According to Marek Edelman, a Polish political activist, “Man is evil, by nature man is a beast. People have to be educated from childhood, from kindergarten, that there should be no hatred.” On a daily basis throughout the world, innocent men and women become victims of malicious acts through the senseless hatred and hostility of others. While a child is taught that hurting others is unacceptable, if one strays away from that core value and subsequent reinforcement by authority figures, then his depravity will be revealed. Golding demonstrated the idea that humans are evil by nature throughout his novel, Lord of the Flies, in which a group of English boys become stranded on an island after attempting to flee from a nuclear war. In the novel, the boys stray further away from the governance structure of their old civilization and resort instead to one characterized by savagery and violence. Through the progressively savage behavior of the boys, Golding demonstrates the validity of his anti-transcendental philosophy by suggesting that degradation of rules and authority allows innate human darkness to thrive.
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Initially, though the boys are living on their own island, they try to abide by the social conventions that they were taught to follow in Great Britain, such as being kind to others, especially the weak. However, when the littluns are building sandcastles on the beach, Maurice and Roger destroy their creations and laugh at the destruction. As Maurice throws sand in Percival’s eyes, the young boy begins to cry and Maurice hurries away. Maurice remembers that “In his other life [he] had received chastisement for filling a younger eye with sand. Now, though there was no parent to let fall a heavy hand, [he] still felt the unease of wrongdoing” so he ceases his tormenting (60). Golding uses “other life’ to refer back to Maurice’s life in Great Britain prior to their crash on to the island. In that life, Maurice had parents that forbade him from throwing sand into the eyes of a small child. Despite the lack of structure on the island, Maurice still stops himself from breaking the rules. He recognizes “the unease of wrongdoing” from his old life and knows he would be punished for what he did. While Maurice does not apologize to Percival, he feels guilty about doing something bad. The boys have only been on the island for a short period of time, which is not enough time to allow them to completely forget the rules inherent in their past daily lives. After Maurice leaves, Roger continues to torture the littluns, thus suggesting that one of the defects of the human spirit is the urge to take advantage of the weak. Further, Roger throws stones around Henry – but not actually directly at him. This force restraining Roger is “the taboo of the old life. Round the squatting child was the protection of parents and school and policemen and law” as he is still accustomed to life at home (62). “Taboo of the old life” refers to aspects of his life in Great Britain that are prohibited or restricted by social custom. In his old life, he would never throw stones at children as he was conditioned to know the act is forbidden. The authority he refers to, such as “parents and school and policemen and law”, were the ones who enforced rules in his old society. Even now, in his new life on the island, his arm is conditioned to the rules of civilization and will not allow him to actually directly and intentionally hit the child with the stone. As such, Roger’s thoughts are split between his new life and his old life, clearly demonstrating that he is conflicted. On one hand, he has the urge to hurt others, yet, on the other hand, he subconsciously knows that he should not even entertain such a thought. Civilized thoughts and actions are slowly replaced with barbaric behavior. In their hearts, the boys want to do the wrong thing, not the right thing.
As the boys spend more time on the island, they begin to reject order and turn towards standards that define island life, such as hunting. With the intention of improving the boys’ behavior, Ralph calls an assembly to focus them on what really matters; rescue and shelters. Unfortunately, the boys interrupt each other and believe “‘bollocks to the rules! We’re strong-we hunt”’ instead of focusing on being rescued (91). At first, the boys were in favor of rules and authority as it reminded them of home. They focused primarily on rescue and making it home safely. Now, some of the boys are beginning to reject authority and assimilate into island life. For example, Jack prefers an end to the rules and a singular focus on hunting. Jack’s energy centers around hunting, which was something he never did at home, and has become his main priority in island life. Conversely, Ralph believes that rules are the only thing they have to maintain order and hosts an assembly with the intention of maintaining an actual society with authority. Throughout the novel, the conch served as a symbol of leadership and power whereby the one who holds the conch is the only one who gets to speak. This conch remained highly respected and, for the most part, the boys abided by its power. Except, yet again during the meeting, Jack interrupts the assembly and begins to speak without the conch in his hand. Jack insists that the boys don’t “need the conch anymore. We know who ought to say things” even though the conch was supposed to make things fair (102). He denounces the power of the conch and drifts further from structure. At first, the boys were all for the conch as it instilled rules in the society. Now, they are beginning to reject the rules while, at the same time, turning it into a tyrannical society. Tyranny is when one group or person has all the power and makes all the decisions. In this instance, Jack insists that “we know who ought to say things”, essentially giving the power to a select few in the group. Jack would rather lose rules and fairness in favor of a society characterized by hunting, savagery and evil.
As the boys completely assimilate themselves to island life, they begin to reveal their inner darkness through the actions they take. The boys are dancing and chanting when a unknown thing crawled into the center of their ring. They begin to attack it and soon nothing else was heard but “the tearing of teeth and claws” as they begin to kill Simon (153). In this instant, the boys are so carried away and savage that they kill a human boy. Prior to this, they had only killed pigs. Now, they took the life of an innocent boy that was a part of their group. This deed illustrated the need for blood that the boys exhibited and the ability to kill with a clear mind. Further, “tearing of teeth and claws” are not traits usually displayed by humans and instead shows how the boys are not human anymore. Instead, they have become savage animals who enjoy the act of killing. Simon is the voice of reason and the one who discovers that the beast resides within each of the boys. The boys mistake Simon as the beast and believe they are performing a good deed by killing him to alleviate the evil. Instead, their actions highlight their own awful traits. As the novel progresses, the boys become increasingly savage. While the killing of Simon was not completely intentional as they mistook him to be a beast, later, they hunt a human being with the intention of killing him simply because he is civilized, unlike the rest of them. After SamnEric are taken captive by Jack, Ralph visits them while they are on guard duty. They attempt to force him to leave as Jack and the hunters are “‘going to hunt you tomorrow”’ and kill him. (188) The use of the term “hunt” is generally meant to be used in the context of animals, such as when one hunts for pigs. Now, the boys are using the word to refer to intentionally kill a human being. At this point, all of the boys, with the exception of Ralph, are part of Jack’s team and their behavior is exacerbated by the absence of authority. At the moment, Ralph is the only voice of rules and civilization, thus, and the sole barrier between them and utter savagery. Therefore, they want to kill him. The boys attempt to kill him with fire which was once a sign of rescue but is now a sign of savagery and killing. The actions taken by the boys, such as killing humans, shows that humans are innately evil and that evilness is only contained by rules. But, as one strays away from rules and authority, their true beastly inner self is able to be revealed.
Throughout this novel, the boys evolve from civilized young children into beasts that hunt humans. Golding was a believer that humans are innately evil and, as they stray from authority, their inner darkness is revealed. Golding’s belief is demonstrated when the boys reject the rules and ultimately kill Simon. One can be conditioned by society to follow a set of rules and act civilized, but, as soon as those rules go away, their inner darkness will appear. The novel demonstrates some of the defects of human nature such as the need to pick on those weaker than one and the urge to kill and hurt. In the absence of law and order and, when humans are left to their own devices, a corrupt self emerges.
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