Lord of the Flies was published in 1954, less than a decade after 60 million people died in World War II. This colossal loss of life was still fresh in the hearts and minds of survivors around the world. Then the Cold War began, pitting the United States against the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (the USSR, now known as Russia). The USSR, led by communists, built a totalitarian state based on the principles of socialism. Although theoretical socialism fosters equality through collective ownership of resources, the USSR’s communist leadership resulted in tyranny. The United States, a capitalist democracy, sought to stop the expansion of communism in Europe and Asia. Since both the USSR and the United States developed massive nuclear weapons during this time, people in both countries and across the world feared widespread violence and death.
William Golding experienced World War II firsthand. As a member of the Royal Navy, he was posted in the North Atlantic. He, along with other soldiers, sank a German ship named Bismarck in 1941. Golding also led a rocket-launching ship in 1944. His active duty in World War II deeply affected Golding, altering his views on people and society. He was horrified by the suffering and destruction that human beings were capable of inflicting upon each other. Through his writings, Golding expressed concern over the actions of both sides of the conflict: the Allied and Axis powers. Furthermore, he felt as terrified of the devastation of American troops as he was appalled by the Nazis’ genocidal actions against the Jews. World War II and the Cold War contributed to Golding’s belief that war demonstrates humanity’s base instincts of division, violence, and hatred.
Golding illustrates this belief through the actions of the stranded boys in Lord of the Flies. Almost immediately upon their arrival on the island, two polarized groups forms: one led by Ralph and another by Jack. After allying themselves with either Ralph or Jack, the boys fear and mistrust those affiliated with the opposing group. From the start, Jack is ruthless and controlling, whereas Ralph attempts to treat his followers fairly. However, neither boy succeeds as a leader, and both behave cruelly toward others. Therefore, Ralph’s and Jack’s respective actions parallel the evil Golding saw in both sides of World War II and the Cold War. Although Lord of the Flies makes no direct mention of either World War II or the Cold War, those contentious, troubled times live on in Golding’s writing.