William Golding's Lord of the Flies indeed has a happy ending in the literal sense. The boys are rescued as their foolish cruelty reaches its apex by the loving, caring, and matured outside world. On the other hand, by whom and what are the boys rescued? Symbolically, the "happy ending" is exactly the opposite. Far from sacrificing artistic excellence, Golding's ending confirms the author's powerful symbolism.
Readers know ample about the boys society and where it heads long before the "rescue." Ralph will be killed and to remain a perpetual gift to the "beastie." The boys' xenophobic view of the beastie is ironically unfounded because the beastie emerges from within the boys: they themselves are the dangerous and scary monsters for all to fear, and they kill the first person to suggest so (Simon). Although the parachutist may symbolize civilization's archetypical fall, he is only a "beastie" insofar as civilization is to be feared. (The boys' fear of the beastie may, then, be well-founded, but only symbolically). As action progresses, readers see no signs of a veer from the boys' self-destructive course. Shortly before the boys' "rescue," they expect the boys to perish either from the fire (which actually ends up saving Ralph), a tragedy of the commons, or internal war. Golding could either have extended the book to its predicted bloody end, or he could have changed course. The surprise course of action becomes Golding's central theme.
Golding's theme is not just the obvious evils of the boys' society; it includes the notion that the boys are a microcosm of society. While readers may be able to ascertain his theme immediately prior to the ending, the connection to th...
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...s he is at a loss for words, but the officer treats the boys as if they were playing a backyard game. "Jolly good show, like Coral Island," he remarks, followed by the inquiry, "You're all British, aren't you?" (184). The officer thinks that the boys have formed an enlightened, orderly society like in the novel Coral Island, but he fails to realize that even the British, "the best at everything," can fall into the trap of brutish war (40). The officer shreds readers' stereotypes of themselves as superior to war because he shows that war is a virus which can infect everyone.
In short, Golding's ending is as symbolic as it is unhappy. The ironic rescue transcends the remote island to affect readers, especially the British, to recognize their potential for evil. The naval officer points to how far the boys have fallen and why their "rescue" wasn't really so happy.
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