Lord of the Flies The Lord of the Flies: Biblical Allegory or Anti-Religious Critique?

The Lord of the Flies: Biblical Allegory or Anti-Religious Critique?

Buy Study Guide

One of the major points of debate between critics who have studied Lord of the Flies is the significance of the substantial number of allusions to Judeo-Christian mythology. While many scholars have argued that these references qualify the novel as biblical allegory, others have suggested that the novel's allusions to the Old and New Testaments turn out to be ironic and thus criticize religion. A careful reading of Lord of the Flies should take into account not only the abundance of biblical images and themes in the text, but also the ways in which religion and religious themes are used.

In particular, the biblical account of good and evil is invoked-but the account in the novel is not quite the same. Take, for instance, the narrative of Eden. The early chapters of the novel, the island itself resembles the Garden of Eden from Genesis, with its picturesque scenery, abundant fruit, and idyllic weather. Accordingly, the boys are symbolically linked to Adam and Eve before the fall. Ralph's first act after the plane crash is to remove his clothes and bathe in the water, a gesture that recalls the nudity of the innocent Adam and Eve and the act of baptism, a Christian rite which, by some accounts, renews in the sinner a state of grace. Naming also becomes important in Genesis, reflected in the novel as the boys give their names. Golding extends the Edenic allusion when he presents the contentment of island life as soon corrupted by fear, a moment that is first signified by reports of a creature the boys refer to as "snake-thing." The "snake-thing" recalls the presence of Satan in the Garden of Eden, who disguised himself as a serpent. But unlike Adam and Eve, the boys are mistaken about the creature, which is not a force external (like Satan) but a projection of the evil impulses that are innate within themselves and the human psyche. Still, it is the boys' failure to recognize the danger of the evil within themselves that propels them deeply into a state of savagery and violence. They continue to externalize it as a beast (again "Lord of the Flies" and "the Beast" are used in religion to refer to Satan), but they become more and more irrational in their perception of it, and they end up developing alternative religious ideas about the Beast and what it wants and does. Although Satan in the Genesis account also has been read as a reflection of evil within human nature, readers usually consider Satan an external force. Original sin enters human nature because of Satan. Without a real Satan in the novel, however, Golding stresses the ways that this Eden is already fallen; for these boys, evil already is within them waiting to be discovered.

On the positive side, Simon's story is that of a prophet or of Jesus Christ. Simon is deeply spiritual, compassionate, non-violent, and in harmony with the natural world. Like many biblical prophets and like Jesus, he is ostracized and ridiculed as an "outsider" for what the others perceive as his "queer" or unorthodox behavior. Critics also have noted that Simon's confrontation with The Lord of the Flies resembles Christ's conversation with the devil during his forty days in the wilderness as described in the New Testament gospels, and critics have noted parallels between Simon's murder and Christ's sacrifice on the cross. But Simon's revelation is more of a debunking and a turn to the secular, rather than a prophetic condemnation of evil or a call to the higher things. His revelation is that the beast does not exist but is just a dead human.