Evil and vicious actions have been demonstrated throughout novels, poems, literature, media and real life. Some actions are regarded as too evil, like murdering someone. Some actions are considered ‘less’ evil, like stealing something from someone. In Lord of the Flies by William Golding, Othello by Shakespeare and 1984 by George Orwell, evil actions are highlighted by the author throughout the stories. Also in everyday life, one is exposed to a lot of evilness, such as student having fights in school or refusing to help someone in need. The media also constantly tries to show us the evil acts that are being committed in our society. In all of the cases, it emerges that the goodness inside humans tends to be overtaken or overpowered by lust to get something which they think benefits themselves. Many people say that humans are born with a good nature, but are corrupted by society or people we live around, while others say that humans are born with neither a good nor an evil nature, and become good or bad when they grow older based on their choice of actions. Evil can be found almost everywhere in everyday life, but there are still good people in the world who chose to not take the path of corruption. Accordingly, the purpose of this essay is to explore the idea if humans are born evil or good, what makes people commit evil actions over good ones, and if humans ever choose to commit good actions over evil ones.
Before getting into why people choose evil actions over good, let us discuss what ‘evil’ actually means in our society. Vocabulary Dictionary defines evil actions as something that brings harm to society. The fact if something is deemed as good or not is decided by the people in the society. Any act that is believed to be wrong is evil and an act that the society presumes to be good is morally right. One act that is considered as an evil act by society, is that when it comes to the safety of oneself, they will forget everybody else, even the ones they love. It won’t matter to them if anything bad is happening to the other person as long as they’re safe. One example of this is shown in the novel 1984. The novel is full of betrayal of characters such as Winston’s betrayal to Julia and Julia’s betrayal to Winston. They take Winston and Julia away from each other. Winston is exposed to extreme amounts of torture under O’brien’s care. O’Brien had people beat him with weapons, fists, etc but that did not break him. But when O’Brien decided to take him to room 101 and when Winston saw rats, he was shocked and decided to give in. : “Confession is not betrayal. What you say or do doesn’t matter; only feelings matter. If they could make me stop loving you – that would be real betrayal … It’s the one thing they can’t do. They can make you say anything – anything – but they can’t make you believe it. They can’t get inside you … If you can feel that staying human is worthwhile, even when it can’t have any result whatsoever, you’ve beaten them”. (Orwell, 173). They tell each other that they will not stop loving and never betray each other but in room 101, Winston is confronted with a tough decision and must betray Julia to save himself, which he had never ever planned to do. Orwell shows through the characters that humans have the lust of power and are self-serving. They betray each other for their own self-preservation. This feeling of self-serving is very closely related to the feel to have control and power. Both of the characters are willing to sacrifice the safety of each other and have power even though they have it only for a short period of time. Self-preservation and the lust of power are just some of the reasons why people tend to choose evil over good. Now, this would be a small example of evil.
Furthermore, Orwell shows us through his novel that there are examples of both evils at a small scale and a large scale. In 1984, this party Ingsoc controlling people in every aspect of their lives is a good example of evil on a large scale. Sometimes, people just want to commit evil just because they can and want to. Big Brother, the leader of Oceania wants everything to be dead inside of their citizens. They never want them to feel love, laughter, curiosity or courage. Obrien, a party member asked Winston on what are the party motives and he answers hesitantly. Even before Winston can complete his answer, O’Brien uses his machine to send jolts of pain in his body and tells him the truth about the party’s motives. : “Now I will tell you the answer to my question. It is this. The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power. Not wealth or luxury or long life or happiness: only power, pure power. What pure power means you will understand presently… One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship.” (Orwell, 275) According to O’Brien, the party is not interested in the welfare of its citizens at all. They are solely doing it just for the power. They want their citizens to experience no emotions such as love, happiness or courage. They can go to extreme lengths in order to remain in power. The citizens of Oceania are always kept under surveillance in order to make sure they don’t break the strict rules. There is little to no entertainment available. Sex is forbidden in Oceania and if caught, citizens will be punished. The Party is controlling the citizens in every aspect of life which is really unacceptable. Winston became a rebel and wanted to change the evil that happens in society. To do that, he joined the Brotherhood but it all went downhill from that. Ingsoc is a party completely opposite to what people really want.
William Shakespeare’s Othello uses contrasting and uncommon language portray evil all through the play. Characters are the most important that stress the act of evilness. Iago, most of all is portrayed as the villain throughout the play. Of all the villains portrayed in Shakespeare’s literature, Iago is probably the one that is most hated by the audience. In the play, Iago has the burning desire to destroy Othello. The only reason for his hate towards him is that Othello gave the position he wanted to a foreigner, Cassio and he has a suspicion that Othello slept with his wife, Emilia. In order to fulfill his ego of destroying Othello, he decides to show him that he is very loyal and loving towards him but in reality, he is not.:
“In which regard,
Though I do hate him as I do hell pains,
Yet for necessity of present life
I must show out a flag and sign of love,
Which is indeed but sign.” (1.1.152-156)
Iago was responsible for deaths Roderigo, Cassio, Othello, Desdemona and Emilia. The problems caused by him are most through manipulation and lying. His hate is mostly fueled by jealousy, hatred and revenge. His lust to get power and respect was so strong that he could not see what was right and what was wrong.
Moreover, Shakespeare also shows the audience how if you commit an evil act, you have to commit many others along with it just so you can hide it from the society which deems as morally wrong. This is shown when Iago promises Roderigo that if he helps him, he will help him get Desdemona. The degree of Iago’s manipulation when he gets Roderigo to sell all his land and giving him money. Even after doing all this Roderigo doing all this for Iago, he doesn’t feel pity for him. He also convinces Roderigo to go kill Cassio by telling him that Desdemona is having an affair with Cassio and killing Cassio is the only way to get Desdemona but Iago is planning something entirely else. :
“I have rubbed this young quat almost to the sense,
And he grows angry. Now, whether he kill Cassio
Or Cassio him, or each do kill the other,
Every way makes my gain. Live Roderigo,
He calls me to a restitution large
Of gold and jewels that I bobbed from him
As gifts to Desdemona.
It must not be. If Cassio do remain
He hath a daily beauty in his life
That makes me ugly. And besides, the Moor
May unfold me to him—there stand I in much peril.
No, he must die. But so, I hear him coming.” (5.1.11-22)
Roderigo did so much for Iago and he wants to kill him. Rodrigo is like a pawn for Iago in the game where he wants to defeat. He will use the pawn until it is useful. Iago has committed so many evil acts that he has to kill Roderigo in order to hide what he has been fishing behind his back. If he doesn’t kill make sure Roderigo and Cassio are killed, he will have to pay back the money for all the jewels and gifts he took for Desdemona and if the Moor seems to talk about what Iago has said to him, he might get in trouble. In this case, evil actions are being taken to hide the evil actions that have already been taken which is one of the main reasons people commit evil acts. He made his circumstances so bad for himself that there was no other path he could take other than evil.
William Golding’s Lord of the Flies was written after the World Wars happened. After the first world war, everyone thought that there would not be another one but they were wrong. Just twenty years, the world saw another war which was even deadlier than the first one. According to BBC, “Cities were destroyed by air raids, the atom bomb was dropped on Japan and six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust. Over 50 million soldiers and civilians died.” This left many wondering if humans were inherently born evil or not. This evilness seen in the world wars probably set the tone for the savagery shown by Jack in Lord of The Flies where he seems to not recognize what is right and what is not. The emergence of Jack’s evilness seems to correlate with the inseparable nature of evil in a human. After Ralph becomes the boy’s leader, he becomes insanely jealous of Ralph and wanted to get the two things that he had, power and respect. In an attempt to get power, he commits several amounts of evil actions. He wants to feel superior to everyone else on the island. After he gets power mad, he goes in a totally different direction from common sense. He becomes totally delusional and begins lying to his tribe, just to control them and feel that he has the power. His level of paranoia can be clearly seen after Simon’s death. : “The circle became a horseshoe. A thing was crawling out of the forest. It came darkly, uncertainly. The shrill screaming that rose before the beast was like a pain. The beast stumbled into the horseshoe.
“Kill the beast! Cut his throat! Spill his blood!”
The blue-white scar was constant, the noise unendurable. Simon was crying out something about a dead man on a hill.
“Kill the beast! Cut his throat! Spill his blood! Do him in!”
The sticks fell and the mouth of the new circle crunched and screamed. The beast was on its knees in the center, its arms folded over its face. It was crying out against the abominable noise something about a body on the hill. The beast struggled forward, broke the ring and fell over the steep edge of the rock to the sand by the water. At once the crowd surged after it, poured down the rock, leapt on to the beast, screamed, struck, bit, tore. There were no words, and no movements but the tearing of teeth and claws.” (Golding,168-169 )
Just to remain in power, Jack lies to the boys that there is a dangerous “beast” on the island and the only way to remain safe is to make him the real leader. The boys, already under his savagery influence agree to that. Even after Simon’s death, he doesn’t confess that there is no beast and it is something that he has totally made up. The death of Simon would be completely avoidable had he not made the “beast” and the boys so savage and cruel. In this case, the lust for power, respect and way he made circumstances for himself are the ones that are responsible here.
Besides, many people tend to think that there is more evil than good in this world. However, this is not true all the time. For example, research suggests that kindness makes people happier and in turn that happiness makes us kind. Take this little girl who bought local cops lunch following the shooting of Dallas police officers. Or the people who lined up for hours in Orlando and in France to donate blood following the two attacks (Huffington Post). It naturally brings us joy when we help others. This can be proven by the experiment that took place at Yale University where they used different measures to look at babies’ minds. According to their research, young humans have a sense if something is right or wrong, and they prefer to choose good or evil. Even though babies cannot speak, it shows that the youngest minds tend to lean towards friendly intentions than wicked ones.
In conclusion, through the use of 1984, Othello and Lord Of The Flies, this essay has proved that humans choose to take evil actions over good ones because of the lust to have power, respect, fulfilling their ego and the fact that they have to keep continuing on the path of evil because they have to hide the fact that they are doing something morally wrong and it is likely that humans are born good and the environment they live in changes the way they see the world which impacts their decision to do right or wrong.