'Context' within a work of literature can mean lots of different things:
Biographical context- what happened in the writer’s life when the story was written
Social context - what was happening in society at the time the story was written
Historical context- what world events were happening when the story was written
Literary context- what influence other texts have had on the story.
No matter which aspect of context you write about, you must link it to the text you're studying.
Demonstrating a good understanding of different types of context and why this is significant will enable you to obtain higher marks.
Golding believed in the darkness of the human soul and that human beings are ultimately corrupted. What could have happened in his life to make him feel this way?
Born in Cornwall in 1911, his father was a science teacher at Marlborough Grammar School where Golding and his older brother attended.
Golding’s father was a supporter of socialism, believing that all people are equal and should share in a country’s wealth. His mother, Mildred, was an active supporter of female suffrage, believing in women's equality and the right to vote. Both Golding’s parents, therefore, held controversial beliefs about class and gender for the time in which they lived.
After university, Golding worked as a teacher at a boys’ school. which may have influenced his presentation of the boys in “Lord of the Flies’. He reportedly set up conflicts between students, for example, once on a field trip, he split the class into two groups, one to attack and one to defend a historical site... and let them fight! This he called this ‘experimental science.’
With the outbreak of World War Two (WW2), Golding joined the Royal Navy and was involved in the sinking of the famous German battleship, the Bismark, in 1941and the D-day landings in 1944.
The landing craft he was commanding was the only one that survived out of 24, and he fought as an infantry soldier when the craft landed on the beach.
Golding’s experiences of WW2 had a profound influence on his world view. Perhaps the two factions of warring boys on the island in ‘Lord of the Flies’ may have been a reflection of his own wartime experience.
At the time Golding was living and writing, Britain was ruled by a strict class system. The upper-middle-class held the majority of the wealth and also political power.
The majority of the boys in ‘Lord of the Flies’ are from this ruling, upper-middle-class. Ralph’s father is “a commander in the Navy”, Jack is “lead chorister” and “head boy,” attending a fee-paying school.
Both boys are from the ‘ruling’ social class which is demonstrated by their use of upper class slang such as “wizzo.”
In contrast, Piggy’s aunt “runs a sweet shop” and he speaks with an accent. He's working-class in contrast to the others, and this might account for their dismissive attitude towards him, despite his intelligence and practicality. Snobbery directed towards working-class citizens was common at the time, and Golding may be criticising this and the entire class system through his positive presentation of Piggy.
During Golding’s lifetime, several totalitarian dictatorships took power in European countries.
Mussolini, an Italian dictator ruled with a fascist government from 1925 until 1943.
Stalin was the oppressive leader of the Soviet Union from 1929 until 1953 ruling by terror. Those who refused to cooperate with Stalin’s orders were executed or sent to the Gulags- forced labour camps.
Hitler became leader of Germany in 1933, and his rule led to the Holocaust, one of the most shocking instances of genocide in history.
These tyrannical leaders may have influenced Golding’s presentation of Jack’s leadership, in which anyone who goes against his rule is killed (like Piggy) or punished.
World War Two
World War 2 started in 1939 fought between the Allies (Great Britain, the USA, the Soviet Union and the free French) and the Axis powers (Germany, Italy and Japan).
The war between the two sets of boys in ‘Lord of the Flies’ may have reflected this. Golding joined up to serve in the Royal Navy during WW2 and his personal experiences of warfare may have been reflected in the violence of the boys’ behaviour towards each other.
In an interview he said, “When I was young before the war, before the War, I did have some airy-fairy views about man… but I went through the war and that changed me.”
In 1945, after WW2 had ended in Europe but fighting between the USA and Japan continued in the Pacific, the USA used the atom bomb, against Japan.
The bomb detonated over Hiroshima demolished 5 square miles of the city and killed 80,000 people instantly. Tens of thousands later died from exposure to radiation.
In Nagasaki, 40,000 people died on impact. These two instances of the use of the atomic bomb have been the only two in history.
However, the threat of nuclear war and the annihilation it would bring still exists, particularly in the 1950s when Golding was writing.
In Chapter One Piggy states, “Didn’t you hear what the pilot said? About the atom bomb?” suggesting that the war may be a nuclear conflict. Many critics believe the novel is about the breakdown of human civilisation after a nuclear war.
The Cold War was a period of political tension between 1947-1980s, primarily between the U.S.A and the Soviet Union.
Neither country officially declared war, but the threat was imminent and the rivalry between the two countries was expressed in many different ways.
Both countries were in a race to develop nuclear weapons, and the power of each respective nation was such that if nuclear war had ensued it would have had catastrophic worldwide destruction.
During the time that Golding was writing ‘Lord of the Flies,’ this may have been at the forefront of his mind, given Piggy’s reference to the “Atom Bomb”.
One of the main causes of the Cold War was the opposing ideologies of the two nations. These two conflicting philosophies may be seen in the two bands of boys on the island.
‘Lord of the Flies’ is set on a tropical island, probably in the South Pacific.
This idealised setting may have been drawn from the literature popular among children of Golding’s time and before. The famous stories ‘Robinson Crusoe’ and ‘Treasure Island’ are adventure stories and both take place in similar settings. The boys mention “Swallows and Amazons’ during their early days on the island, a novel in which four young siblings survive on their own.
Perhaps the greatest influence was a much earlier children’s story, ‘Coral Island’ by R.M. Ballantyne, this is also mentioned in 'Lord of the Flies' in the first assembly when Ralph is trying to motivate the survivors he says “It’s like a book” and the other boys shout back “Treasure Island…Swallows and Amazons…Coral Island.”
At the end of the novel, the Naval Officer who appears to rescue the boys says “Jolly good shown. Like the Coral Island.”
Interestingly two of the characters’ names from 'Coral Island', Ralph, Jack appear in 'Lord of the Flies'. Unlike 'Lord of the Flies' the boys have a happy adventure, establishing a community and ending war between two tribes.
Through 'Lord of the Flies' Golding presented the opposite scenario, leading a critic to claim that “in Lord of the Flies [Golding] had written Coral Island in reverse.”
You should always refer to your own text when working through these examples. These quotations are for reference only.