This is to compare R.M. Ballantyne’s Coral Island with William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. Both novels situate their characters isolated in an island removed from society and with no adult supervision, thus leaving them to fend for themselves. Without the rules and order of society and civilization, the boys return to their state of nature – however, Ballantyne and Golding have differing views on what that is. Ballantyne’s boys retain their values and behave accordingly to the rules of society, whereas Golding’s boys struggle with their savage primal instinct and the tendency to be primitive and evil. In the end though, Ballantyne and Golding both explore the problem of evil and how their characters struggle with it.
Lord of the Flies and Coral Island depict how Man will act according to his instincts when he is isolated from society and in doing so show how their characters mature as they face the problem of evil.
Coral Island: Ralph, aged 15, Jack, aged 18, and Peterkin, aged 14, find themselves shipwrecked in a deserted island in the Pacific. They build shelters, make fire, gather fruits, build boats and explore the island and nearby islands as well.
Lord of the Flies: After a plane crash, Ralph, Piggy, Jack, Roger, Simon, twins Sam and Eric, and a group of boys of varying ages with the youngest ones as young as six or seven, are stranded in the island. The oldest in the group are Ralph and Jack, both twelve years old. They elect Ralph as leader, and set rules on building shelters and fire, and hunting for food.
– both sets of boys are stranded in an island left to fend for themselves
– in Coral Island, the three boys are friends, and have reached their adolescence as compared to the boys in Lord of the Flies, who can still be considered as children. The boys in Lord of the Flies are not necessarily friends but they went to the same school – they were thrown together in a situation and are forced to live together.
SECOND POINT: Both novels explore the problem of evil through the adventures of the boys.
Coral Island: Readers follow the adventures of the boys, of their encounter with a shark, of their exploration of the island and Diamond Cave, their meeting with natives, Ralph’s journey with the pirates and his gallant rescue of the natives, Ralph’s reunion with his friends, and finally, their escape from death from the natives who have been converted to Christianity.
Lord of the Flies: Readers follow the events in the island as brought about by the character’s actions and attitudes. The fire that swept half the forest was because of the boy’s irresponsibility, as was the fire’s burning out and thus missing to send a signal to a passing ship.
Further, their character flaws stimulate the events in the island – Jack’s aggressive and belligerent behavior translated into a confident control of power and command over the weaker ones, and the fear and confusion in many of the boys made them susceptible into engaging into savage and primitive actions, letting go of reason and immersing in their primal instincts. Further, readers see that even the protagonists struggle with their principles, as Ralph and Piggy join in the ritual dance and even help kill Simon.
– Both sets of characters face the problem of evil. The boys in Coral Island face problem of evil from external forces – pirates, natives, the wild, and they face and fight against it when they come across it. Whereas in Lord of the Flies, the boys’ greatest enemy is themselves – the inherent evil that resides in them, the potential to be primitive and savage and to let go of reason, the fear and violence in them, that is the greatest battle that they face. The problem of evil is intrinsic – the boys struggle with the values that society taught them versus their instincts now that they found themselves in the wild with no supervision whatsoever.
– Thus, the isolation in the novels forces the characters to mature. In Coral Island, the boys were presented to behave accordingly, keeping their values intact and even able to Christianize natives. Thus, it shows that even without the controls imposed by society, Man in the state of nature will use his reason over his desires, and maintain order.
On the other hand, in Lord of the Flies, the boys were presented indulging in their basic needs of placating their desires over fulfilling their responsibilities to ensure their being saved. The boys struggle with behaving as adults versus behaving like children, between using their reason and satisfying their thirst for hunting, between their morality and their rituals and tendency to be evil. In both novels, the characters had to act beyond their years and had to cope with their extraordinary situation.
THIRD POINT: Both books end with returning to civilization, the three boys in Coral Island sail back to England while the boys in Lord of the Flies were found by a Naval officer who saw the fire set by Jack’s tribe. The end of both novels signals the coming of age of the characters, as they come into realization of what has happened to them.
Coral Island: After all their adventures, the three boys go back home wiser and more mature because of the experiences that they have had.
Lord of the Flies: The Naval officer thought that the boys were all fun and games at the island, but was surprised to find out that two boys have been killed. In a sense, these boys are no longer children – they have seen and participated in such violent acts, and have encountered their dark, evil sides. Upon seeing the Naval officer and asked what happened, the boys break down and cry, realizing what had become of them.
Jack’s tribe have become blood-thirsty and completely savage, Piggy and Simon murdered, and Ralph reduced to a figurative pig, a prey running for his life from his former companions. Because of their experiences in the island, the boys matured and have grown wiser, knowing full well now what man is capable of.
– both sets of boys come out of their respective islands different and with a better understanding of themselves, although in Coral Island the boys were not tarnished with evil, while in Lord of the Flies the boys come to a realization of how brutal and inhuman they have behaved.
– Coral Island comes to an end with the boys’ going back to England, with all their little adventures resolved. Lord of the Flies ends with the boys’ crying and realization, and the fight between Ralph and Jack seemed to be over with the arrival of the officer and being rescued.
Lord of the Flies and Coral Island depict two ways Man will act according to his instincts when he is isolated from society – Ballantyne shows that Man will uphold the values civilization taught him while Golding puts forward that Man will descend to savagery.
By isolating the characters from society, Ballantyne and Golding effectively removed the boys from the controlling norms and standards that society imposes to shape the actions and behavior of men. Ballantyne pursues his story focusing on the events that happen to the characters and how they cope with these challenges, in the process showing that man is good and that he has the capacity to fight off evil from external factors.
On the other hand, Golding’s story is driven by his characters’ emotions and motivations. The events happen in Lord of the Flies as a result of how the characters behave. The greatest challenge they had to face was in them: they needed to struggle with man’s tendency to descend to savagery and evil. At the end of each book, the boys are saved from the problem of surviving by themselves and are presented with the chance to return to society and civilization.
Thus, from both books we garner that isolated from the controlling function of society and civilization, Man will fight for his survival, and behave accordingly. However, Man’s state of nature is debatable, the question of whether Man is innately good or evil is perennial, and at most the two books provide perspectives on how Man might behave stripped of society and civilization. For Ballantyne, this means that Man will use his innate goodness and reason, while Golding puts forward that Man will descend to savagery without the pillars of civilization.
It seems that Golding’s portrayal of man’s state of nature is more realistic though, given that he presented younger boys much less exposed to society and dealt more with internal conflict and the crisis of survival, as compared to the adventures of Ballantyne’s characters. In the end, both reflected the attitudes and behavior of men during their time, and showed through their respective narrative how their characters grew and matured; how their way of thinking changed as they coped with the challenges of surviving by themselves.