I was fortunate to read some good books early in life.
These classics have become a part of me because their themes resonate so deeply in my life. Popular literature is like that for a lot of us, I suppose.
A book becomes a classic because it attracts attention from a multitude of people. The themes of these popular titles become a kind of “source code” for social commentary on everything from technological innovation to elections.
I read William Golding's Lord of the Flies (LOTF) for a high school class. The teacher assigned homework and arranged class discussions.
It’s the story of a band of children that are stranded on an island. The character-based narrative is well-crafted and easily understood by most readers. The adventure offers dark commentary about deeper topics such as social class, personality styles and organizational behavior.
The kids in the book are fictional, but I read Lord of the Flies at an impressionable age. It was easy to identify with the characters because they seemed so real. I saw parts of myself in Ralph, Piggy, Jack and Simon. Some of the characters reminded me of kids I knew.
Art imitating life
Ralph was probably most like me—or was I most like him.
Author, William Golding, referred to his protagonist as “the fair boy.” I was too young to appreciate the double meaning and simply deduced that Ralph was reasonable, decent, and followed the rules.
I wasn’t a leader like Ralph, but I wanted to be.
Piggy was perhaps the opposite of a leader. Needy and vulnerable, Piggy made me uncomfortable because he reminded me of my own weaknesses. Like most high-school students, I was very insecure. Piggy represented all the bad things that could happen to me if I didn’t find ways to hide my weaknesses or cope in some other way.
Jack Merridew was the bad kid in Lord of the Flies. Being bullied was a weekly occurrence for me at Trenton High School, so I’d already met kids like Jack and they terrified me. Bullies are unpredictable subversives who create fear to get attention.
Simon, the intellectual of Golding’s story, was a quiet presence in the book. But as the group’s conscience, Simon becomes the narrative’s most important character when he manages to intellectualize what’s happened to the people in the story. Most of the book's narrative is about staging Simon's now famous epiphany.
Fans of the book know that "the innocents" are challenged to not only survive their physical predicament but also their spiraling group dynamic. Bad things happen as the boys fall prey to their lesser selves. At first, the group demonizes what might be an imaginary “beast.”
Then, the prescient Simon utters the portentous maxim that redefines their situation: “Maybe there is a beast. What I mean is… maybe it’s only us.”
Lord of the election
Presidential elections are interesting adventures for American citizens.
Election time is when U.S. citizens who can’t define GDP or name their Senators, suddenly become hyper-patriotic as they band together to debate the qualifications of the Presidential candidates.
There’s a lot of plot development, some of it fiction, as each political party finds ways to demonize its opponents.
Every election, the media employs endless news cycles to produce an indigestible amount of information. Millions of citizens, perhaps confused or misinformed, complain that they don’t care for either candidate. Many claim that the political system does not work or is otherwise corrupt.
And we repeat the process every four years.
Well, maybe we get the candidates and the leaders we deserve.
Indeed, maybe there is a beast. Maybe it’s only us.
Let’s take a lesson from our old friend, Simon: Acknowledge the beast and get to know it better.
We can even name it–Lord of the Election.