Chaos And Authority In Lord Of The Flies By William Golding

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Authority and chaos seem like polar opposites. When people think of absolute authority, they often picture Stalin’s firm grip, or big brothers’ ever-watching eye, keeping people in lockstep, people checking their own language in order to stay safe. Chaos seems incompatible with this extreme conformity; it doesn’t seem possible to “keep people in lockstep” without hindering the unpredictable and apparently unmasterable nature of chaos. In reading Lord of the Flies, however, we see a microcosm of society as a whole and, by extension, a microcosm of the relationship between chaos and authority. In this, we see that true authority can only arise from chaos, not by taking advantage of a power vacuum and installing order, but by directly living off it, both feeding each other into perpetuity.

It’s impossible to read Lord of the Flies without seeing it through its historical context, that of WWII. It’s well known that the purpose of this book is to show how every society is capable of what the Nazis did, by drawing parallels of Nazi practices in struggles that anyone could relate to if put in the situation of the kids. Because of this, while I can draw parallels from any regime, the US, the USSR, Britain, etc, I choose to look most closely at the parallels between the themes of this book and the Nazi regime, not just because the writer kept the regime in mind in his writing, but because the Nazi’s embody this in the most explicit fashion.

In a cursory reading of the book, most would see Ralph and Piggie as the good guys, from the famous quote “Ralph wept for the end of innocence, the darkness of man’s heart, and the fall through the air of the true, wise friend called piggy.” The obvious reading of this quote is explaining the fall into chaos; man retreating into savagery. However, I want to read into this quote, I think, along with this meaning, the quote has a sarcastic message to it, a cynical message at the expense of Ralph and piggy. Ralph symbolizes civility and, in this case, is parallel to the Weimar Republic. When understanding this, you can see the sarcasm in this quote. Piggy, symbolizing intellectuals, never attempted to relate to the others, he never made a sincere attempt to clarify why he believes what he does and why the others are wrong. Superstition, as we’ll explore later, comes from a grain of truth. The kids fear the beast, not because there really is one, but because the unpredictable nature of the forest poses a real threat to the children, one that needs to be taken seriously. When piggy immediately shoots their concerns down, he does it in a fashion they couldn’t understand or relate to, pushing them further to Jack. Jack, however, synthesizes the fears of the kids in a way that is clear and understandable, allowing him to erode the order of Ralph, producing chaos. “The greatest ideas are the simplest”. The civility of Ralph and piggy is the fertile land that allows the chaos and authority of Jack to grow.

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Piggie’s glasses represent objective truth, the monster represents fear or irrationality. In a cursory reading, you’d conclude that Piggie’s glasses are on the side of him and Ralph, after all, it is his glasses and Jack did smash it. I disagree, I think the glasses, like truth, don’t take sides, it depends on how it’s used. Both Jack and Piggy want control over the glasses, because of their capability to produce fire. Taking the glasses is both sides attempting to take control over the narrative, in that they’re attempting to assert their own interpretation over objective truth. Order is no more correct than chaos, in any objective sense. The seizure of the glasses symbolizes how opportunists would take advantage of the subjectivity of truth. When Jack breaks the glasses, it isn’t on purpose. This shows that Jack doesn’t aim to disregard the truth, but just to assert his own truth. The abandonment of truth, or the breaking of the glasses, isn’t the direct aim of irrationality, but an indirect byproduct. The best quote that ties up this idea of the subjectivity of truth is this, “If a face is different depending on the angle it’s lit, what is a face, what is anything.” For parallels to our world, the beast would symbolize the anti-Semitism of the Nazis. The root concerns of the German people that lead them to anti-Semitism are valid, in that the way that global finance is structured was by punishing innocent people. The beast, anti-Semitism, is the irrational interpretation of this objective truth. The liberals, while technically correct in that “international Jewry” was false, went about this by dismissing, not only the obvious falsehood but also dismissing the concerns that bred this falsity, which lead to their eventual downfall.

So how does this all relate to chaos and order? I know, up until now, it seems like I’ve gone off track, but bear with me, the subjectivity of truth is crucial in understanding the relationship of authority and chaos because it shows how the rhetoric of both feeds into each other. True chaos isn’t the absence of rulers, such equality would be impossible in a chaotic environment. True chaos is the rule of might, the subjugation of the weak by the strong. When looking at it from this angle, the chaos and authority of Jack and Hitler are obvious. Jack sold his brand of truth wrapped in a kind of primitive machoism, the idea that order is making them weak and hindering their potential strength. In this, when they abandon the order and resort to chaos, his view of strength and domination is fully realized. Jack, much like Hitler, preached the abandonment of order so their followers can take solace in a romantic authority, one where they both dominate and look up to a strong leader. This kind of authority that is born out of a wish to leave restriction, in reality, only strengthens it. But at no point did Jack, or Hitler for that matter, betray his devotion to chaos. This is my main point, authority isn’t taking advantage of a power vacuum to replace it with a new, more oppressive, order, authority is the power vacuum. Chaos isn’t betrayed by authority, they feed into each other. You can’t have the subjugation of the weak without the strength of authority, and without the lawlessness of chaos. They are both intrinsic to each other.

The dichotomy of chaos and order, of control and lawlessness, is ultimately a false one. Control, in its highest form, is found in lawlessness. The objective truth wasn’t on the side of either but was instead adopted by both sides. The subjective truth of Jack was a romanization of authority, as well as a condemnation of order. The subjectivity of truth is crucial in understanding the relationship of authority and chaos because it shows how the rhetoric of both feed into each other. They both lead to the same end result, tyranny.

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Chaos And Authority In Lord Of The Flies By William Golding. (2021, September 01). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 1, 2022, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/chaos-and-authority-in-lord-of-the-flies-by-william-golding/
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Chaos And Authority In Lord Of The Flies By William Golding [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2021 Sept 01 [cited 2022 Jul 1]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/chaos-and-authority-in-lord-of-the-flies-by-william-golding/
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