Our Polaris

Pushing forward into the burst

Of color and radiating beauty,

A somber reminder of how small we are.

And as the tires spin endlessly on axles,

Mimicking the Earth around the sun,

The city becomes our Polaris

And the night fills with endless possibilities…

These are the nights I live for

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Teacher’s Corner: The Allegory in Lord of the Flies

**originally published at thedreamcage.com**
http://www.thedreamcage.com/2017/03/book-get-lit-on-lit-lord-of-flies.html 

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By trade, I am a high school English and Film teacher and an adjunct college professor. I love the world of literature and especially the way we can look into a written work and really explore the structure and symbolism of each piece, finding beauty and truth in every line. Literature is a wonder in that there can be multiple interpretations for a work and yet, we can usually still arrive at a unified idea of what universal truth the author is trying to portray. I had been talking with my colleagues at The DreamCage and we thought it would be fun to have a little teacher’s corner where I can discuss whatever work I am reading with my students. I will focus on one major aspect of the work and then discuss what it means as a whole, to the work, and to humanity. Great literature, at its core, usually discusses one thing: the Human question—what human truth is being expressed in the work, what theme has the author developed over hundreds of pages, what idea did the writer NEED to express to the reader? This corner will be a place where we can discuss these things. If you want to join in, leave a comment requesting a work and I’ll see what I can do. I am going to try and keep this centered on famous works of literature (novels, short stories, poetry) so try to keep your ideas in that realm. I will warn you that spoilers will abound so if you haven’t read the work we are discussing, you may want to wait until after. Maybe we will establish a lovely little community to help us continue the #savetheculture movement or, maybe, you will learn something yourself. Either way, I look forward to writing these articles.

Last week in my freshman advanced class, we finished reading William Golding’s brilliant 1954 novel Lord of the Flies. Most of the class was spent pouring over the allegory that Golding presents. First of all, let’s approach the human question of the work: humanity is inherently violent and without society and civilization, we will eventually devolve into savages. The book details the events of what happens after a group of British Schoolboys crash-land on an uninhabited island and try to establish society with disastrous results. Golding wrote this work after experiencing the atrocities of World War II. Today, I think we will look at the use of boys and the allegory Golding created.

In this novel, Golding creates a microcosm (a small community or group which represents a larger group) by using a group of British Schoolboys to represent humanity. Each character represents a different aspect of humanity and as the story unfolds, we are treated to a front-row seat as these differences in personality clash and flare.

Ralph, the elected leader of the party represents leadership and moral strength. He becomes the elected chief of the island in the beginning and we are treated to the story mostly from a third person limited perspective focusing on Ralph.

Jack, the foil to Ralph, is the aggressive character who represents the savage instincts of man. He is the cause of the divide between the boys on the island and the instigator of most of the violence.

Piggy, the fat and unpopular boy, represents logic and intellect. While the other boys are strong and virile, it is Piggy’s mind which his real strength.

Simon, the frail and sensitive boy, represents human kindness and spirituality. He also becomes a sort-of unfulfilled or imperfect Christ figure.

Roger, the strongest and most aggressive of the older boys, represents pure violence. He is shown throughout the book to be violent and actually results in the first completely voluntary murder on the island.

The Littluns, the rest of the young boys who follow the older children, represent the masses. They are ignorant and scared and fall in line with whoever is strongest and most charismatic and so they represent the masses of people who follow their leaders.

 

These personalities all work together in the beginning, as they establish a community where some hunt, others help to keep the signal fire burning, and still others help to build shelters. As with most things that seem perfect, this construct does not last long. The ones who are tasked with building shelters abandon their posts and become lazy layabouts while the hunters are away all day and come back empty handed. Even those who were tasked with keeping the fire burning lose track of their job and miss the chance to signal a passing ship. The boys side originally with Ralph as he is the first to bring them together and seems to be the oldest and strongest of them. He speaks with logic and reason and it is appealing to all at first but as the months pass, the boys begin to defect and eventually Jack faces off with Ralph and starts his own group where, in the end, most of the boys end up. IN the end, the boys burn half of the island down, kill three children (either through ignorance, carelessness, or just plain murder) and are only under control again when a British soldier sees a fire and lands to investigate.

One major aspect of the allegory is the relationship between leadership and the masses. Ralph is initially the obvious choice for leader because he is older, stronger, and much more pragmatic, but once the littluns are treated to meat (caught by Jack) and experience fear in the shape of a beastie (something unseen that frightens most of the boys), they begin to follow that fear and it leads them to Jack’s side because he can “protect” them from the monster. In these exchanges between Jack and Ralph, we can see the way political parties argue and work to manipulate their audiences. Ralph continuously tries to talk to the boys logically, using reason to hopefully alleviate their fears and to continue to hope for rescue. Meanwhile, Jack’s priorities change as he becomes driven with the passion to hunt. He begins to talk about the beast as though it was real, even though they know it isn’t, and in doing so, he plays on the littluns fear that they are in danger. In doing so, they go to his side because he can protect them from harm.

There are multiple symbols which also appear in the book: Piggy’s glasses represent science and technology (they are used to start the fire), the signal fire (which represents the hope of rescue), the clothes and facepaint (which represent the ties to civilization, the Pig’s head (which represents the Devil and evil), and of course the Conch shell (which represents community and togetherness). All of these symbols are used to help propel the allegory forward. As the adherence to the Signal Fire dissipates, the boys are losing their want or need to be rescued and as they disregard their clothes and begin to pain their faces, they sever their ties to civilized life. The conch, which once brought them together, becomes faded and white, losing its power. Eventually, it is shattered and their community is lost completely.

Arguably the most powerful scene in the book revolves around Simon and his death. Many times throughout the book Simon goes into the woods and communes with nature in a very Christ-like way. He is sensitive and smart and the most logical of all the group. He even has moments of prophecy such as when he tells Ralph cryptically that Ralph will make it home (alluding heavily to the fact that Simon will not). He even says once, as the boys are panicking about the beast, that maybe the beast is them, inside of them, all of them. The telling scene comes when he goes into the woods and has an encounter with the Lord of the Flies (the pig’s head). Simon hallucinates a conversation where the head tells him that the boys are going to have fun and Simon had better not stand in the way of that. He faints and as he comes to, he climbs the mountain on the island to see what the beast really is (two boys and then Ralph and Jack went up to see the beast at night and thought they saw a monster). What he discovers is a dead parachute soldier. He runs to tell the boys what he has discovered in hopes that it will help to stop the fighting but as he emerges from the woods, the boys (who are in a frenzy of fear and excitement because of a burgeoning storm) attack him, mistaking him for the beast. They stab him repeatedly, killing him, and the ocean takes his body out to see.

As I stated before, Simon is an imperfect Christ figure because Christ’s death resulted in salvation whereas Simon’s death plunges the island into chaos. With kindness destroyed, Jack’s group steals Piggy’s glasses, hijacking technology. When Ralph and Piggy approach the group to get them back, Roger drops a boulder on Piggy, murdering him and killing intellect, which sends the island headlong into a murderous rampage. The novel ends with Ralph fleeing from the group of boys who have planned to kill him and put his head on a pike. It is only stopped when they are once again presented with society in the shape of an adult. The book’s last scene contains all of the boys crying while the soldier looks uncomfortably at his own war ship, raising a wonderful question about war and whether what adults are doing is any different than the savagery of the children.

Using boys instead of girls was a brilliant choice on Golding’s part, as boys are naturally more vicious and violent than girls (although teaching in a high school has really made me question that notion). This book as well as others of Golding’s led to his reception of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1983 for, “for his novels which, with the perspicuity of realistic narrative art and the diversity and universality of myth, illuminate the human condition in the world of today.” It is an incredibly important novel, bleak and sad and dark, and a perfect treatise on the human condition, especially our penchant for violence. It is one of those works that speaks volumes about the shortcomings of people and our propensity for manipulation and war.

Memory: Pressed Between the Pages of My Mind

The human brain is a conundrum. Memory operates under different titles; episodic, spatial, semantic, and factual. All of these things coincide and create connections in our mind, associations which, no matter the want or need to dispel them, forever exist as memory, or at least as long as our human brains can hold onto them.

Episodic memory allows you to track back through your history, a veritable autobiography of events. Spatial memory helps you align the size and placement of things within your past. You can remember the size of a table or the arrangement of furniture through spatial recognition. Semantic memory is the gooey goodness in the center of your grilled cheese-like mind. It helps you to put meaning and substance to otherwise abstract concepts and words. Lastly, factual memory deals with the basic facts of memory. You may remember an event such as a party or a confrontation. This simple memory is the factual portion, but any feelings associated with that would fall somewhere in the realm of the other three. These four concepts blend together to create a tapestry in our minds and like a big fish tale, a lot of the time we get things wrong.

It is a big word. Memory…

The connotation of that word brings to mind, redundant as that may be, sweeping images and swirls of emotion from bygone days. These emotions and images are usually tied together, strung along the infinite highway in our minds, with road signs which point to specific memories along the way.

I remember being eight and sitting in the back of my mother’s maroon Corsica, an area that was overpopulated by a grouchy sister, two years my senior, and my aging grandfather who would chuckle under his breath as we suffered in whispered arguments, trying to avoid the punishment which would surely come again from the front seat.

It was summer vacation, we were in Virginia, and the temperature had skyrocketed to a blistering 97 which doesn’t sound that horrible but in 1992, air conditioning wasn’t quite what it is now.  I had delved into a new novel; one that would eventually consume me for random periods throughout the course of my life.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

Still, to this day whenever I read it (or teach it), there is one associated memory which plays over and over in my head;  Michael W. Smith’s “Place in this World.”

Michael.W. Smith.

Can you believe that?

Somehow my mind draws together Dracula, a Victorian-era novel about female sexuality and gender role evolution and…a white-bread, adult-contemporary, Christian singer.

The song came on in the car on a continuous hour and fifteen minute loop so, on the long ride home to Ohio, as I sat in the back fully enthralled with my new book, I heard the song about ten times. In my eight year old mind, I connected the lyrics with the book.

I’m looking for a reason, roaming through the night to find my place in this world.
Not a lot to lean on, I need your light to help me find my place in this world.

As a child, I didn’t quite get the religious imagery in these lyrics. Instead, all I did was look at Dracula in a sympathetic light. All he wanted was a place in the world, and he lost his old life, his family, his love. Now that he had the ability to gain that again, and a foothold in a new culture, he just wanted to find and claim that place. In my young mind, I viewed Dracula as a sympathetic character; one where being a vampire was nothing but a tragic flaw.

When I read the book two years later, I saw that he was really just a monster. I mean, it’s pretty obvious, but at eight, I just couldn’t grasp that. Still, as I read the book time and again, the only thing I hear in my head is Michael W. Smith.

This doesn’t make any sense but it is forever engrained in my mind, like food poisoning and Kewpee.

Down that highway in my memory to another stop: Female trench coats.

Let that sink in for a moment. Female trench coats.

Whenever I see them, my mind obviously goes to X-Men, or more specifically, Gambit. He was the Cajun, sex-driven, rogue of the group. He wore a trench coat which was the epitome of cool when you are ten and Saturday morning brings you only gratuitous cartoon violence and mashed together life lessons against the backdrop of civil rights.

My mother had an olive green/brown trench coat, including those incredible, early 90s shoulder pads, and more pockets than anyone could ever need. Still, on Saturday mornings, I would strap that coat on, don gloves of which I had cut off the thumb, index, and pinky fingers, and grab a broom to fully become that Cajun badass.

He wore a leather trench, had fingerless gloves, and carried a staff. I had my mom’s poop green coat, butchered winter gloves, and a broom handle. I was so close I could taste it.

That’s memory for you though. You connect things together, objects and events which help to show you part of yourself. A lot of the time it is funny, but the association isn’t always pleasant.

Age eleven, I was a bullied kid who was beat up constantly, shoved into lockers in a never-ending, clichéd 80’s movie trend which would make up my life for the next two years, that is until I hit a growth spurt and outgrew the bullies. But at this age, I was miserable.

My parents had divorced months earlier, and although I was happy about the absence of constant fighting, I missed my dad. I wanted him there. I needed him there. Sadly, for that first year, I didn’t see him at all. Not once, not a phone call or a letter or a message. I blindly hung on to the idea that he was just busy while my now bitchy, mid-teens sister swore him off completely. I found out years later that dad was in Honduras, doing Black ops for the military. He never talks about it but I was told by people in his unit that it was rough for him, that he came back completely different.

The memory that sticks with me most is waiting patiently at the window for him to drive up. I think that in the back of my mind I knew that he wouldn’t, but at eleven, your dad is infallible and mine was no different.

To this day, every time I hear the old theme song for Monday night football, I go back to that time and it makes me sad, sometimes even tearing up. I remember waiting at the window in the living room, the TV on in the background as I stared out into the world for the patriarch of my family. He would be scheduled to show up at 4. The theme song to Monday Night football started like clockwork at 7 and when that happened, when I heard that sound, I knew that once again, he wasn’t coming.

That feeling of abandonment floods back before I can stuff it down because my mind keeps that wound fresh. I can’t remember any of the games or what played on the network before, but that sensation of disappointment has never left me.

Memories can bring us to our feet in reverence of the past or take us to our knees in overwhelming anger and disappointment. My memory from 2005-2010 is pretty much a blur. It is a scattered amalgam of night after night on tour. My band played all over the Midwest, three to six times a week and we drove everywhere.

I can’t quite pinpoint the exact nights but the memoires are fresh.

There is the night, in the backstage area of The Underground, a club in Ohio which was in the basement of an old wine distillery. The bar was amazing and the backstage area had couches, a computer, and some area to warm up. You would think that the shows were the most important part of these memories but it was always the time spent with my friends in between.

The computer in this instant had no filter. I cannot stress this enough. No filter, so as I was warming up my voice and tuning my guitars with the other guitarist, Matt, our drummer called us over to the desktop to stare at the screen. He was laughing to himself, almost hysterically, and he had something paused on the screen.

Dudes, you have to watch this. It will blow your mind.

We shuffled over behind him and he hit play and then the video horror in front of us began…soft serve ice cream. That’s what it was…

But it wasn’t…

It was “Two Girls, One Cup” and as that became apparent (I hadn’t seen it or even heard of it before), my lunch made a slight reappearance and burned my throat so harshly with stomach acid that I ad trouble hitting notes that night.

Another night, another city, another show. A toga party at a show, and I am draped in a blood red toga and nothing else. We walk in stage to the cheers of the two or three hundred people in attendance and I walk to the center. I scream “This is Sandusky” loudly into the microphone and then 300-Spartan kick the mic into the crowd. We were booted offstage and weren’t allowed to play until the very end.

Once again, don’t remember the shows, just the stupid things we did because although the shows were great and I loved every minute of playing, the emotional moments between my brothers and I were the most important.

The brain latches onto those emotional memories and drives the images home, forever to be kept in the vault of our subconscious. It may mix and match certain memories and add some flavor for the topping, but in the end it is nothing short of emotional importance that we remember.

WWF.

The World Wrestling Federation always reminds me of my great grandparents. I remember sitting on my grandfather’s lap as a very small child and watching WWF with my grandmother. These people were obsessed with wrestling and how real the melodrama playing out on screen was to them. I only have one real memory of my grandfather (he passed shortly after I turned five) and it is of watching Andre the Giant in the ring during a match with Big John Studd.

They were emphatically passionate about Andre. The big man was their child on screen and they loved him more than anything, possibly more than me, especially at this moment. Someone holds down Andre the giant and Big John shaves off his trademark hair.

The world exploded.

I’m on my grandpa’s lap and he starts screaming, his pipe still held between his teeth and spewing tobacco all over the place as he shook his head and shrieked, “THEY CAN’T DO THAT TO ANDRE THE GIANT!!!!” at the screen. My grandmother next to me, completely unhinged, is pulling at her hair and simply screaming unintelligibly, tears in her eyes.

I was young, too young to know what was going on, but I knew it was bad and Big John was not a nice man. This is the only vivid memory I have of my grandfather. I remember little snippets of him hugging me, giving me candy, things of that nature but the only discernable image I can muster in my mind is him screaming about pro wrestling.

That memory may or may not be accurate but to me, it is. It is what I think about every time I see a picture of my grandpa. It makes me smile, it makes me laugh, it bubbles with emotion, no matter the arbitrary event that it was. It is emotion, pure and simple.

Age 13, my father’s father dies. I am in the room. When I think back now, I remember only the Cincinnati Bengals. My grandpa was the only other Bengals fan in the family and so, as he choked on the cancer that would in a few hours take his life completely, he called me over to the hospital bed my family had set up in the living room of his house. I climbed up into bed with him and he smiled at me and lifted his blanket to reveal Bengals socks. He chuckled quietly and through choked, garbled breaths, said, ”You’re the only one left. Keep it strong.”

My mind gives me that so when I think about his dying scene, I remember something that we held so dearly and it makes me smile. And in return for this, when I think about the Bengals, I always remember him, not dying but healthy and screaming about how bad our team was always playing.

Smiles, tears, nostalgia. Our mind can store them all to bring out on a rainy day. I’ll see a picture of the WWF symbol and remember my great-grandparents; I watch the Bengals lose yet again and remember summers with my grandpa playing catch in the backyard; I hear the old Monday night football song and feel abandoned. These are the greatest moments and memories my mind can muster, depressing or happy and they have led me to become who I am because I am built by those memories.

This idea of identity through memory is not new. Think about an Alzheimer patient who goes through the experience of having those memories ripped away. Who are they now? They aren’t the same person you remember or grew up with and as the disease destroys piece after piece of their mind, they revert to who they used to be.

This reversion doesn’t destroy a person but it inherently destroys their relationships. Sons become husbands, daughters become cousins, mothers become girlfriends. It’s all very heartbreaking. Who are we without those relationships? They shape us into the person we are and through those memories we become an individual.

My grandmother went through this change. She approached it like an ice cream cone, positive at first but as things began to drip away, she became less enthralled and more bitter. Slowly I transformed from the dutiful grandson who would rollerblade (because we did that in 2003) to her house to visit into her son who never had enough time for her. My father, who didn’t look enough like his father, was wiped out completely. It got to a point where I couldn’t even see her anymore because she didn’t know who I was and became frightened that I would hurt her.

Unlike what Nicholas Sparks will tell you, Alzheimer’s is not a romantic event…it is world-shattering.

Memories are the oils we use on the canvas of our minds and although they can work in mysterious ways, they always leave us with some sort of feeling. It doesn’t matter the end game as the journey, cliché as it is, makes all the difference.

One more stop on the memory super highway. It is the moment I first felt as though I was truly important. It is the birth of my daughter, one of the happiest moments of my life, and what do I think of?

Ridley Scott’s Alien.

Dresden

It came in the night as all great destruction should:
Incendiary, yet arctic…
Incongruent.
Lighting up the night sky like Dresden.
Ancient architecture, beautiful in the sun,
Now razed by the power of A single moment.

There will be no reprieve;
This will burn for a lifetime.
And all I’m given is an empty apology
A treatise on my own failures…
And inside only one phrase echoes:

So it goes.

The View from my Desk

Cynicism is a dangerous ailment
Bent on destroying any hope of human compassion
And yet, I ascribe to this belief more emphatically than any other
Simply because I’ve lost sight of good people

It’s a vicious circle
A vacuous cycle
A spiral from which I may never recover
I wish I could go back to that person I was when I was younger.

Eddie Vedder said it best…
“So this is what it’s like to be an adult. If I only knew now what I knew then. ”

If only…

High School Philosophy

The sound of burgeoning hormones
The voices of a thousand libidos
The anger of a hundred displaced souls

That is high school

And when you look at it from the outside
It all seems so inconsequential
But for the kids…
It is life and death.

The difference is, for some of them
This is it.

Prom is the high point of their lives
And that last game…that is what will define who they are
and who they become

Small town life has its advantages but this…
This is not one of them.

The quarterback makes an amazing pass to win that final game…
30 years later and three beers in,
He sits in the parking lot of his high school
Going over the story again
Because that was his mecca, his ultimate achievement.
His nirvana

Everything else is background noise.

I see this and I cringe…I sigh
And I pity.

And then I do the same thing with my life
Because we are all really one fruit from the same tree
Just attached at different branches
So our flavor is slightly changed

In the end, we all want to recapture our high school selves
And instill the hindsight we’ve gained over the course of these years

Hindsight is what makes us human
And to some, hindsight can break us.

Nothing hurts more than trying look back
And realizing there is nothing to look for
Because your life was as empty then as it is now