual’s interpretation of a text such as Lord of the Flies is based entirely on the reader’s beliefs rather than as a result of the writer.
The Marxist reading of Lord of the Flies is another widely believed interpretation of the text. Golding deftly forges two leaders amongst the boys, Ralph and Jack. The two are the respective island equivalents of a democratic president and a communist premier. Jack and Ralph frequently take contrary positions; slowly creating two distinct tribes as their personal animosity increases. Early in the novel the allocation of power is the first key issue of confrontation upon which the two figures distinguish themselves. The stranded boys revert back to their inherited customs and call for an election of a chief. Jack, much in the fashion of a power hungry dictator, attempts to seize power – “I ought to be chief, because I’m chapter chorister and head boy” (Golding, 1969, p. 22). Golding quickly foreshadows Jack’s totalitarian control over his subjects, “‘All right who wants Jack for Chief?’ With dreary obedience the choir raised their hands” (Golding, 1969, p. 22). Jack’s counterpart, Ralph, is elected by an overwhelming majority. Instead of attempting to impress his will upon others, Ralph democratically delegates, exercising the consent given to him by the electorate. “You voted me for chief. Now you do what I say” (Golding, 1969, p. 81). Unlike Jack, Ralph does not horde power, he honours the democratic rights of free speech. The shift of Jack’s tribe from a gestured utopia of fun to a despotism of marshal law, is the same digression Golding witnessed in the transition from Leninist to Stalinist Russia. Once one is victorious over a society, affiliation cannot be switched. His tyranny and enslavement of his citizenry causes disenchantment among the citizens. Similarly to Marxists revolutionaries, Jack idealistically envisions a new tribe, one in which there is fun and games in hunting, and no obligation and rules in tending to the fire. As democracy is on the verge of extinction, anarchy looms ready to displace communism as the order of the day on the island.
Many critics of Golding’s Lord of the Flies have often taken the approach that the novel was written as a Christian allegory. While many may argue that this is blatantly obvious throughout the text, with numerous Christian symbols appearing within the story, Golding’s portrayal as a “rigid Christian moralist” (Baker, 1965) is, in fact, false. While these biblical parallels play a major part in some reader’s interpretation of the text, they are not necessarily the primary key to interpreting the story, but rather enhance its moral themes. Many have also taken Lord of the Flies to be from either a Marxist or Freudian viewpoint. Readings such as this have led to Golding “feeling awed and astonished at the books written about the books he has written” (Redpath, 1986, p. 11). Due to the sheer number of readings and interpretations of the text it cannot be said without doubt that Golding is responsible for the interpretation of Lord of the Flies but rather that it is as a result of the readers own views and ideals that meaning is extracted from the text.
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