In Lord of the Flies, William Golding suggests that the darkness in men’s hearts is endemic: all men suffer from it. Most of the boys follow Jack, Ralph and Simon, themselves. They are not consciously evil, yet they partake in activities that they know wrong and follow a leader they do not even like. They are like sheep led by a figurehead wolf puppet called Jack, who is manipulated by the real evildoer, Roger. However, Golding also suggests that some people, such as Simon and Ralph, are aware of the evil within and attempt to fight against it. Jack ultimately falls victim to his inner demons mainly through ignorance and by giving in to personal desire. Golding expresses that if a person were to be put in an environment where the rules of society had been stripped away, the person would revert to his primeval nature. Society keeps everybody sane and civilized; people need rules and principles to live by. Without rules and a moral compass, humans tend to revert to a pre-civilized culture.
People are so comfortable in the confines of a civilization that when those confines are removed, people turn into savages. Even in an uncivilized world, some taboos could not be broken. “Roger gathered a handful of stones and began to throw them. 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.” (Golding 64). The quote exemplifies the beginnings of Roger’s cruelty to the littluns. The cracks in the rule of humanity are beginning to develop, particularly in the willingness of the older boys to use physical force and violence to gain superiority over the younger boys. This quotation explains to the reader the psychological workings behind the beginnings of that evil willingness. Roger feels the urge to torment Henry, the littlun, by pelting him with stones, but the vestiges of socially imposed standards of behaviour are still too strong for him to give in completely to his savage urges.
At this point, Roger still feels constrained by “parents and school and policemen and the law”—the figures and institutions that enforce society’s moral code. Before long, Roger and most of the other boys lose their respect for these forces. Violence, torture, and murder, which are the instinct of the savage, replace the instinct for civilization among the group. Since there is no authority observing their behaviour, the children are left to do as they please. There is no structure or social compact to protect each individual from one another—the individual reverts to his true form of human nature, which is exposed throughout the book. Savagery starts like survival. The need to hunt, eat and overpower an animal and other humans to survive ends the big guns need for their own humanity. “His mind crowded with memories; memories of the knowledge that had come to them when they closed in on the struggling pig, the knowledge that they had outwitted a living thing, imposed their will upon it, taken away its life like a long, satisfying drink.” (Golding 76).
This quotation, also from Chapter 4, explores Jack’s mental state after killing his first pig, another milestone in the boys’ decline into savage behaviour. Jack exults in the kill and cannot think about anything else because his mind is “crowded with memories” of the hunt. He is now ready to control everything he touches. Golding explicitly connects Jack’s exhilaration with the feelings of power and superiority he experienced in killing the pig. Jack’s excitement stemmed not from pride at having found food and helped the group but from having “outwitted” another creature and imposed his will upon it. Earlier in the novel, Jack claims that hunting is important to provide meat for the group; now, it becomes clear that Jack’s obsession with hunting is due to the satisfaction it provides his primal instincts and has nothing to do with contributing to the common good. Jack and the boys are slowly losing their innocence. It was the beginning of their transformation into savagery.
Only when the rule of law is forced upon the boys again do they understand the prior downfall into a hell of their own makings. “There isn’t anyone to help you—only me. And I’m the Beast. . . . Fancy thinking the Beast was something you could hunt and kill!. . You knew, didn’t you? I’m part of you? Close, close, close! I’m the reason why it’s no go? Why are things the way they are?” (Golding 158). At the end of the novel, after the boys encounter the naval officer, an authoritative symbol of the former lives, who appears out of nowhere to save them, Ralph suddenly realizes that he is safe and will be returned to civilization. This plunges him into reflective despair. When the naval officer appears on the island, all the boys who were just moments earlier behaving savagely, come to a halt and suddenly return to their senses. This suggests that the appearance of the naval officer represents the return of both adult supervision and civilization. However, the rescue is not a moment of absolute joy, for Ralph realizes that, although he is saved from death on the island, he will never be the same.
He has lost his innocence and learned about the evil that lurks within all human beings. Here, Golding explicitly connects the sources of Ralph’s despair to two of the main themes of the novel: the end of innocence and the “darkness of man’s heart,” the presence of savage instincts are lurking within all human beings, even at the height of civilization. Golding expresses his argument that if a person were to be put in an environment where the rules of society were stripped away, the person would revert to his primeval nature. Society keeps everybody sane and civilized, and we need rules and principles by which to live. If people do not have rules and morals, humans will revert to a pre-civilized culture. Society is so comfortable with civilization when taken away; they turn into the “Beasts.” Golding, therefore, teaches the reader that civilization is what binds men together as a society, and without such, we would all be simply savages.
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