What really separates us from animals as human beings? The need for civility, being controlled by fear and power is instilled in the fundamentals of our instincts. William Golding’s 1954 novel, Lord of the Flies explores these themes through the fictional story of a group of schoolboys who are trapped on a deserted tropical island when trying to evacuate Britain in the midst of a war. Although the boys seem to be enjoying their new lives without parents or rules of any kind towards the start of the story, it can be seen that this challenge of survival gradually brings out the true characteristics of the boys and tells another story of true human nature. By heavily raising their selfishness, dominance amongst each other and finding the point of savagery one would go to when their life is on the line positions the audience to question their peers around them, thinking that when hard times do arise, who is really going to be around them until the very end. The novel also uses an imaginary beast that the boys believe to be true and frightens them greatly, which only acts as a figure of the primal instinct of savagery that exists within our nature.
At the core of every ideal society and civilization, there are a set of rules and laws that protect its members from chaos, most often created by a form of Government, then upheld by authorities and disciplinary actions for those who decide to go against those rules and laws. An impulse to injustice and unorganized crime, amongst many others, would be the result of this sort of anarchy, due to the selfishness and barbaric traits that are at the core of true human nature. The novel, Lord Of the Flies, reiterates this philosophy throughout the novel. The author portrays this with the use of setting and characterization, by choosing a vulnerable group of schoolboys who at their age, are in the most need of authority and structure, and leaves them stranded on a deserted island. An environment without a higher authority of any kind sounds like any child’s dream and is the same for the group of boys in the novel, however, this quickly changes when Ralph and others attempt to create a set of rules and form a sort of civil manner within the group. “We’ve got to have rules and obey them. After all, we’re not savages (Pg 42).” In chapter 2, Ralph assembles everyone together to hold a meeting where he introduces the first rule to the group, being that when in a meeting a person can only talk when they hold the conch shell, everybody else must listen. Throughout the novel, Ralph creates and attempts to implement a few more simple rules for the boys, acting as a sort of government figurehead for the group. This attempt at creating a simple system of civilization ultimately fails as there is a lack of authority and discipline in relation to breaking these laws, the boys remain inconsistent with them and only use the rules when it suits their selfish needs or wants. Golding suggests to the audience that perhaps without an equal part of fear and hope, civilization is built to fail, and our own inner beast is eventually going to come out.
Fear is another prevalent theme throughout the novel, Lord of the Flies. As a community, we fear many things, such as a fear of failure, change, rejection, and uncertainty. As humans, we favor a routine, something that sets our day-to-day life and eliminates the unknown. The lack of willingness to overcome fear is what stops our natural progression as a society. Fear is instilled in all of us, as kids we fear the dark, but as we grow up we fear the darkness that represents emptiness or the darkness of life itself. This is depicted in Lord of the Flies the beast and its relation to the schoolboys. The group is put in a very tough situation right from the start, being stranded on the island without any form of contact with any one of the outside world. In Chapter 2, Golding also introduces the idea of the beast when a littlun comes to a boy in a hysterical state, mentioning “a snake thing. Ever so big. He saw it (page 34 line 25).” At first, the boys criticize the matter and reject the idea of it possibly existing, “Then he couldn’t see it! Laughter and cheers (Pg 35).” The boys only start to believe in this beast when in Chapter 6, a dead paratrooper falls to the island, in which Samneric, Ralph, Jack, and Roger mistake the dead body for the beast and believe in its existence for the remainder of the novel and treat it as a totemic god by leaving it sacrifices of animals and even kill their best friend Simon because of it. As the boys act more savagely, the more the beast appears to be real. Simon acknowledged the existence of the beast but did so in a more spiritual sense, when he says in chapter 5, “Maybe… there is a beast… What I mean is… maybe it’s only in all of us (Pg 195).” This represents the true meaning of the beast that Golding metaphorically was getting across to the audience, that fear itself is more powerful and dangerous than any beast or creature.
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Power in our society is essential, but when done incorrectly, can be the downfall of everything. We all feel the need to be powerful and own a sense of wealth in relation to our peers. Conquering and gaining power has been a part of society for centuries, being resembled by the Emperors of the Aztecs in 1345 A.D to political presidents and leaders of the 21st century. A person of power dictates his/her peers and in most cases can just be a figure of hope and direction and gives a voice to their people. This is represented in two different ways in Golding’s novel Lord of the Flies. After being stranded on the island, the boys are seen to create two leaders early on in the book, mainly being Ralph and the other being Jack. However, even though the two are seen as leaders of the group, they both represent two different types of powers. Ralph being a more calculated and mature leader, representing civility and peace, and Jack being a more careless and impulsive leader, representing greed and evil in our human nature. This power dynamic can be seen in chapter 5 when Jack ignores Ralphs’s authority.
Representing an autocratic government where power is taken, Jack questions Ralphs’s leadership and obviously becomes envious of this status he has earned and does this several times throughout the novel. Golding uses a rhetorical question in “who are you, anyway,” to position the audience to view Jacks’s speech as more aggressive as this doesn’t just attack Ralph as a leader but him as a person, and also positions the reader to feel more sympathy towards Ralph.
As humans today, society tries to distract us from no one but ourselves essentially, and attempts to divert our thoughts from our own human nature. 21st Century media tells us that we are caring, thoughtful, powerful, and peaceful creatures, even though our history suggests otherwise. We are at constant war with each other, we commit mass murders for almost no reason at all, we allow evil to be prevalent in our world just because it’s inconvenient and doesn’t affect us personally. We have made miraculous and incredible feats as a race, however, we cannot ignore the fact that greed, selfishness, savagery, and evil are a part of all of us fundamentally. William Golding keeps his audience entertained through the story and mishaps of the schoolboys in his 1950 classic novel Lord of the Flies, while also portraying an underlying meaning and philosophy to our fundamental human nature, by using multiple metaphors, the use of characterization and setting, and rhetorical questions. From this novel, we can learn that when change occurs, so do people. Our character is what makes us as an individual and our true human nature will only come out when it is really forced to. Our own individual beasts in life will find our true human nature.