An important theme in William Golding’s novel, ‘Lord of the Flies’ is that the fear, especially the fear of the unknown, is pervasive in mankind in such a way that even strong societies are too weak to protect their own people from the grasping power of it. In his novel, Golding illustrates this sense of fear that is found within every society and that can eventually lead to community or distress, disaster and human corruption. Let us first try and understand what is fear? Fear is a particular state of mind that can be originated either from a realistic circumstance or a sense of uncertainty. The fear of realistic origin could be resolved by removing the root cause with time and effort. But the fear of uncertainty has the strong grasping power to which any human may succumb, however strong he is. It has a seating effect on our subconscious which is very difficult to get rid of.
In this novel, this fear of uncertainty started off when a little one with a mulberry-coloured birthmark announced the existence of the beastie. “He says he saw the beastie, the snake-thing, and will it come back tonight?” “He says in the morning it turned into them things like ropes in the trees and hung in the branches.” Even though this first fear was neglected by most of the big ones, especially Jack and Ralph who kept on saying that no such thing existed, but it still left behind a feeling of unease especially among the little ones where there “was dubiety that required more than rational assurance.” As we go through the novel, we can see this increasingly affecting people and already starting to have a seating effect on their minds. Even though at the beginning Ralph and Jack tried to act like superheroes, they too soon found themselves trapped in their own fear of unknowns. But the major incident that turned this whole thing from insight to hysteria was when Jack, Ralph and Roger claimed they saw this beast.
“The beast had teeth and big, black eyes,” said Ralph. The lone character in the novel, Simon, going by his instinctive self, still believed that the monster didn’t exist even though Ralph, Jack and Roger claimed they had seen it with their own eyes. Towards the end of the novel, this fear of the unknown injected a feeling of uneasiness and scare into everyone. It now overpowered them so much, that they were prepared to do anything to kill it. When Simon actually found the true harmless beast, misfortune struck him, before the truth come to the fore, he was mistaken as the beast and was killed. By showing this fear of the unknown, Golding could be telling us that the fear creates inert weakness within every society.
Fear is the enemy of civilization; fear may lead to the superstition that prevents the construction and progress of a society. In order for a civilization to run smoothly, it needs to keep order and peace. In the novel, the destructive power of fear overpowered the boys that lead to the destruction of their own little society. To chase the unknown sometimes people ignore or even are scared to do the core activities required for their survival. In the novel, especially in Ralph’s society, they are even scared to go out and get food or do any hunting. We can see this when Ralph asks everyone, “Why shouldn’t we get our own meat?” The reply comes immediately. “We don’t want to go in the jungle.” The fear, especially when it has already overtaken the population also causes havoc and insecurity in the society, as people lose control of their minds. We can see this happening particularly when the people tried to fend off this sense of insecurity by chanting “Kill the beast! Cut his throat! Spill his blood!” When Simon was walking towards them in the darkness, they were completely overpowered by this chant and easily lost control of their heads by mistaking him as the beast and “leapt onto the beast, screamed, struck, bit, tore.”
In almost all religions, there is a fear of supernatural power. To help them overcome this fear, people sacrifice or provide something to keep these super-natural power happy. We can also see this kind of sacrifice made for an unknown superstitious power, in the novel. The Pig’s head was not only a sacrifice made in the novel but, was also a kind of reassurance to the people. To repel this fear, people tend to do something vicious. This viciousness can also be a reason why people slowly turn to savagery. Therefore, cutting a pig’s head and putting it on a stick also showed that savagery was slowly taking over overpopulation. The chanting and the vicious murder of Simon also show that savagery has already taken over. Golding clearly shows us that fear can not only create a certain disruption in society, it can also eventually lead to savagery. Fear can lead to insight or hysteria depending on what situation they are facing. When a person is constantly told about a certain beast, it eventually creates this seating effect in their minds and they start to picture it or have an insight into it.
This insight can be resulted in bad nightmares, especially for the little ones because they are always the first ones to get scared. We see this when Jack points out to the little ones, “Only Ralph says you scream at night. What does that mean but nightmares?” But, this bad insight starts to eventually devour the big ones as well. Jack also says, “Now they talk– not only the little’s but my hunters sometimes– talk of a thing, a dark thing, a beast, some sort of animal.” However, when this fear is actually proven to exist, it can turn into hysteria. People start losing their minds and their strong subconscious weakens. They don’t understand what the correct thing to do is, and the first thing that comes into their minds is getting rid of the fear or in the perspective of the novel, killing the beast. Golding shows this clearly when everyone starts chanting and then ends up mistaking Simon as the beast at night and without even thinking about it twice, they kill him viciously. This clearly illustrates that fear, once taken total control in the society can cause total chaos.
Fear can lead to corrupted leaders. When a leader dictator is overpowered by the democratic leader, he cannot do much to attract people to him. He needs something to motivate people. Fear leads to uncertainty in people’s minds, which in effect de-motivates the common man. This de-motivation can be cleverly imposed and utilized by ill-motivated dictators. These types of leaders can take advantage of the common man’s uncertainty or real-time perspective before they can fully realize or assess the situation. We can see this in the novel when Jack used fear as an advantage in his favour to take control of the situation. He promises everyone, “I’ll give you food and my hunters will protect you from the beast. Who will join my tribe?” It is almost every mans’ natural instinct to join Jack’s tribe. When these common men actually understand the underlying meaning or character of the leaders, it is already too late.
By this time dictatorship has already taken control. Anyone opposing it can be in genuine trouble. This could mean forcibly making them join their tribe, taking them in as prisoners or even killing them. Golding effectively deciphers this when only Piggy, Ralph and SamnEric were left in the tribe, after Jack’s proposal of joining his tribe. Piggy is actually killed, SamnEric is forcefully made to join the tribe and Ralph is hunted down, also to be killed. Anyone opposing this aspect of fear can also be in danger. We can see this when Simon, the bearer of the truth about the actual beast was mistaken as the beast and was killed. By showing these results of dictatorship and its consequences, Golding could essentially illustrate how life in world war two, where Hitler, a prototype character depicted through Jack, had taken over almost all of Europe just by capitalizing on this aspect of fear and uncertainty.
On the contrary, fear has also some indirect good effects on society. The fear on the island made the group come together as a community. The whole idea of this fear was communicated through assemblies. This was because Ralph resembles a typical democrat leader, always thought calling an assembly and having group discussion would help them overcome this fear. We can see this particularly when he called the assembly as he felt the group was falling apart because of this fear. “Things are breaking up. I don’t understand why. We began well then we were happy. But then people started getting frightened. We will get that straight. So, the last part, the bit we can all talk about, is kind of deciding on the fear.” During these assemblies they also listened to what everyone thought of it; even the little’s had their chance of sharing their thoughts.
For example, when a little one Phil claimed to everyone, “I was asleep when the twisty things were fighting and when they went away I was awake, and I saw something big and horrid moving in the trees.” They also decided to hunt the beast down together as a group. Even the chanting “Kill the beast! Cut his throat! Spill his blood!” made them unite themselves together. Therefore, Golding also tells us that fear can also play an important role in helping society by making the people even closer to each other. In conclusion, we can say that the bad effects of fear are so dangerous that they may destroy a whole society, create easier opportunities for a corrupted leader to take control or even create havoc, chaos and confusion in the society. On the other hand, fear also has its good side effect, as it can bring a group closer and help them to be united together.