Golding wrote Lord of the Flies in an effort to express the horrors that he had seen in the second world war. He had come to realise the evil that one man could do to another. The book is full of events that show Golding’s ideas about human nature.
One of the ideas about man and evil that Golding tries to get across is that it is present in us as a result of our intelligence and knowledge, which give use the potential to do evil. The first time we come across this idea is on page 57. After accidentally causing a forest fire, it is said that “The knowledge and the awe made him savage.” (referring to Ralph as he looked down on the fire bellow him). The knowledge is the realisation of the destruction they have caused, and that it came about as a result of their actions. Although it was an accident, it was still the boys that caused it through their knowledge of science (Piggy’s glasses to magnify the sun and start the fire.)
A link to the above quote is how man currently often uses his intelligence to do evil. It seems that for every invention or concept, a way for it to kill or destroy is also discovered. For example, take the development of nuclear fission and fusion, which had great potential for the creation of power. It was used in a weapon of mass destruction, the likes of which had never been seen before. And to this day, research is still trying to find cheaper and more efficient ways of killing as many people as possible.
Piggy’s glasses (which become a symbol of science and common sense) are like the above example in that they were going to be used for good in making a signal fire in an attempt to be rescued, and to cook food. Instead, albeit accidentally, they caused the destruction of vast areas of jungle, and the supposed death of one boy. The glasses were also used by Jack’s tribe to burn Ralph out of his hiding place on page 239, resulting in the presumed complete destruction of the island. This was certainly not an accident and so it was a direct result of man’s capability and willingness to do evil and cause harm to his own kind.
The knowledge making Ralph savage can be related to the Garden of Eden and how Adam and Eve ate the apple which opened their minds to both good and evil. Before that, they could do no evil because they didn’t know of its existence. But once they became aware of it, they had the potential to do evil. The island is like the garden of Eden in that it at first appeared perfect and flawless in every way: “This is our island, it’s a good island. Until the grown-ups come and fetch us we’ll have fun.” (Ralph, page 45) But immediately after this is said, a littl’un introduces the possibility of a “beast” into the boys’ minds, on page 46. He describes it as a “snake-thing.” This is like the serpent in the Garden of Eden, waiting to pollute their minds. Another point at which “snakes” are seen is during the first forest fire:
In both instances, the snakes are not actually snakes. They are both a creation of the boy’s imagination. The forest fire that the boys accidentally started was the first act that could back up the idea that it is man’s intelligence that allows him to do evil.
So in summary, the quote “The knowledge and the awe made him savage.”
Probably the main idea about human evil is that it is within us all. It is not an external thing, it is inside us.
It is Simon who first thinks this may be the case. He tries to express this idea to the boys at a meeting.
“What I mean is…maybe it’s only us.” (Simon, page 111)
The other boys ridicule Simon for this. But he is the only one who has got the right idea on this subject. The following way in which Golding describes what Simon is trying to express is possibly the best way to describe the whole idea about human nature: “Mankind’s essential illness” Essential meaning ever present, in everyone. Illness, because it is a disease, something unwanted in us. Simon’s suggestion is echoed later on by Ralph: “I’m frightened. Of us. …” (Ralph, page 194) By this time Ralph has clearly accepted and agreed with what Simon said. Ralph said this after Simon had been murdered, so it was almost certainly this event that opened his eyes.
The most relevant section describing the internal beast is as follows. When Simon hallucinates about the Pig’s head on a stick (The Lord Of the Flies), he has an imaginary conversation with it. The LOTF says: “Fancy thinking the beast was something you could hunt and kill!” (Page 177) This means that Simon was right in his belief that there was no physical beast, that hunting and killing it would not solve their problems.
“You knew, didn’t you? I’m part of you? Close, close, close! I’m the reason why it’s no go? Why thing’s are what they are?” (LOTF, page 177)
This quote confirms that the beast is inside the boys. It says that it is the beast within the boys, their evil, that is making things how they are, referring to the break up and tension between the boys.
This is probably the most relevant quote by the LOTF. It means that wherever Simon goes, he cannot avoid the beast, be it from the other boys, or himself. There is no way to escape it. It is like trying to out-run your shadow.
“He wants to know what you’re going to do about the snake-thing.”
It is ironic that this littl’un, the first to fall prey to man’s imagination and fear and perhaps the first to subconsciously release the evil inside him and to let it affect him, is the littl’un who is killed by man’s actions in the forest fire. This is exactly like Simon, when he finds proof for the true meaning of the beast, and is then killed by the boys (page 188). Both Simon and the littl’un felt their inner beast, but the littl’un was too young to understand it, and they were both killed by their own discoveries.
The beast is, as Simon discovers, the way in which the evil in the boys expresses itself. It is an incarnation of the fear that was just waiting to emerge in the boys.
It was not just Simon and the littl’un who discovered man’s true nature:
So Ralph also accepted human nature, but it took him longer to do so. Innocence is often linked to ignorance (not necessarily in a bad way). So the end of innocence is how Ralph has been exposed to the answers and truths, he now possesses a knowledge of, and perhaps even an understanding of, the darkness of man’s heart.
2.“What are we? Humans? Or animals? Or Savages?” (Piggy, page 113)
3.“Because we aren’t savages.” (Ralph, page 212)
The first quote is definite statement that they are not savages. The second is question, showing that now maybe they are not so sure. Also, the order of creatures in the second quote has savages after animals. Maybe this means that the savages that the boys become are more primitive than animals. This is probably right. The last quote is a statement again. It is made by Ralph just before venturing out to demand Piggy’s glasses back. Ralph is referring to himself, Piggy, and Samneric, not Jack’s tribe, presumably.
At the end of the story, the naval officer who rescues the boys says:
This is a lot like the first of the three quotes listed above, saying that English, or British, people are better, and they are not savages. The reality, of course, is that all men can become savages, regardless of their nationality.
During the course of the story, and the boys’ time on the island, they clearly change drastically, both physically and mentally. It is as if the longer the boys are away from society, the more they change. Roger and Jack are seen to change a lot during the story, and the way in which they do so shows a lot about human nature and societies influence upon it.
Roger plays a pivotal role in the expression of evil in the story. We first meet Roger on page 29. He is described as “a slight, furtive boy whom no one knew, who kept to himself with an inner intensity of avoidance and secrecy.” Although I expect that Golding did not intend Roger’s description to be interpreted in the following way, I believe that it is relevant. The “intensity of inner avoidance” is like how the potential to do evil is within us all, but we are merely avoiding it, with a bit of help from society. It is said that war cannot be prevented, only postponed. I think that idea can be translated into this situation, that the evil cannot be destroyed, only temporarily controlled. It shows that Roger is holding the evil within him, successfully for now.
“Yet there was a space round Henry, perhaps six yards in diameter, into which he dare not throw. Here, invisible yet strong, was the taboo of the old life. Round the squatting child was the protection of parents and school and policemen and the law. Roger’s arm was conditioned by a society that knew nothing of him and lay in ruins.”
This is an idea that we see much more of in the book, about civilisation and society controlling the boys. Roger cannot actually throw stones directly at Henry, because he couldn’t and wouldn’t do that back at home. This is an important event because it is the basis from which we can measure just how much Roger changes, and how much society’s influence upon him weakens.
Ralph and Jack are scaling the mountain to investigate the beast, on page 148. When they say that it would be better for more than just two people to go, all the other boys run off. Except for Roger. Roger stays, and goes up the mountain with Ralph and Jack. The only other person who ever voluntarily goes up the mountain looking for beast, out of his own free will, is Simon. Simon goes up because he knows that there is no physically beast. He understands what the beast is and so he knows that there is nothing to be afraid of. Perhaps Roger too has some sort of deeper understanding of the beast and evil. It surely must be a different understanding than Simon’s. I think that Roger maybe understands the evil because he is such a major part of it. He understands it because he allows it roam free inside of him (this will become clearer later), whereas Simon successfully controls it as far as we see.
The next major part in which Roger is involved, happens on page 222. When Ralph, Piggy, and Samneric go to Jack’s tribe to demand Piggy’s glasses back, Roger begins to throw stones down at them, from the top of a cliff. Unlike when he throws to miss Henry, this time he aims at the boys. This is a good marker to show how he has changed. When throwing at Henry, the desire and capability was there, but he was prevented from hitting him by society’s conditioning. Now, over the course of his time on the island, that influence has been worn away, leaving him to do whatever he wishes.
The next thing Roger does confirms his evil. He levers a huge boulder off the cliff top, and down onto Piggy: “High overhead, Roger, with a sense of delirious abandonment, leaned all his weight on the lever.” This sense of delirious abandonment could only have been released without the restrictions of society once imposed upon him. The progression, or regression, from throwing stones to miss, to throwing stones directly at people, took a long time. But Roger suddenly, in the space of a few minutes, moves on to killing someone with a boulder. This massive leap demonstrates that once the process of bringing the evil to the surface is set in motion, there is no stopping it and it accelerates at an alarming rate.
A point worth mentioning here is that Roger was not the first to push a huge rock off a cliff. On page 36-37, when Ralph, Jack, and Simon climb the mountain to see if the island is in fact and island, they come across a boulder perched on the edge of a big drop. The push it off and it falls away into the jungle. At this stage the boys have been on the island for a day or so, and so the ties with society are still strong, but they cannot resist the thrill of causing the destruction. So even when society is controlling us, man has the urge to cause this destruction, usually to a lesser extent than if we are allowed to do as we please.
We see relatively little of Roger in the story, but what we do see is a fine example of what the story is all about, that without society, man will regress ever further, and once this transformation has begun, it cannot be easily stopped.
Jack probably demonstrates the exposure of human evil the best, because he appears a lot in the book, and so his activities are easily monitored. At first Jack appears just like any of the other boys, perhaps with a little more confidence, and he definitely wants to be a leader. This is clear straight away in that he has already been chosen as leader of the choir. The main aspect of Jack’s behaviour that best illustrates my opinion on human nature, is hunting pigs. When Ralph, Jack, and Simon climb up the mountain to see across the island, they come across a pig trapped in some vines. Jack draws his knife and raises his arm to kill it. But he can’t bring himself to do it: “The pause was only long enough for them to understand what an enormity the downward strike would be.” So Jack cannot kill a pig. Like Roger moving from throwing stones to miss, to killing someone with a boulder, Jack’s attitude to killing pigs, and indeed humans changes radically during the story.
“Jack was bent double….his nose only a few inches from the humid earth.” (page 61)
“Then, dog-like…on all fours” (page 61)
“less a hunter than a furtive thing, ape-like among the tangle of trees.” (page 62)
The descriptions likening Jack to an animal show the first signs of regression among the boys. The most relevant quote there is the one describing him as ape-like, because modern humans evolved from apes, and so regression would lead to acting more like apes.
Despite Jack’s attempts, he does not kill a pig. He is obsessed with hunting and killing a pig, after his previous embarrassing failure to do so, with Ralph and Simon. “From the pig-run came the quick, hard patter of hoofs, a castanet sound, seductive, maddening-the promise of meat.”
This desire is clearly overwhelming him. The desire to kill, and thus get meat, must surely stem from our days as primitive men, hunting for food. At this stage, Jack’s hunting is quite necessary, and so it can hardly be described as ‘evil’. However, the lack of available food on the island has driven him to hunting. This is one way in which the island’s way of life has influenced and changed him. It is a human instinct, forgotten by most with the dawn of agriculture. It appears that the protective cover of society has been ripped open already, revealing this ability to hunt. As we see, the evil within him will also be revealed.
The story ends with Ralph stumbling across a naval officer on the beach after being chased through the island by Jack’s tribe. It seems very convenient and improbable that the naval officer would rescue Ralph like that. But this ending has some points which are quite relevant.
When Jack’s tribe see the naval officer, they stop dead. Their evil intentions to kill Ralph were suddenly crushed and prevented by the presence of the Naval officer. One would therefore assume that the naval officer is a force of goodness, because he saved Ralph from Jack and his tribe. The truth is of course that Ralph was saved from Jack’s tribe, but he can never be saved from their master; the evil within them, and all men. The naval officer represents Britain’s war effort, their forces with which to kill people. So the naval officer himself is a direct representative of man’s evil.
The naval officer’s ignorance is shown when he says:
“I should have thought that a pack of British boys – You’re all British aren’t you? – would have been able to put up a better show than that – I mean–.” (page 248)
He criticises the boys’ actions, and says that being British, they should have done better. He is also British, and his actions in the war can hardly be commended. Of course he believes his cause is just and is the right thing to do, but then everyone believes that their cause is just. His job entails killing people and waging war, so it would be hypocritical for him to say that the boys are wrong to do it.
This essay being about Golding’s thoughts and ideas about human nature, it seems appropriate to include some of his actual thoughts. The quotes are taken from an article by Golding: What turns children into savages?
Two main ideas about how the evil came to be present within us are as follows:
“Are men and women born with cruelty as a deep component of their nature…Or does it make a truer picture if we imagine the new-born child as a blank slate upon which the harshness of experience soon prints indelible and frightening patterns.”
Either of these theories could be true, looking at Lord of the Flies. The boys are too old to still be blank slates, so either way, they bought the evil onto the island with them, be it from inheritance or acquisition.
Golding says that the “conditions” in which cruelty flourishes are chaos and fear. Both of these are very much present on the island. Fear is first to rear its ugly head. The natural feeling of fear in the dark (probably stemming from some ancient necessity to be wary of predators in the night, when our ancestors split from other apes and stopped being nocturnal) preys on a littl’un who claims to have seen a “snake-thing” at night. It is in fact a creeper hanging down from a tree. When the other boys are told of this, the fear instantly leaps onto them, and then there will always be doubt and fear for them all.
Chaos is present on the island in that the boys were used to the ordered society back home, with rules and regulations. They had a routine, and there was someone there to take care of problems. When they were cast out of this life and onto the island, there was nothing to keep them in check, no barriers or punishments. So in time, their old way of life faded from their minds and chaos ensued.
Golding says something quite relevant and interesting: “When people are afraid, they discover the violence within them and when they are afraid together they discover that the violence within them can be almost bottomless.”
This is how Jack’s tribe became so violent. If his tribe were split into its individual boys, each one would most likely not do too much harm, but when put together, they feed off each other’s evil, adding to their own. Being in a group also provides a sense of security and a means by which to spread out blame of what one member does. Another example of how the boys join into a group is how Jack and his hunters put on paint before hunting. This was not only for camouflage, but it gave them a sense of unity. While wearing the paint they became divided from the other boys, and therefore became closer to the other hunters. Dressing the same to indicate membership of a particular group is seen everyday in sports teams, gangs, schools, shop staff, military, and in many other groups.
The human mind holds many instincts and abilities acquired during our evolution, lost in time, made redundant and unnecessary by society and civilisation. Society pulled a cover over the mind, suppressing these parts of our nature. When in society, this cover generally holds up. But when alienated from society, the thin barrier will easily tear, exposing the murky contents within. As the crust of society crumbles, the mind is opened up to whole new world of possibilities and capabilities. No longer is it confined and restricted by rules and laws. It is free to do as it desires. At some point during this involuntary excavation of the mind, as the ancient contents are brought back into service, the deeper and darker parts become exposed. Somewhere lurking beneath all this is the all consuming, ever present evil that would otherwise lie dormant within us, exposing itself partially from time to time. Once it is released, it will consume the mind, there is no going back. Perhaps society may partially succeed in covering over the mind once more, but the cover cannot last for ever.
I believe that this underlying capability for evil was not created in humans at any one time. Instead it grew inside us, as our ancestors evolved tens of thousands of years ago. As it is said, with knowledge comes power, and with power comes great responsibility. So as humans became increasingly intelligent, the power grew. This power is the ability to do evil, to do harm to others, to destroy. Today, our growing knowledge magnifies our power and potential to do evil. Luckily for us, society’s morals are partially suppressing the abuse of power, for now: even those killing others in a war tend to have some morals and things that they would not do to another human being. Unfortunately, it appears that we as humans, cannot satisfy the third virtue of the previously mentioned saying. We certainly have the knowledge, and thus also the power. But it would appear that we have not yet developed the sense of responsibility that is a vital companion to the power. I believe that the responsibility is necessary in controlling our nature.
It is my belief that our downfall will be of our doing. Be it from environmental destruction, or through war. What other species voluntarily poisons their own habitat, or massacres hundreds upon thousands of their own kind, over trivial matters and revenge? The best way to express this is by the words which Simon could not find (page 111): “Mankind’s essential illness.”
There is surely no way to cure this illness, no magic antidote to cure our flawed species.
I think that it would be in the best interests of the Earth, and all it’s inhabitants, if our species were wiped out. This shouldn’t prove a problem to bring about, I expect that we will arrange for it ourselves.