Lord of the Flies, William Golding

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This is the first text that I’ve read with a view of how to teach it – ie how to use my ‘expert’ knowledge that I’ve gained during my degree and life experiences to teach a novel. Of course, a key part of Subject Pedagogical Knowledge, as defined by Quigley, is knowing and adapting teaching to your class and the students you are speaking to, which is something that I cannot yet do! However, I have tried to look at this novel with an idea of teaching it and what it can teach me in the process of breaking it down. There is, of course, far too much to go into one blog post, mostly because I will bore you, but I’ll briefly spin through a small number of ideas.

Background

Lord of the Flies (henceforth LOTF) was published in 1954 by William Golding, a member of the Royal Navy, present at the sinking of the Bismarck who taught in universiteis and colleges and was knighted in 1988. The influences of WWII and the Cold war are evident in the opinion of the boys  that the world as they know it has ended, that ‘they’re all dead’ (p. 9). Golding presents the children of a society which is poised to destroy itself, and as a result it is no wonder that the young boys in his tale descend into madness and anarchy.

Dehuminisation

The huminisation and dehuminisation of the characters throughout this novel are stark reminders of the degeneration of their makeshift society. Initially, after the crash, the boys are described as ‘the boy with the fair hair’ (p. 1) or ‘the reverse fat boy’ (p.2), until finally a name is given on p.3 – ‘Ralph’. It is clear from the fact that he doesn’t ask Piggy’s name until much later that he does not appreciate or understand how names can create and make a a person so that they cannot be harmed. By adopting Piggy’s hated nickname, Piggy, Ralph initiates the destruction of his humanity which ultimately leads to his death when others see him as nothing more than a source of fire (because of his glasses).

After the initial pause in giving names and creating the characters as human, Golding allows them all to retain their names and individual preferences. Jack and the choir start to hunt, while Ralph and the ‘littluns’ set up home. It is clear that there is little desire to know about anyone – Piggy gives up trying to make a list of all the names, the ‘littluns’ are bunched into a group called just that. There is a slow and steady decline towards not viewing the others on the island as human, or equals. However, those characters that enforce these stereotypes (Jack, Ralph) are given personalities, responsibilities and ideas that make them stand out as individuals, humanising those who will later become enemies in an equal and effective manner.

The worst dehuminisation comes when Jack’s new ‘tribe’ lose their names and their status as children and become simply ‘the chief’ and ‘savages’ (p.186). In taking Piggy’s glasses from him, they take his humanity and his necessity from the island, and the inevitable slide towards his death begins.

Roger, armed by the rock, looks down on the two boys who are challenging the leadership of his tribe. But he doesn’t see them as boys. Instead ‘Below him, Ralph was a shock of hair, and Piggy a bag of fat’ (p. 199). Piggy is no longer a person to the minds of the ‘savages’ and so his death means little.

However, there isn’t an irredeemable ending, despite the shocked views on the society that Golding created. The Naval Officer who arrives as their rescuer sees them as children – ‘a little boy who wore the remains of an extraordinary black cap on his red hair and who carried the remains of a pair of spectacles at his waist…’ (p. 224). For the past three chapters, Jack has simply been referred to as the chief or, rarely, by his name, or as a mask behind which he hides. But the reader is reminded that these are young boys, that to the world outside they are vulnerable and need protecting. The reader knows the darkness and fear that overtook them, but they are still children and still need rescuing. So, after an entire novel dehuminising the group of boys, Golding offers that hope at the end that despite what they have witnessed, perhaps they can become people again.

Pathetic Fallacy

Of course, to teach English you must be willing to express your ‘expert’ knowledge in the themes of technical language, as well as literary and contextual understanding. Here, I will focus on Pathetic Fallacy. From p. 1, the island and nature show outwardly the damage and harm that has been done to the boys on their crash.

‘The Scar’ (p.1) is automatically named as such because of the damage the falling plane has done to the island. The use of the noun ‘scar’ implies that it will never fully heal, that there will always be this damage and harm caused human kind on the island.

When Simon is killed, the children are fuelled by the storm and their fear of the night. The lightening that should have lit up the sky enough to save Simon and remind them that he was human instead are the motivator for their actions – the close weather and the heat and the storm are all a part of what drive the group into a frenzy. The storm shows the weather echoing their mental state, which is fragile and at the same time, powerfully harmful.

When the boys find the Naval Officer, ‘the sky was black’ (p. 223). This represents that their rescue has come too late. They have committed murder and turned on the vulnerable in their society. They have proven themselves no different from the generation of adults in their lives that are fighting a war that could destroy the earth. The black sky takes away the final beauty of the island, because between the fire and the deaths, there is nothing beautiful left to admire.

Overall

Of course, there are many other themes and ideas buried in LOTF. The degeneration of language which represents the degeneration of society. Fragmented speech and the twins, samneric, becoming one person. The conch and what it represents. The parallels between the attempted killing, eventual killing and chasing of the pigs, and the deaths of Simon and Piggy. The parts of humanity that really matter, and why those aren’t always the bits that the boys try to keep. It is a rich and full text which offers plenty of teaching material and some memorable quotes.

A few activity ideas to finish

I know that I’m not yet a teacher, and I know that I’m not yet the expert that I need to be. But, whilst reading, I have had a few thoughts, and I thought I’d share a few of them here.

What if you set a class a task and just left them to it, before even starting teaching the novel? Let them see how hard hierarchy and order can be to establish.

Drawing ‘the beast’. Fear is a key theme throughout the novel. Have pupils take all the ‘descriptions’ of the beast throughout the novel and draw what it would look like.

Design your own rules for the island in groups, and then narrow them down to a shared class sheet.

Pick a side – whose ‘tribe’ would you join and why? – Debate.

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When I was Invisible, Dorothy Koomson

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It’s rare that my mum introduces me to authors that I fall in love with, because we have such different taste and opinions. My popular culture loves come much more from my dad – Lord of the Rings, Star Trek, Crime, Mystery… mum is much more into non fiction and heavy theology! So it always amuses me that she accidentally introduced me to one of my favourite authors by recording a TV programme. The 2013 ITV1 adaptation of Ice Cream Girls was the first introduction to Dorothy Koomson I had. I remember watching it, enthralled and disgusted, going on an emotional journey with these poor girls and their horrific past. And when the series was finished, I had to read it. And then read some more. I’ve read The Rose Petal BeachThe Woman he loved before, Goodnight Beautiful, My Best Friend’s Girl and, of course The Ice Cream Girls, to name just a few. But I hadn’t really realised that Koomson was still writing, so imagine my excitement when I walked into the airport WH Smith to get a drink and discovered this brand new novel facing me, in the ‘newly released’ section and part of the ‘buy one get one half price’ sale. Well, it would have been rude not to.

The Plot

I’m never quite sure what I’m getting myself into with Dorothy Koomson. Whilst abuse and suffering are key themes of her novels, so too are the restoration of old relationships, the emotional turmoil of separation and the damage of lack of parental affection. So I never research too far into the novel because I want to experience it rather than simply read it. So, if you do plan to read this I would suggest that you go ahead and do so before reading a sentence further into this review, because to truly know its power, you have to go in ‘blind’, as it were.

Roni and Nika share a name and a love for ballet. They are supposed to be best friends forever, their lives interwoven through twists of fate. But  Roni lets Nika down and the act of betrayal is unforgivable.

Roni becomes a nun, putting her suffering behind her in the search for the Great Silence.

Nika becomes involved in an abusive relationship before spending ten years living in the street, finding the Great Silence in the music that she is always listening to.

On the surface, this is a story of abuse. Of how it can happen in the family and outside it. Of how those who suffer continually punish themselves, and how, having had their childhood ripped away from them, they can’t ever escape what it has made them. It is the story of an abuser winning for 20 years.

But it is so much more than that.

Truth

The truth is a key theme throughout the novel. Nika is a steady truth teller. She stands up to their ballet teacher, Mr Deaneaux, by telling her parents, and the police about the abuse she has suffered. As a result, even though she is not believed (which I will come onto) she is able to live a life secure in her sense of self. Yes, she ends up in an abusive relationship, but she escapes. Yes, she is homeless, but she finds her place there and doesn’t lose that kindness and compassion that define her. Ultimately, she is the one who can bring reconciliation because she has shared the truth from the start.

Of course, you can’t have a novel with a key theme of truth without having someone holding it back. Roni fulfills that purpose. It isn’t until the final chapters that her truth comes to the surface. What for Nika began at 11 when they started ballet, for Roni had been a constant since she was 8 years old. The uncle that she both adored and despised had abused her, and if she told the truth about Mr Deaneaux she would have to tell the truth about her uncle. Lies hide lies which protect everyone from the truth. Koomson captures the atmosphere in which horror like this grows with skill and delicacy. From the different perspectives of the story telling, you can see what the facade has done to the two women, and how the trauma of sexual, emotional and physical abuse can transform the way your brain works, and the way you face life.

Parental Responsibility

Or the lack thereof.

Nika’s parents don’t believe her and force her to go back time and again to the ballet teacher. Their lack of belief, their disinterest in their child’s abuse, is indicative of a society which doesn’t know how to deal with the taboo.

2012 was a huge year for survivors of sexual abuse. With the death of Jimmy Savile and the accusations, arrests and prosecutions that followed, a silent law of secrecy was lifted. Sexual abuse became something we could talk about, should talk about, and something that we should act upon. Women who had hidden their shame for years stepped forwards as survivors. This is even more true as Donald Trump becomes president, and survivors of such abuse are marching together, refusing to be cowed by a man who views women as objects free to touch.

But Nika’s parents came from a time long before that. The original abuse during the ballet takes place in the 90s. It was ‘better’ to deny it had even happened than to acknowledge and act on the crime. As a child, you weren’t a survivor, you were a victim and of course, you must have misunderstood, led them on or brought it on yourself. There was no space in society for sympathy or understanding, even from the police. Koomson captures that dark time, where lying seemed the only way forwards, with skill and precision, and the products of that attitude are seen in Nika’s parents and Roni’s mother.

But Koomson doesn’t just portray a dark and justice-less time. In 2016, when both girls speak out, there are reactions around them which redeem them.

Roni’s mother knew about the abuse and allowed it continue. Her failure as a protector of her child is what led to Roni not being able to speak out when Nika did, because her own mother had allowed this to happen. When Roni’s father finds out, he has no doubts about Roni telling the truth. He is not able to take away the years of abuse and pain, but he is able to reach his arms out and apologise. Roni’s mother remains in denial, but her father seems the harm those years have done and does all he can to make it right.

But Roni had never been disbelieved because she had never spoken up. The most heart-wrenching moment for me was when Nika returned to warn her parents what was going to be happening in the news, while her sister was there. Sasha was so glad to see Nika, glad her sister had returned. Nika’s line – ‘Sasha believes me. Roni believes me. Two people I know believe me the first time they hear what I have to say.’ (p. 425). Yet Nika’s thought, when her sister has bundled her up and protected her, is this. ‘Mummy didn’t speak once’. (p. 425). Koomson paints a cry to all the mothers out there. Believe your children. Trust them and believe them. Because it is you that they will turn to for belief, and one indication of disbelief and they will blame themselves and allow the pain to continue. No mother has the right to hurt their daughter in the way that Nika’s mother did.

Homelessness

I recently watched A Streetcat called Bob. I read it a few years ago, and was moved once again by the powerful portrayal of life on the streets. I was not expecting that to be echoed so closely by Koomson. Nika’s ten years living on and off the street, the power plays and rape attempts and friendship and drug addiction… it was so difficult to read and impossible to comprehend. The idea that these people are ‘invisible’ to us, that we choose not to see them every day was a really powerful statement, because of its truth. We don’t always see what is around us. We don’t acknowledge the suffering of others, and we can’t always help. Nika does something unusual by helping a young 14 year old girl to pay off her debt. But despite the loyal friendships that are developed, there is no trust. I can’t imagine living like that, and Koomson paints a very bleak picture of that life.

While Nika is there she calls herself Grace Carter. It was a powerful moment when, in the open wound of truth and hurt, she wished that she could be back to being Grace, rather than facing up to the damage of her past. This is what is so horrific – it was better to have nothing, mean nothing and potentially die, than to revisit her childhood abuse and abuser.

Conclusion

There is so much more to say about this novel, so many more layers to unwrap. Koomson takes a brave stand on a controversial issue, giving it a human face and name.

The Savile scandal has led to the arrests of many other celebrities, and encouraged many more women to step forwards with their tales. I believe that When I was Invisible has the power to do this for those who weren’t hurt by celebrities, but by their normal, every day role models, and their family members. It doesn’t have to have been a famous person for it to matter.

I look forwards to reading more Koomson in the future, and hope that this novel finds the readership that needs it the most.

The Fires of Heaven – Wheel of Time Book 5

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It has been a while since I started this particular book – having been distracted with academic reading, buying books (I cannot be trusted to go to WH Smith on my own) and general health issues, I have been putting off investing time into this particular series. But, then I got signed off work for 2 weeks with a bad back (long story cut very short, absolute agony, all the time) and I thought it was worth investing that time into something productive… like reading fiction and ignoring everything else I could be doing! So, of course, that is exactly what I did! And Robert Jordan has done it again.

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Whenever I’ve spoken to people who have read this series, they have consistently told me that in the middle few books it gets quite confusing, because you read one book about one set of characters and all of a sudden you don’t hear from them for a book or two while you’re following others. I can see that playing out properly for the first time in The Fires of Heaven, with only brief mentions of Perrin, my favourite character, being the biggest disappointment. So, in keeping with the theme of the next few novels, I’ll address this book in journeys and their current conclusions.

Nynaeve, Elayne, Thom, Julilin Sandar and Birgitte

Perrin holds a special place in my heart, but I have to say that when Birgitte started playing a larger role outside of the dream world, I did have to announce to my boyfriend that I have a new favourite character. Birgitte adds a little more character and humour to some otherwise frustrating characters. In the previous novel, Elayne and Nynaeve did a brilliant job against the forsaken and the black ajah, but their clumsiness in this particular installment leads them time and again into the same problems and mistakes, the worst (and yet best) of which is pulling Birgitte out of her ‘inbetween’ state, and perhaps destroying her immortality, and being born again as the wheel of time turns. But I love Birgitte. She is funny and relaxed, a perfect contrast to the uptight and overemotional Nynaeve.

I have never really had much time for Nynaeve. She winds be up, and she is head strong to a fault. She bullies the others and cannot seem to accept that she is wrong. This was illustrated craftily and with much flair by Jordan when, after leaving the menagerie, Nynaeve considers how her attitude hasn’t changed at all, but that the others are starting to be a little kinder and cause less problems. She is self centered with a remarkable certainty that she is right all the time, despite the fact that she is blocking her own power and can only channel when she is angry. That said, she has definitely been put in her place this time. She has been humbled by the childish nature of her actions. She has been put in her place by those she considers beneath her. She has returned to the Aes Sedai and is back to being the student, rather than the master. It is satisfying to see others standing up to her, but if Jordan is attempting to create sympathy for her character then he is failing miserably, because I cannot stand the girl.

The relationships be Elayne and Min and Elayne and Birgitte are a far more interesting study. Elayne and Min love the same man, but have promised not to let a man come between them. As the Aiel Customs allow, they are near-sisters, and could be in a relationship with the same man, but that is a long way off yet. It will be interesting to see whether their good natured intentions can hold. What I am truly hoping for is the development of the relationship between Birgitte and Elayne. Finally, a strong and independent woman, weathered by age (literally ages and ages of age) who has not the impulsive stupidity of almost every woman we have come across so far – even the Wise Ones have been self centred and cocky. Birgitte knows she is not perfect, she is a talented warrior and she can’t channel but holds as much importance in the history of the ages as any Aes Sedai. And now she is the first ever female Warder, connected to Elayne, who is not yet full Aes Sedai. It’s going to be a fascinating development of relationship and a power struggle, and I can’t wait to see how it progresses.

It does, however, bring me to a slight bug-bear.

Aes Sedai. Nynaeve and Elayne and Egwene (who we will come onto in a bit) are Accepted. They have experienced more battle and demonstrated more power than many of the Aes Sedai we have met so far. I understand that they have a lot to learn, but what I don’t understand is why they can’t be established as Aes Sedai. I know that at this moment in time they cannot take the oaths, but is there any point in holding to that? The change of age is bringing a new order – the dragon has been reborn and the end of the times as we know them are coming. As a result of my dissatisfaction with the lack of Aes Sedai flexibility, I HAVE A HUGE ISSUE WITH ELAYNE AND WARDERS.

Why should she assume that she is going to bond with Rand as a warder. He is a man who can channel. He is the Dragon Reborn. What RIGHT does Elayne have to assume that he will sacrifice his own independent life as a person to become her Warder. Being a Warder isn’t about loving who you serve, and in fact I don’t believe that if you truly love a person you would choose that life for them. Elayne is presumptuous and frustrating. Her major problem with joining with Birgitte is that she will now have to join the green Ajah so that Rand can bond with her. NO. This is not a fair representation of women, marriage or society and it’s a terrifying idea at that. So I’m incredibly frustrated with Elayne and want to knock some sense into her really!

Min, Siuan Sanche, Leane and Logain

I am impressed yet annoyed with Min, disappointed with Galad and Gawyn, intrigued by Siuan and Leane and fascinated with Min’s viewings of Logain. Their journey to Salidar has been very clearly crafted by the Wheel of Time, with Gareth Byrne chasing them and agreeing to lead an army against the white tower.

Min rescued Siuan and has travelled with her to keep her safe. She is kind hearted, loyal and brave. But she doesn’t have that spark that many of the female characters have. She has fallen in love with Rand, and yet done nothing about it. They really barely even spoke. She has travelled for months with Siuan and despite showing some interest in learning their destination, never pushes the point quite enough. She has become weaker through the novel, and I hope that reuniting with Elayne and Nynaeve will help develop her backbone a little more!

The Amyrilin Seat has fallen, yet she still has control over Aes Sedai without them even realising it. She is a crafty, clever woman, and I have been impressed throughout at her dedication to her plans and scheming. Weaker women than both Siuan and Leane would have died or become nothing by now having been stilled, but they fight because they have to. Their inner strength after such a loss is a powerful representation of the perseverance and resilience of women and what they can achieve.

I’m a little frustrated at the whole Salidar situation. They are some of the most well-educated, intelligent and powerful women in the world. They should have been able to put more of a resistance together than they did.

Rand and the Aiel, Egwene and the Wise Ones

Just when you think Rand is the main focus, Mat defeats an Aiel chief, Egwene stands up to Nynaeve and wins, not only in the moment but in causing Nynaeve to back down a little more permanently, and the third woman in the love square appears. Aviendha…

These love sick women frustrate me. They fight their feelings, but they’re so strong they eventually give in to them and even though they appear independent, they are still totally dependent on a man for their happiness. I was almost grateful when Melindhra took a stand and tried to kill Mat. Not because I don’t like Mat. I’ve actually grown quite fond of him. But she’s not been taken in by the good looks, the feelings and the emotions and she’s stayed true to her calling. Yes, it was to follow the dark one, destroy the Ta’Veren and kill Mat, but at least she has a little back bone.

This has to be one of my biggest problems. There seem to be so many strong and independent women, but they are all weakened by men and their relationships with them. The Aiel seem to have the best, most independent representation of females through the Maidens, who choose the spear over a long term relationship, but THEY HAVE TO GIVE UP THE SPEAR TO BE IN A RELATIONSHIP. No. No. Women can have a career and be married. They can continue to achieve and develop as individuals.

I’m not a feminist. I’m just sick of this world where women are either themselves or the weaker part of a relationship which makes them give up what they love. There is a way to do it both.

Conclusion

Lanfear and Moraine are not dead. It was too easy.

Balefire is dangerous, and Rand is risking a lot with using it on the forsaken, although I am glad he did.

I don’t know what’s coming next, but I really hope that it continues to develop the characters. As frustrating as I find them, there has been some real character development of Nynaeve, Siuan, Egwene and Mat in this installment. I hope this continues through other characters as the novels progress.

To Walk Invisible, BBC

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I know, I know, this is a blog about books, and I’m supposed to be widening my repertoire in preparation for teacher’s training commencing in July. But I would be a poor literature enthusiast if I didn’t pause here, among my slowly increasing piles of curriculum texts, academic texts and reading for fun texts, to celebrate this beautiful, well crafted and honest piece of drama.

Charlotte, Emily and Anne Bronte are pillars of British literary history. I was lucky enough to visit their house in Haworth a few years back, and I wish that I had been able to watch this before I went, because it does a phenomenal job of bringing the sisters, and their lives in the vicarage, to life.

These were brave, determined and downright stubborn young women. The actresses must be heralded here for their performances. There was no sugar coating their characters. Charlotte was single minded, focussed and determined. Emily was feisty, loyal and awkward. Anne was kind, gentle and passionate. They were not forced to be beautiful or placed on a pedestal, and this made the drama all the more gripping.

I always struggled to understand why the Bronte sisters made such a fuss about publishing under pseudonyms when Jane Austen had previously had great success as an author in the years before their writing. It’s not like they were the first women to be published. But if we consider Austen the ‘chick lit’ of her time, the Bronte sisters are the passionate lovers, the social commentators and the boundary pushers. This show clearly demonstrates that they were unable to be taken seriously as women, and as a result their literature would never have been able to be received without bias. Their dedication and perseverance is well portrayed, especially Charlotte who was rejected even when Emily and Anne received publication success.

Their relationship with their brother, Bramley, is a key contributor to the performances. You can see where Hindley comes from, in Emily’s Wuthering Heights, and why, in all their novels, there is a strong aversion to drink. I didn’t realise that writing was his passion and dream, and that part of why they remained so secretive for so long was to protect him. You can see their different styles of love: Anne, kind and soft, feels responsible. Emily, harsh, angry and honest, cannot walk past Bramley without trying to help him. Charlotte, logical and distant, cannot condone his behaviour but still mourns his loss. They all wanted him to recover, but his love of the drink overcame his will and desire to live.

I feel like I know the Bronte sisters much better now; that I can see more of them in their writing and understand more about the struggle that they had in getting published. If you’ve ever wondered about them as the people outside their novels, this is a must see programme.