Each year on International Women’s Day, one of William Golding’s most famous quotations is shared on social media:
‘I think women are foolish to pretend they are equal to men, they are far superior and always have been.’
Golding said this in response to a question about the lack of girls in Lord of the Flies. Although Golding chose not to include any girls in his first book, strong women characters feature throughout his other work. This is particularly true in his novella, ‘Clonk Clonk’, which features a society where women are far superior to their male counterparts. ‘Clonk Clonk’ is one of three stories collected in The Scorpion God, which was published in 1971.
Like The Inheritors, ‘Clonk Clonk’ takes us back thousands of years to a world of early humans. The society is divided into two groups of women and men, although they do have a connection. It is the women who are clearly superior to men – they carry out all the essential functions to ensure the peace and well-being of the group. The women are led by Palm who is able to understand the features of the natural world, manages the community and its resources and recognises potential dangers and conflicts. Through Palm’s diplomacy and compassion, ‘Clonk Clonk’ is a story that juxtaposes the violent struggle for (male) power in Lord of the Flies.
The importance and permanence of the women is represented through their names. All the women are named on birth by Palm, and they keep these same names throughout their lives. In contrast, the men’s names change depending on their attributes or failures; for example, the man originally known as Charging Elephant is renamed Chimp when ridiculed by the other men, and then becomes Water Paw/Wounded Leopard at the happy conclusion to the story. The men’s contribution to the community is through hunting, but the women are so successful in fishing and other foraging that this meat is not really needed at all. Thus, men are barely necessary for the group’s survival and they are also blissfully unaware that they have any part in the creation of children. In fact, when Palm reveals that she may be pregnant following sex with Chimp, he asks ‘What is that to do with me?’ Palm replies ‘Oh nothing, nothing, of course! The Sky Woman does it all by herself!’ Chimp tries to understand her, but he cannot.
‘Clonk Clonk’ is a funny and challenging novella, which demonstrates the power and ingenuity of women. Golding emphasises the importance of creativity in the story’s epigraph:
‘Song before speech
Verse before prose
Flute before blowpipe
Lyre before bow’
Here, Golding celebrates the strength of the women in this community and rejects the volatile behaviour associated with men. The novella urges the reader to consider unequal power structures in contemporary society, and delivers a striking alternative.