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ISSN: 0974-892X


January, 2013



Chandra N.

Exploring Innocence/Experience: A Comparative Study of Golding’s Lord of the Flies and Theroux’s The Mosquito Coast

Search for lost innocence leads humanity into idyllic world. If innocence is once lost it cannot be regained. Jealousy, pride, possession and wealth make one to think over to become the dictator. This conspiracy makes one to forget the nature of human qualities. The harsh reality is that search for innocence would lead to death of humanity. Here, William Golding in his novel, Lord of the Flies and Paul Theroux in his novel, The Mosquito Coast, search for that innocent world. In the end of their search, they fail in finding it. Golding and Theroux, portray the adult society as an agent of war. Golding, states in the review of Grahame Clarke’s World Prehistory (1961) about the time when he has been an infant,
I remember my mother once confiding to me that her awareness of the world as an exhilarating but risky place dated from the day on which she heard that the Ttitanic had sunk. She could not say why. She only knew that the years before that had been sunny and placid, while the years that came after seemed by nature full of storm. (Magill 729)
This is after mid-April 1912 and it becomes his theme of the novel Lord of the Flies.

The dictators, Jack Merediew in Lord of the Flies and Allie Fox in The Mosquito Coast, play the role dictatorships and they practice irrational democracy. Under them, others struggle hard to get away from the clutches of the autocrat rule. Ralph, in Lord of the Flies and Charlie, in The Mosquito Coast are the symbols for humanity, who never lost their human nature and end autocracy.

In Lord of the Flies, the incident happens accidentally. During wartime, in England, an atomic explosion has made the adults in that aircraft put all the boys in a detachable passenger tube. That is how the children are landed on an island. Some boys are scared and start crying. Ralph, Jack and Simon plan to check whether any human beings are there. They conclude that they are the only human beings on that island. At first, the boys enjoy the freedom, because no parent is there to give them restrictions.

The coast in The Mosquito Coast is also an isolated place like the island in Lord of the Flies. However, here the contrast is Allie Fox himself chooses this place to live. He wants to get rid off the war-polluted-American civilized society. The captain in the ship describes and warns about the Mosquito Jungle,
Some people there have never seen a white man or know what a wheel is. …If they want to eat, they just climb a tree and grab a coconut. They can live for nothing. Everything they need is right here – free. Most of them don’t wear any clothes. (Theroux 83)
Even though this description is thunder striking, the family has hope on Fox. The captain of the ship also warns that the coast is a living place only for savages.

In The Mosquito Coast, when the ship moves away from the coast, Charlie, Fox’s elder son wants to get rid off from that place. The appearance of mosquitoes and other insects seems to be very strange,
It was not an easy life first weeks in Jeronimo. It was no coconut kingdom – of free food and grass huts and sunny days, under the bam, under the boo. Wilderness was ugly and unusable, and where were the dangerous animals? There are something stubborn about jungle trees, the way they crowded each other and gave us no shade. (Theroux 144)
For safety, Fox has made the shelter in underground so that no insect would harm them.

In Lord of the Flies, Ralph views the reality that the island is not meant for innocence and he wants to be rescued. Besides this, Jack without knowing what innocence is, goes deep into the island. Their view on the island is ironical at first,
“But this is a good island. We – Jack, Simon and me – we climbed the mountain. It’s wizard. There’s food and drink, and –”
“Rocks –”
“Blue flowers –”
Ralph waves the conch.
“This is our island. It’s a good island. Until the grown-ups come to fetch us we’ll have fun” (46).
Jack searches innocence by going deep into the island where only darkness remains. Jack tries to get into that whereas Ralph wants to come out of that, “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 – started forward, then changed his mind and stood still” (248). Thus the description of Ralph is viewed, “And in the middle of them, with filthy body, matted hair, and unwiped nose, Ralph wept for the end of innocence, the darkness of man’s heart, and the fall through the air of the true, wise friend called Piggy”.

In The Mosquito Coast, though many savages live on the island, Fox is the ancestor because he guides the savages. The coast is also called as Eden because there is no war or crime. Therefore, he thinks that the coast is a good place for them to lead a peaceful life. Fox tries to get into the uncivilized life, but he goes towards the darkness of human heart. Fox tortures his family by forcibly keeping them along with him on the isolated island. At last, Charlie and other family members escape from that coast. Thus the innocence is lost on the coast itself and others move towards reality, “The world was all right, no better or worse than we had left lit – though after what Father had told us, what we saw was like splendor. It was glorious even here, in this old toxical with the radio playing” (374).

Rationality of Ralph, in Lord of the Flies, seeks some help from the ship that passes by the island. Jack shows his hunting skills by killing many pigs, and goes beyond being rational. The fire kept for the signal to ships is caught over the forest and the whole island catches fire and the Nature is destructed at last. On the coast, it is flood and fire, which demolishes the whole cabin of Fox. Fox also teaches the savages how to cultivate vegetables. This is also a form of nurturing Nature. So in both the novels authors try to find out a Garden of Eden within isolated setting and do not attain their goal. Instead of finding Eden, they destroy the originality of that place itself.

In Lord of the Flies, Ralph though wants to be the Chief of the island, wants to get out of it too. However, in Jack’s case, he wants to be the owner of the island. Here, confusion exists among other children to choose their leader, Ralph or Jack,
“Let him be chief with the trumpet-thing.”
Ralph raised a hand for silence.
“All right. Who wants Jack for chief?”
With dreary obedience the choir raised their hands.
“Who wants me?”
Every hand outside the choir except Piggy’s was raised immediately. Then Piggy, too, raised his hand grudgingly into the air.
Ralph counted.
“I’m chief then.” (30)

In The Mosquito Coast, the children have to follow the words of Fox. Charlie firmly believes his father. To the captain he replies, “My father will know what to do” (83). Fox wants to show his power to others by achieving supremacy. In the ship, he wants to show his son’s courage, so he asks Charlie to climb on the stings of the ship, which might even lead to Charlie’s death, “Any fool can climb a ladder…” (86). Charlie cannot tell his father that he is afraid of that risky job. Fox does not care for anything but expects others to do things, as a commander-in-chief,
I said, “My foot hurts.”
“Use your hands.”
In a whisper, I said, “Dad, I’m afraid.”
“Then you’ll have to do it” he said, “because doing it is the one way of not being afraid of it.” (86).
The captain and other people are scared of Charlie’s action and shout at Fox; even then he does not bother their warnings or shouts.

In Lord of the Flies, the drama starts when a ship moves away from the island and the fire is put out at that time. Ralph wants to be rescued from the place first, whereas to Jack it is waste of time to keep the fire and for hunting the number of boys would be decreased if some boys are assigned to watch the fire. They try to attract boys to their sides to work out their plans. Ralph asks,
“How everyone was going to work hard until the shelters were finished?”
“Except me and my hunters-”
“Except the hunters. Well the littluns are –”
He gesticulated, sought for a word.
“They’re hopeless. The older ones aren’t much better. D’you see? All day I’ve been working with Simon. None else. They’re bathing, or eating, or playing.” (64)
As the comrades, they expect the tireless people to achieve the target. They forget that the children cannot work continuously. Here their attitudes towards other children are like the attitude of Satan towards his followers.

The same treatment is seen in The Mosquito Coast. Fox never shows affection to his children. When Fox goes to meet a tribe on the mountain hill to conquer that area, he accompanies with his sons Charlie and Jerry and some savages. Jerry could not walk fast and Fox does not excuse him to take rest.
Jerry was hot-faced and blush-blotched and damp from the heat. His hands were dirty and his skinny legs were clawed from the brambles that grew beside the path. I told him I would run ahead and ask Father. I felt sorry for Jerry, but I wanted a rest too.
“Jerry wants to stop.” I said, “He’s tired.”
“He says he’s tired.” (207)
But when Fox feels tired he would take rest as if he is taking rest for the sake of others. The same trauma occurs in Lord of the Flies when nobody is ready to understand the stamina of the children. They are compelled to follow the words of Ralph or Jack and to work without rest, 
“Let’s stay here-”
“Back to the shelter-”
“I’m tired-”
Ralph struck the skin off his knuckles. They did not seem to hurt.
“I’m chief. We’ve got to make certain. Can’t you see the mountain? There’s no signal showing. There may be a ship out there. Are you all off your rockers?” (134)
Here Ralph tries to cover the children by his power. He is ready to warn them, when they show some hesitation to work.

Fox, in The Mosquito Coast, treats his family members as the pupils of his comradeship. He is strict to keep their family members under control. Even when the hut of Fox starts floating, he does not realise the danger of the place and the seriousness to go back to America,
“Nothing to pack,” Father said. “Nowhere to go.”
“There’s Brewer’s village. Mr. Haddy said-”
“Figgy is busy dying. They all are, except us.” He had taken a shovel and was mucking out the furrows and replanting the stringy shoots. He saw us watching him and said, “Stick with me, people, or you’ll die, too.”
Jerry knelt down and said, “I hate him.” (308)
This gradually leads Jerry to kill Fox. Fox’s wife is affectionate to their children and so she is ready to get into the muddy water to get the lost shear pin of the hut-boat,
Mother said, “No, I won’t let those boys go in there.”
“Listen to me,” Father said. “It’s not a question of what you want. It’s what I want, I’m captain of this ship, and those are my orders. Anyone who disobeys them goes ashore. Your lives are in my hands. I’ll maroon you-all of you.” (326).
After that, Charlie and Jerry go into the muddy water risking their lives. Fox has no sympathy; only he needs the company of his wife. When she wants to search the shear pin, he does not allow her to go and he himself tries to find it out,
“He’s tired. Allie.”
“He can rest after he’s found our propeller.”
Mother said, “Let me go.”
Father said, “What if you drown?”
“What if Jerry drowns?”
She said it in a slow suffocated way.
Father scratched his beard with his knuckles. He said, “I need you here, Mother.” (327)
Fox has courage and strength to search the shear pin in the flood. However, he simply asks his children to do it.

In Lord of the Flies, the same temperament is seen in Jack’s case too. The group of children is divided into two. Jack does not want to obey the chief, Ralph and asks the other children to join him to hunt pigs. According to him ‘fire,’ ‘smoke’ and ‘rescue’ are no use and the only things he wants to do is to hunt and to dance. Therefore, he tempts the small boys with the taste of meat. The small boys are afraid of Jack than they are afraid of Ralph and thus Piggy’s emotional words fail to get back them to Ralph, “Which is better, law and rescue, or hunting and breaking things up?” (222). Piggy is beaten to death and Ralph is left alone to face the situation. Killing pigs gives pleasure to Jack,
“Kill the beast!” Cut his throat! Spill his blood!”
Now out of the terror rose another desire, thick, urgent, blind.
“Kill the beast! Cut his throat! Spill the blood!” (188).
When he collects all the boys to his side, the human nature of vengeance comes to him. He wants to kill Ralph just because he is the ‘ex-chief’ and to shout happily, “I’m chief!” (223). In The Mosquito Coast, Fox shows his thirst for supremacy. When a white man comes to the Mosquito Coast, he is afraid of him because he doubts that the new white man would conquer the coast, yet claims that, “I’ll be the mayor.” (112)

In both the novels, the children feel homesickness. Sometimes they get harsh replies when they express their wishes to go back to home: “I wish we could go home.” (Golding 182). “They cried for their mothers much less often than might have been expected; they were very brown, and filthily dirty” (74). In The Mosquito Coast, the children cry to go to home, yet they are scared of their father. In Lord of the Flies, the children are scared of reality; they get fruits to eat, but have no shelter. Even though they play and enjoy their own time, they feel homesickness. Simon and Piggy doubt about the existence of the beast on the island, “‘Course there isn’t a beast in the forest. How could there be? What would a beast eat?” (Golding 104). Darkness, in Lord of the Flies, and the imaginary beasts make them to fear,
“We ran as fast as we could-”
“Bashed into things-”
“The beast followed us-”
“I saw it slinking behind the trees-”
“Nearly touched me-”
Ralph pointed fearfully at Eric’s face, which was striped with scars where the bushes had torn him. (Golding 124)
“It was dark. There was that – that bloody dance. There was lightning and thunder and rain. We was scared!”
“I wasn’t scared,” said Ralph slowly, “I was – I don’t know what I was.”
“We was scared!” said Piggy excitedly. (193).
The death of Simon and Piggy hurts Ralph that he has to face the critical situation alone. In The Mosquito Coast, Jerry supports Charlie and they stay with their Mother, which gives them more comfort.

The Fox’s family, in The Mosquito Coast, floats on the water and struggles for life, likewise, Ralph, in Lord of the Flies, struggles for life. The fear of Ralph is pains giving one,
Ralph screamed a scream of fright and anger and desperation. His legs straightened, the screams became continuous and foaming. He then forward, burst the thicket was in the open, screaming, snarling, bloody. (245)
In Charlie’s case, the situation leads him to become mature. He refers to his life, as “a dog’s life.” In The Mosquito Coast, when Charlie comes to know that America is nearby he attempts to escape.

Violence is seen in both the novels and it leads to disaster as well as wilderness. Severe experiences have made them to become intellectual adults. The nature of the island and the coast is changed at the end, during their departure. Dramas in both the novels are that the leaders want to be the monarch of the place and for that; they are ready to sacrifice even the lives of other children. The harshness of the irrational human being starts here itself. In both the novels, the human drama is performed for the children, to get into their adulthood stages. Therefore, Ralph, in Lord of the Flies, gets experience and maturity whereas others remain as savages. Charlie, in The Mosquito Coast, with the support of Jerry, attains maturity. In both the novels humanity falls into the idyllic world considering it as the Garden of Eden, but that world turns out to be a Hell. Yet they try to conquer the place which leads them to disaster. Thinking of Edenic world itself is considered as a sin and thus the fall of man happens; then humanity rises from the fall after many difficulties. In Lord of the Flies, killing Piggy resembles the death of humanity but in contrast to that, Fox, in The Mosquito Coast, is killed and his children are rescued. Nevertheless, in Lord of the Flies only Ralph could escape from that place.

Golding and Theroux try to build a society like Eden, where there is no sin or crime is committed. The later realize that it is impossible to get away from the real world. Though they want to deviate from the modern life, they come closer to it. They still follow the civilized life style by taking bath and trying to cultivate vegetables and other food crops, “We’ve got to have rules and obey them. After all we’re not savages” (Golding 55). While describing their imaginary worlds, the authors also depict the real world. Simon has a separate place, where he tries to find out the reality. In the same way, Charlie and the other children, in The Mosquito Coast, have a separate place called ‘Acre’ where they start worshipping Jesus Christ, which Fox does not like. The contrast here is ‘the jungle’ in Lord of the Flies, kills the innocent Simon, but the ‘Acre’ saves Fox when the whole family is in critical situation. The contrastive point is Fox is against Christianity. In both the novels, the children have undergone suffering by the Satans, Jack and Fox. Their fall into the lonely islands make them to change that strange worlds into idyllic worlds.

Fox, in The Mosquito Coast, stands for sin by bringing his family members into the idyllic world. As an anti-Christian, he falls into the idyllic world and pretends as if he has searched innocence. When he comes to know that he is in the idyllic world, he cannot escape from that. With the same belief in Christianity, the authors lead others into reality, where he kills Fox, because he is an anti-Christian. In Lord of the Flies, the death of Simon and Piggy also symbolizes the death of innocence. Both the novelists, comes to the conclusion that search for innocence would lead only to disaster even if humanity believes in religion or not. They try to bring out the views that how humanity would change if it falls into a strange place. To Theroux, with many difficulties after the death of wildness, humanity would be rescued. However, to Golding, humanity would be rescued but by facing too many risks. So in Golding’s case, fall of man would realize the fact that humanity would be rescued and in Theroux’s case, after death of irrational beings, humanity can rise from its fall. In both the novels, humanity destructs ‘innocence of the idyllic world’ by searching ‘innocence of the real world’.




Golding, William. Lord of the Flies. Calcutta: Oxford University Press, 1954. Print.

Kinkead-Weekes, Mark. William Golding: A Critical Study. London: Faber and Faber, 1967. Print.

Magill, N. Frank. Critical Survey of Poetry. New Jersey: Salem Press, 1992. Print.

Rao, V.V. Subba. William Golding: A Study. Bangalore: Sterling Publishers Pvt. Ltd., 1980. Print.

Theroux, Paul. The Mosquito Coast. New York: Avnon Publishers, 1982. Print.

Whitley, John S. Golding: Lord of the Flies. London: Edward Arnold Publishers Ltd., 1970. Print.