The Lord of The Flies is a kind of Eden in reverse, with a touch of wicked irony, which finds paradise to be run by a group not unlike the Taliban.
Rather than starting with children who realize their nudity, feel shame, and so clothe themselves, Golding presents us with boys wrecked on an island wearing school uniforms. They are civilized, and dress as would make a father proud, with tight haircuts. But in this tropical paradise without fatherly supervision, and with girls conspicuously absent, the boys begin to strip down to swim. Ralph, the main character, even releases the “snake clasp” of his belt.
This stripping off of clothing is the stripping off of civilization, a peeling back of the layers of human nature, in order to discover our original nature. As the book progresses, this natural self grows ever dirtier, ever more disgusting, cruel, savage and shameless. “What is the dirtiest thing?” asks a boy trying to explain why things fall apart, why the center cannot hold.
By the end of the book, Ralph’s rival, Jack, sits atop his throne: a tyrant. The symbol of free speech and cooperation is shattered: the conch. Democratically elected Ralph’s most valued partner is dead: scientific Piggy. This return to the innocent paradise reveals a veritable hell on earth, like Swat Valley in Pakistan, where the Taliban shot Malala Yousafzai in the head for fighting for her rights.
When in the opening pages the boys discover the conch, it is cream colored with fading pink. The boys then elect Ralph their leader, and whoever holds this conch has the right to speak. By the closing pages, the conch is sun-bleached white, without a trace of pink, and patriarchal authority is become absolute. Significantly, as Jack strips his layers of clothing away, and takes small steps toward savagery and tyranny, he takes to painting his face white and red, the combination of which is pink.
The white and red of Jack’s mask are separated by a black line from his right ear to the left side of his jaw; even as boys and girls would be separated and put into separate roles; even as a personality would be split by tyrannical misogynistic father figures; even as a culture would whisper into a boy’s ear what it deems right and what it deems wrong, superior and inferior; even as a boy is like to repeat what he is told: right ear to the left of his jaw, this black line. And Jack often shows his teeth to tell the fat and effeminate Piggy to Shut up!
Pink we understand in The West to be at once a color of femininity, and of vulnerability. In men, we take femininity and vulnerability to be signs of weakness and inferiority. The misogynist loathes femininity, and would attack any signs of femininity other men even as he would repress it in himself, telling it Shut up!
When Jack paints his face white and red, he covers his sense of shame and inferiority and discovers in his reflection an awesome stranger: a powerful, manly hunter, who spills the blood of little pink piggies. As Golding strips even more layers of civilization off of his characters, he describes Jack hunting. Jack creeps through the green forest, wearing it as it were his clothes.
By the time he gains his throne, this naked emperor’s face is painted green and black. And his hair now grown long is pulled back “like a girl.” This boy-patriarch has managed from behind his mask to release what Father Culture had condemned in him, and to repress as he has been repressed. This he does with the full force of hatred. And he takes power, thrusting his spear into the air, as only one with a profound sense of inferiority would, compensating for his former impotence, like a Taliban fighter would hold his RPG Launcher up for the world to see, though his face were covered, compensating for his sense of powerlessness.
Jack’s society is replete with punishment, whipping, and torture. No one dares to challenge his power. His henchman, Roger, is cruel, masked, and sharpens a stick at both ends as he hunts for the head of the last living democrat of the rival tribe, for by now the white conch of democracy free speech has been shattered.
Looking into Pakistan’s Swat Valley, I see Jack’s society. After years of war in the region, the layers of civilization have been stripped away, and the savage has taken power. The Taliban whips who would disobey their power, while wearing bushy beards and black masks. They cut off the heads of dissenters and leave them on display for all to see, like a crude offering to their God, The Lord of The Flies.
The Taliban have shot a little girl in the head for raising her democratic voice, and demanding her right to an education. She is a powerful little girl, the fading pink over which savages tyrannize, and which they fear, as fundamentalists fear the feminine. Her education reflects their ignorance, and threatens their power. For, where civil education is strong, The Taliban are weak.
This little girl, Malala Yousafzai, like millions of women in the middle east, wants to take off the mask she has been forced to wear, and put on modern clothes. She has the right to wear school uniform–which each of our boys stripped off before descending into savagery.
But now a word on savagery. It is not so clear as the ignorant poster recently posted in New York subways would have it. “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.” (Perhaps we can tease out some further irony if we recall that when the Egyptian-American columnist defaced the poster, she did so with pink spray paint.)
No, it is not so simple as to say that muslims are savage and we westerners or the Israelis are civilized. Mind you, this little girl from Pakistan, Malala Yousafzai, with her progressive and strong mind, is also a muslim. And Jack, mind you, is a Christian English choir-boy, who becomes the beast, all the while thinking the English are best at everything.