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English Literature


Golding and War

US soldiers in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp

US soldiers in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp

Golding was horrified by what war revealed about people's capacity to harm their fellow humans. He was appalled by what happened in the Nazi concentration camps, and by the way the Japanese mistreated their prisoners. He was appalled too by the consequences of the British and American mass bombing against civilians - and even by what he himself did as a naval officer.

During the war the British justified all the destruction they wrought on the grounds that they had 'right' on their side, but Golding came to question this smug assumption. He gradually learned to see all human nature as savage and unforgiving: he knew that even the 'goodies' can become 'baddies'. In the novel Ralph and Piggy get as involved in the dance that leads to the killing of Simon as Jack and his tribe are.

World War 2 ended in 1945. The United Nations was set up after the war to try to ensure that a global conflict never happened again, but in 1954, when Lord of the Flies was published, the threat of a nuclear war was still very real. It was entirely plausible to the novel's original audience that an atom bomb really could destroy civilisation.

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