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Social class

The theme of social class, and its effects, appears in many of Golding’s novels, including ‘The Sea Trilogy’ and Lord of the Flies.

Rites of PassageClose QuartersFire Down Below

Edmund Talbot, the narrator of ‘The Sea Trilogy’ has a higher class status than the other passengers on the ship. Talbot has achieved this status through birth, but also through the patronage of his godfather. He is awarded several privileges on the ship, such as the freedom to approach the Captain, and a general sense of deference. This does come at a cost, however – Talbot is given the task of requesting items from the Captain on the passengers’ behalf, and becomes an unwilling participant in events on the ship.

The most significant event in Rites of Passage is the fall of Reverend Colley, and his social status is a catalyst for this fall. Lieutenant Summers tells Talbot that Colley ‘has stepped out of his station without any merit to support the elevation’ (133) and this partly explains why he is shunned on the ship. After his humiliation, Colley retreats to his bunk and Summers explains how it is Talbot’s duty to try to help him: ‘You have exercised the privileges of your position. I am asking you to shoulder its responsibilities’ (136). To Talbot’s credit, he attempts to rouse Colley from his depression, and is later called to be a witness in the investigation into his condition.

Talbot’s relationship with Summers is a clear demonstration of the inequalities of the British class system. Talbot thoughtlessly congratulates Summers on his ‘imitating to perfection the manners and speech of a somewhat higher station in life than the one you were born to’ (132). Summers finds it difficult to forget this insult and remarks, bitterly, ‘Class is the British language’ (132). Over the course of the trilogy, Talbot and Summers become good friends, despite Talbot’s ‘maddening superiority’, and Talbot tells Summers that he will try to get him a promotion. Despite a few wobbles, Talbot eventually makes good on that promise in Fire Down Below.

Lord of the Flies

The boys in Lord of the Flies are all, for the most part, of a similar social class. Piggy is the exception to this; his accent, indicated by ’em’, ‘an”, ‘yer’ among others, marks him out as different to the others. In a similar way to Reverend Colley, Piggy is bullied by the other members of the group because of his lower-class status. Unlike Colley, though, Piggy does not defer to any of the other boys. Instead, Piggy follows the rules of society, even what that society has irretrievably broken down.