The literary masterpiece of William Golding, Lord of the Flies, gives a deep insight into human nature, unrestricted by the conventions of a civil society. Golding suggests that the more humankind dissociates itself from society and its morals, the more they are drawn towards barbarity, their true nature. Throughout the novel he tries to convey his fundamental assertion that humans possess innate savagery and are driven by urges towards power and dominance over others. The range of literary devices such as: characterisation, symbolism and strong character development, illustrates that all humans are inherently evil and are susceptible to lose their sense of humanity once exposed to dire conditions. This is demonstrated through actions of the notorious Jack Merridew, the imaginary beast and the group of savages in Jack’s tribe.
More often than not, the personality that may come across as amiable and trustworthy conceals his true identity and only displays it to impress someone or prove themselves. This is the case with Ralph. He is, for the most part, a good person and leader. However, he is not flawless. His interactions with Piggy unfold his inability to be constantly on top of his thoughts, actions, urges to impress and entertain on another’s behalf. Despite generally standing up for Piggy, Ralph does not miss an opportunity to humiliate or degrade him in front of the other boys. At the beginning of the novel, upon hearing the name ‘Piggy’ he bursts into laughter and starts teasing him about it. Piggy makes him promise that if they were to come across any other boys he wouldn’t disclose that deriding nickname, but Ralph goes chanting it around in a mocking manner. Moreover, when Jack calls him Fatty, Ralph corrects him, saying his name is Piggy. He then apologises saying, “Better Piggy than Fatty”. Throughout the novel, he invariably excludes Piggy from thrilling activities justifying it by his inability to undertake them. Apparently, in that small community of boys no one had the courage to stand up against humiliating one of them. Or was it the beginning of their dehumanization?
More prominently, the development of Jack as an antagonist, is just one of Golding’s means to unfold his idea that human beings are savages by nature. Jack immediately establishes his desire for power from the beginning of the novel and becomes furious over the fact that he was not chosen for the role of chief. For a while, the morals and disciplines, that society has managed to instill in him, linger. ‘We’ve got to have rules and obey them. After all, we’re not savages,’’ says Jack. But soon after, the makeshift civilisation collapses under the weight of his and the other boy’s instinctive savagery. During his first encounter with a pig, he is unable to kill it as the “enormity of the knife descending and cutting living flesh” was too overwhelming for him. After such humiliation, he devotes his time to hunting and tries to kill the pig, slowly drifting towards barbarity and finding pleasure in killing pigs. With time, his behaviour begins to influence the whole group, resulting in the brutal murder of Simon, the first character to realise that barbarism has descended in their midst and it is just part of human nature. Ralph, a symbol of order and civility, as opposed to Jack, also participates in Simon’s murder, thereby testifying that all humans turn to evil in some circumstances. With the progression of the novel, Jack, representing unfiltered human nature undergoes a transformation from a civilized school boy to a symbol of savagery and anarchy in an environment where there are no rules and order.
The imaginary beast is another symbol that Golding uses Lord of the Flies. Almost all the boys are terrified of the beast, and as they regress further into savagery their fear of the beast intensifies. Irrational fear is directly linked to the inability to process the facts of truth and see the reality as it is. The more afraid they are, the more evident becomes their lack of reasoning and common sense. The only boy that ever found out the truth about the beast was Simon, after discovering a dead parachutist whose body would rise and fall with the wind as if alive, and later coming across the ‘Lord of the Flies’ which tells him that the real beast is lurking within them all. But Simon’s dim guess was clear from the beginning, ‘What I mean is… Maybe it’s only us…’ he kept telling the others without much approval on their part. The tragic death of Simon is Golding’s way of communicating the thought that the closer humanity gets to understanding the truth about themselves, the surer the answers slip out of their grip due to the pure ignorance and close-mindedness of theirs. Golding’s implementation of the beast in the boys’ adventure on the island symbolises an irrational fear among the boys and their incapacity to rationally analyse their bogeys.
Finally, the end of the book displays just how much things have changed and how quickly humans can be led away from reason towards savagery in absence of constraints of society. Their actions prove that crude human nature is animal-like. They could successfully survive by hunting and consuming their kill, if it weren’t that thrill of killing creatures, incommensurate in their power to defend themselves with the humans power to kill, took the best part of them. The group chants ‘Kill the pig. Cut her throat. Bash her in…’ which exhibits the savagery that the group has been devoured by. As the boys turn to a murderous existence towards the end of the book, they cease to be called boys, but simply ‘savages’. The novel reflects on Golding’s belief that people of all age groups have innate capacity for evil and that this natural capacity is never too far from a civilized society. He believes that evil comes from within you and is part of you, but is suppressed by society.