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The Psychological Consequences of Trapping Young Boys on an Island

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William Golding’s Lord of the Flies follows the narrative of an airplane crashing into an uncharted, uninhabited island, of which the impact quashes the lives of all adults on board and leaves behind a young group of English boys to fend for their survival. Ralph and Piggy are the first two characters to interact, and per Piggy’s input, Ralph blows on a conch shell as a method to signal all the boys from the island; the first show of power. And following this event, when electing the leader of their new island “society,” they elect Ralph. The main character conflict arises between Ralph and Jack, the latter adamant that he becomes the leader against the majority vote, over who should be “chief.” As time passes and the desire for meat grows, Jack and his choir become hunters for the rest of the boys, allowing their predatory instincts a free rein. Descending into a savagery-induced madness, Jack becomes more and more outspokenly disapproving of Ralph’s methods of leadership and forms his own tribe on the other end of the island, and as the boys slowly begin to leave Ralph and Piggy for Jack, all semblance of order or civilization are eventually lost to the craze of the pig hunt. Golding depicts not only the boys’ struggle to survive, but also the psychological functioning that leads the boys to abandon the values society had tried to imprint in them. Through characterization, conflict, and setting, Golding’s novel explores the idea of a society corrupted by basic instinct.

Sigmund Freud, psychologist and founder of psychoanalysis, was the pioneer that established that the human conscience consists of three distinctly unique compartments: the id, the ego, and the superego. The id requires, demands that the basic, carnal needs that man is born with be satisfied and fulfilled regardless of the situation and its context; the pleasure principle, in other words. The ego, however, holds an innate understanding for the desires and needs of other people, and for the possible repercussions that bottomless selfishness may instigate; the reality principle, in contrast, that comes after the first few years of life. The needs of the id have to be met, so the ego assures the id is satisfied while still taking the reality into consideration; meanwhile, the Superego is a compartment of the mind that is developed throughout the adolescent years as the moral and ethical values that dictate the belief of right and wrong. These different states of consciousness are, uncannily, represented each by a main character in Golding’s world. Jack being the id is the most clear of the three, as Jack does not really carry out decisions in his underlings’ best interest, nor does he truly adhere to any specific moral or ethical code. There is a point in the novel when Piggy is attempting without much success to reinstate order where Jack blurts, “Bollocks to the rules! We’re strong – we hunt! If there’s a beast, we’ll hunt it down! We’ll close in and beat and beat and beat” (91). He sets up a mutually exclusive paradigm where strength and rules are antithetical to each other, whereas Piggy, the ego, sees them as related. Jack takes advantage of the fear of the beast to satisfy his thirst for violence, representative of the id. Jack’s reasoning involves very selfish motives. His desire to be rid of the beast is bolstered entirely by his want to kill; he does not care that his decision may have potentially spelled doom for the other boys. He no longer recognizes the ludicracy of the beast. In favor of his basic instinct to hunt, Jack has neglected the reality.

Piggy, the voice of logic and the voice of discipline amongst the boys, represents the ego. He constantly tries to reason with the other boys, and when he and Ralph first meet, Piggy understands the needs to find and help the younger boys, expressing his concern by saying, . “We got to find the others. We got to do something”. While Jack is obsessed with hunting for meat and does not think in the long term, Piggy convinces Ralph that shelters are imperative if they want to survive, but they fail to relay this practicality to the others. As so often happens when the ego and id are pitted against each other, the id overpowers with its instinctual force and desire for instant gratification. As Freud wrote in New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis (1932), ‘The poor ego has a…harder time of it; it has to serve three harsh masters, and it has to do its best to reconcile the claims and demands of all three…The three tyrants are the external world, the superego, and the id.’ In Golding’s world, Piggy, too, has a hard time of it. His glasses symbolize his ability to “see” or comprehend the bigger picture, the goal of their survival, and he is the mediator between the group and Simon, the character who represents the superego. Simon represents the superego because he adheres to the principles instilled in him by society and has a spiritual connection with the natural world. As turmoil is brewing, Simon goes into the jungle to take refuge in nature, and he is the only one who sees the “beast” for what it is: “‘Maybe,’ he said hesitantly, “maybe there is a beast…What I mean is. . . maybe it’s only us’. Of course, the id and superego are on opposite ends of the spectrum, one in line with the demands of an immature child and an instinctual animal, while the other lives on a different plane of existence. Naturally, they clash when they come head to head, and it is the ego’s job to mediate between them. When the boys kill Simon near the end of the novel, they also kill their conscience, the rules and implications set upon them in order to keep society civilized, and from this point until the boys get rescued their savage nature completely takes over and nothing holds them back any longer.

When a child’s innocence deteriorates to their primal instincts of survival, then fighting and questionable morality are not impossibilities. William Golding portrays this principle to show the innate “dark and evil” spirit of humanity, yet it can also exemplify how easily swayed by external influences the human mind is. The boys manifest the savagery of human disposition through mob mentality and tyrannical leadership, portraying the naive, capricious identity of mankind. People are more prone to forfeit their morals, their rationality to some degree or other, when it comes to donning the mob mentality. In Lord of the Flies, all of the boys displayed this behavior in their reenactment of the hunt. It starts off all fun and games, feeding off the hunting group’s excitable energy, until their behavior starts to become unmanageable. Robert, the theatrical imitation of the pig that was hunted, becomes an actual victim of the group’s bloodthirsty predation as the boys “got his arms and legs. Ralph, carried away by a sudden thick excitement, grabbed Eric’s spear and jabbed at Robert with it … All at once, Robert was screaming and struggling with the strength of frenzy”. Even Ralph and Piggy turn towards violence, heavily fueled by the group’s post-adrenaline fever. In this case, the boys who were stimulated by the violence in their hunting exerted a sort of hypnotic influence on the rest of their members–and just like that, everyone was convinced to act on the prospect of violence beyond just “fun and games.” This phenomenon could be explained by an interesting social psychological theory known as Contagion Theory, which states that “Crowds exert a hypnotic influence on their members that results in irrational and emotionally charged behavior often referred to as crowd frenzy” (James 4). And so Ralph, typically referred to as the character who represents the balance between the id and ego, falls victim to the effects of mob mentality and does evil in the form of violent acts. Another mob mentality factor that causes the behavioral change of an individual is the dissipation of responsibility. Tamara Avant, a director of Psychology at South University, concurs that, “When people are part of a group, they often experience deindividuation, or a loss of self-awareness.

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When people deindividuate, they are less likely to follow normal restraints and inhibitions and more likely to lose their sense of individual identity”. Deindividuation and a diffusion of responsibility mean that the conscience, or superego, gets overridden, and that the individual’s sense of personal connection with a misdeed is diminished. This shows how someone’s manner of conducting themselves is altered by the lack of responsibility that would normally be their immediate desires. William Golding demonstrates this loss of responsibility in mob mentality when the boys kill Simon on the stormy night when Ralph and Piggy visit Jack’s tribe, and as the storm brewed, the two groups merged together to chant and dance under this hypnotic influence. At the same time, Simon discovers the beast that they fear so greatly is a mere misperception. When Simon goes to tell the group that the beast is only a dead man with a parachute, they mistake him as the beast and murder him. Such crime usually holds great consequence, but due to the disintegration of responsibility caused by the mob mentality, none of the partakers feel any true guilt or individual responsibility for the death of Simon. Even Piggy and Ralph, characters who have still resisted Jack’s savage clan, push that responsibility away in the form of denial. Piggy states, “That’s right. We was on the outside. We never done nothing. We never seen nothing” (Golding 158). They cannot accept that they, too, have been involved in this horror, in the light of day, when reason returns. Not only are the three states of mind represented on the island, but so are the darker aspects of human tendencies, driven by group behavior. With mob mentality, the id takes over and destructive instinct precedes rationality.

The issue of superiority and inferiority is extremely prevalent in The Lord of the Flies. Ralph and Jack, at the head of this conflict of superiority, display behavior easily explained by Alfred Adler’s Individual Psychology, which dictates that their drastic decline in composure is rooted in a feeling of inferiority, and they are merely boys focused on maintaining control over their situation, their pride, and their lives. When the boys realize their situation and are trying to implement any of the adult solutions from civilization they can think of, they immediately come to the question of who should be “chief”. “‘I ought to be chief,’ said Jack with simple arrogance, ‘because I’m chapter chorister and head boy. I can sing C sharp.’” Jack’s attitude is one of automatic superiority because he has status compared to others, and because of an ability that doesn’t equate to leadership at all. The hallmark of the inferiority/superiority mentality is comparison. Every bully needs someone to bully, or else they are not effective. Often, when a person feels threatened, he will try to compensate by proving strength, as Jack tries to do when he says, “I was just waiting for a moment to decide where to stab him.’…’Why didn’t you—?” They knew very well why he hadn’t…Next time—! He snatched his knife…and slammed it into a tree trunk. Next time there would be no mercy. He looked round fiercely, daring them to contradict”.

Jack is clearly ashamed of his momentary weakness and so needs to emphasize his savagery, and therefore strength, compensating for a feeling of inferiority with an outward show of force–of fictive superiority. As Adler notes, “There is no nervous patient who does not attempt to veil through his symptoms the fact that he is worried over his fictive superiority…Behind the illness is the pathological ambitious striving of the patient to regard himself as something extraordinary’. Jack’s ego is fragile and he can’t deal with any contradiction, which he sees as a threat. This is also evident because his pride is still smarting at being bested by Ralph in the vote for chief. Since Ralph gathers everyone by blowing a conch, Ralph is elected as the leader. The conch symbolizes civilization and order governing the boys and restraining their behavior where it’s needed. Ralph does not need an official status to subdue inner feelings of inferiority, like Jack – he does not have an inferiority complex that makes him try to oppress or impress others. Jack exemplifies Adler’s insight that “To be a human being means to possess a feeling of inferiority which constantly presses towards its own conquest. … The greater the feeling of inferiority that has been experienced, the more powerful is the urge for conquest and the more violent the emotional agitation.” In contrast to the civilized approach of the conch, Jack’s entire being expresses violence, tyranny and primal instincts that become highly infectious and influences the minds of the younger.

Jack desertion of the original group leads many of the boys to follow him and become part of his demented tribe, and in the process, Jack gains the superiority he wanted all along. Any sense of civility or rationality is discarded, and Piggy, who represents reasoning throughout the story, is killed after the conch is destroyed. One of Jack’s followers, Robert “struck Piggy a glancing blow from chin to knee; the conch exploded into a thousand white fragments and ceased to exist”. And with the destruction of the conch, the civilized order Ralph and Piggy had so desperately tried to maintain was no more. Golding’s choice of diction being “ceased to exist” cements a sort of finality to the broken conch, and of the defeat of both civilization and Ralph’s superiority. Wherever there is a sense of internal inferiority, an external superiority becomes crucial to one’s pride.

Golding, in creating this world and these characters, creates a unique experiment that tests the innocuous nature of little children in an environment with no law, no restraints, and no grown civilization to tell them that they couldn’t. What he proves is that children throw away the values they once had ingrained into their heads for the fulfillment of their basic needs, no better than savage beasts in the wild, when the psychological toll of a self-led greed and evil consumes schoolboys that don’t know better. The Lord of the Flies demonstrates the psychological consequences of trapping young impressionable boys on an island, a result that shows how the primal instincts of even the youngest of people can collapse a society.

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The Psychological Consequences of Trapping Young Boys on an Island. (2022, September 15). Edubirdie. Retrieved September 22, 2023, from
“The Psychological Consequences of Trapping Young Boys on an Island.” Edubirdie, 15 Sept. 2022,
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