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OpenLearn Live: 20th April 2016

Updated Wednesday 20th April 2016

The book that captured civilisation in collapse. Then more free learning through the day.

OpenLearn Live brings "free learning" into the heart of your world. This page will be updated across the day.

Yesterday, we met some genderqueer lions, explored Latin American science and went inside the Large Hadron Collider

See the complete collection of OpenLearn Live


Today's posts


BBC Radio 4, 4pm: Thinking Allowed

We're not quite done with politics yet, as today's BBC/OU co-production Thinking Allowed explores the question of whether the government should be trying to ensure we're happy. Also this week, Laurie and guests will consider what we mean by 'good' parenting - and if the idea of what constitutes 'good' is tied to class.


EU referendum

To round off this elective update, just a quick note to draw your attention to our hub gathering together everything you need to know about the EU referendum, from the economy to the question of migration.

Visit the referendum hub


Scotland elections

Next month, Scotland votes in a parliamentary election. Here's an update on how the campaign is progressing:

Don’t miss the monumental nature of what is about to happen. Nicola Sturgeon’s victory will represent the peak of a transformation in Scottish politics since 1999 that almost no one predicted – consolidation of the SNP majority of 2011. The Blair government designed a system that it was thought would prevent anyone from securing a majority. Instead of Westminster’s first-past-the-post system, the Scottish system included 56 seats from regional lists to offset some of the distribution of the 73 constituency seats. This was intended to make it more proportional, but only up to a point.

In the 2015 UK general election the SNP’s 50% share of the vote secured 56 of 59 MPs (95%). If the polls for the current election are right to indicate that the party can maintain that level of support in constituency votes, it could even secure a majority before the regional votes are counted. (One forecast predicts the SNP to get 56% or 72 of the seats, compared to Labour’s 32 and the Conservatives' 18. Others are a bit more upbeat about the Conservatives' hopes, while also playing up the Greens.)

Read the full article: Campaign snapshots


US elections

A quick burst of politics today... first up, we'll check in with last night's New York primaries in the US Presidential Election. Have they changed the race? Anthony Gaughan considers:

After her crushing victory in New York, Clinton is rapidly closing on the 2,383 delegates she needs to clinch the Democratic nomination. She now has about 1,900 delegates and leads Sanders by more than 600 delegates overall. Any way you look at it, New York was probably Sanders' last chance to block Clinton’s path to the nomination.

The Republican race is far more complicated. Trump leads his GOP rivals by more than 200 delegates and he is the only candidate who has a realistic chance of winning the 1,237 delegates necessary to clinch the nomination.

But it won’t be easy. Trump needs to win more than 55 percent of the remaining delegates to capture the nomination, which is a difficult task in a three-way GOP race.

Accordingly, the focus of the 2016 election has now turned to two crucial dates: April 26 and June 7.

Read the full article: New York minutes


Fifites forward: Lord Of The Flies

This week, we're celebrating some of the things created in the 1950s which are still enduring in the 2010s. Yesterday, we heard the tale of Bubble Wrap. Today, we're opening a book first published in 1954.

William Golding Creative commons image Icon Dutch National Archive under Creative Commons BY-SA 4.0 license William Golding

That other celebrated 'Lord of' novel, Lord Of The Rings, was coincidentally first published in the same year. The publication of Lord Of The Flies, though, was less of a sure thing than that of the already-celebrated Tolkein's work. As Golding's daughter, Judy Carver, told The Guardian last year, the book struggled to find a home:

"My earliest memory is not of the book itself but of a lot of parcels coming back and being sent off again very quickly. Of course, children are always very interested in parcels and I always wanted to know what was going on. The answers were never very explicit."

The parcels were the manuscript being sent off to publishers, coming back with rejection letters before being despatched again. "He must have been grief-stricken every time it returned," said Carver. As a Wiltshire schoolmaster, Golding did not have much money to spare. "Even paying for the postage was a commitment. He must have been fairly sure it was good."

Even when Faber & Faber decided to publish the book, they weren't entirely convinced everyone would love it. The company tried to hide the book from their celebrity advisor, T S Eliot:

 In his biography William Golding: The Man Who Wrote Lord of the Flies, John Carey recounts that [one of] Eliot’s friend[s] warned him, “Faber had published an unpleasant novel about small boys behaving unspeakably on a desert island.” In the end, Faber’s fears were unfounded: The poet loved Golding’s novel.

It's fair to say the book wasn't an overnight success. A limited original print run of 3,000 sold slowly, but an endorsement from EM Forster helped it find an audience. Forster would eventually contribute an introduction for later editions of the book:

Lord of the Flies is a very serious book which has to be introduced seriously. The danger of such an introduction is that it may suggest that the book is stodgy. It is not. It is written with taste and liveliness, the talk is natural, the descriptions of scenery enchanting. It is certainly not a comforting book. But it may help a few grownups to be less complacent and more compassionate, to support Ralph, respect Piggy, control Jack, and lighten a little the darkness of man's heart. At the present moment (if I may speak personally) it is respect for Piggy that seems needed most.

I do not find it in our leaders.

So the book became a success, and quickly found its way into classrooms.

Not all classrooms, though, as the book has suffered from a number of complaints and censorship. Some of this is based on the violence in book - as the castaway boys descend into anarchy, it's not a comfortable read. More awkwardly, the book has been challenged on its racism. At This Ain't Living, S. E. Smith attempts to unpick that charge. Partly, you have to remember, this was a novel written at the twilight of Imperial era Britain. But also:

The racism in the book is also not presented in a static form, as something we see the characters doing without comment. It is also something the characters comment on and engage with. As they start sharpening spears and making face paint, they discuss what they are doing with each other. They ask if maybe they should have drums to do it ‘right.’ They parrot what they have learned about ‘savages’ from the people and media around them; from the films and books they’ve encountered, from the attitudes of their own parents. Even as Lord of the Flies depicts what could superficially be read as a ‘descent into savagery,’ it also points out that these attitudes do not occur in a vacuum. Is it reinforcing the racism it depicts, or challenging it? I think there are a lot of ways to read it and there’s no one right answer, which can make for lively classroom discussion.

There's also a lack of female characters. This is something Golding himself attempted to address:

And while some schools - many schools - may choose to not allow students study the book, others embrace it.

The book has been adapted into twice into a movie, and adapted often for stage. It was behind the scenes at one of these stagings that - as the adaptor Nigel Williams records - Golding came face to face with the truth of his work:

He went backstage afterwards and said to the boys, "Did you like being little savages?" "Ye-e-eahhh!!" they shouted. "Ah," he said, "but you wouldn’t like to be savages all the time – would you now?" They looked, suddenly, like the boys in the story do when the adult comes to rescue them at the end – cowed and, indeed, awed by what the world might hold in store.

More from OpenLearn on literature

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