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Commentary on Lord Of The Flies Essay


The Lord of the Flies is a thought provoking novel that questions the very fundamentals of human nature. It was written a short time after the end of the War World 11 and the nature of war calls into to question the nature of man. It is hard for us who live in Australia during the 21st century to imagine the horrors of war which highlights mans inhumanities against man. The killing and savagery of war goes against what we hold as morally right. News of school yard shootings and crazed gunmen send shock waves through the world, people question the ease at which lives can be taken and the perpetrators are seen as evil. Yet lives taken during war can be justified or at least rationalised by a nation as necessary for the protection of that nation and the perpetrators applauded as heroes. But how do the individuals of war justify to themselves the horrors they have seen and participated in.

Goldings pessimistic assessment of human nature, as constructed in the Lord of the Flies, rationalizes the horror of war as basic human nature, thus, unavoidable. I believe Golding has used the Lord of Flies in an attempt to justify to himself not so much the rightness of his actions during the war but the absence of wrongness. This would free him from any guilt he felt for his actions. This is similar to how many therapists encourage people to write their negatives thoughts into a dairy or blow them into a balloon and release them.

Golding only briefly refers to war during the novel. In the first chapter we are made aware of a war that is being waged and that it is responsible for the crash onto the island. The war is then left in the background until the arrival of the parachute man in chapter 6. The parachute man is used as a symbol to signify the end of the adult world where law and order reign and the shift to chaos under the new reign of the beast. Finally in the last chapter the war arrives again in the form of the naval officer. This reminds us that although the boys descent into chaos on the island is over, the world outside the island still exists in chaos and war.

Throughout the novel Goldings foundation is the idea that moral societal constraints are learned rather than innate, that human beings are innately evil and that this is controlled through the rules and morals imposed upon us by society. The recurring theme is of conflict between good; following order and rules for the good of the group and evil; the instinct to gratify an individual desire for power and the instinct to obtain this through violence. (This may be seen as a vague reference to Hitler and his Nazi regime). Golding believes that this ability to commit violence and live in chaos or evil is innate in humans and this is what he refers to as the disease of being human. This idea contrasts with many theories that suggest that humans are naturally good and bad habits are the product of a corrupting civilization.

In chapter one Golding rather cleverly creates the parameters to which he conducts his social experiment and uses his characters to explore significantly important ideas in relation to the themes of Civilization Vs Savagery, good Vs Evil. Golding chose an Island as the setting for the plane crash because it is isolated from the world (thus away from societal influences and rules) and his characters are all young English schoolboys. The choice of gender and ages of the characters is significant for two main reasons: it is a generally held belief the boys are more mischievous and naughtier then girls (remember girls are made of sugar, spice and all things nice) and require greater control to make them conform to acceptable standards of behaviour and the young age implies that they may not have been fully shaped into societal norms, thus would be more prone to dive into the pits of chaos.

Golding uses his characters to symbolise ideas around these themes. The characters of Jack and Ralph are used to represent the extremes between Civility and savagery. Piggy represents intellect and Roger represents brutality.

Ralph is the symbol of civilization. Ralph desires order and represents a leader that believes in the good of the group. Ralphs main concern at the beginning of the novel is to be rescued and returned to the civilized world and ensuring the safety of the group. Initially all the boys are concerned with being rescued and for this reason are eager to follow Ralphs leadership.

Just after the plane crash Ralph and Piggy discover the conch shell on the beach. The conch shell becomes another symbol of civilization; it is used to control the boys. It calls them to meetings and controls who has the right to speak. Democracy on the island is depicted with all boys having the right to speak through the conch shell. In chapter 11 the conch shell is destroyed and symbolises the final destruction of civilization and the boys final descent into savagery as they hunt one of their own.

Through Jack we see the human desire for power and how pursuing this can lead us to commit evil acts. This is evident from chapter 1 when he loses the election to Ralph. Early in the novel Jack is unable to kill a pig, this changes in chapter 4.

His mind was crowded with memories; memories of the knowledge that had come to them when they closed in on the struggling pig, knowledge that they had outwitted a living thing, imposed their will upon it, taken away its life like a long satisfying drink

This quote explores the changes in Jacks attitude towards hunting. Initially hunting was about finding food it, then became about power and the innate urge in man to kill and control.

The idea of the beast was introduced in chapter 2 but in chapter 5, as the boys drift further from rules and order, the fear of the beast has grown dramatically. This is significant because the beast represents the innate evil that exists in everyone and is held in control by the rules and order of society, as order is left behind the beast is able to gain control. Jack uses the boys fear of the beast to place himself in the position of ultimate power.

Piggy is used to represent the intellectual side of man. This is evident from the beginning of the novel. First by his appearance as glasses are often used to generalise a book worm or geek. Secondly, his logical thinking around how to use the conch shell. Piggys glasses are used to create fire and fire is used in the final chapter to smoke out Ralph and shows how far the boys have descended into chaos. Ironically, it also is the means of attracting rescue, thus ending the world created on the island. This may be significant considering the time the novel was written. Science in the form of the atomic bomb was used to end the World War 11, but many people viewed the atomic bomb (science) as a great evil which would eventually lead to the destruction of mankind and the world as we know it.

Roger is brutality and signifies mans inhumanities against man. In chapter 4 (the same time Jack is learning to enjoy killing) we begin to see Rogerss descent into cruelty.

Roger gathered a handful of stones and began to throw them. Yet there was a space round Henry, perhaps six yards in diameter, into which he dare not throw. Here, invisible yet strong, was the taboo of the old life. Round the squatting child was the protection of parents and school and policemen and the law.

At this point Roger is still partially controlled by society (parents, school and policeman and the law). It is evident the control is slipping and that he will soon give in to the innate human evil and welcome the urge to torture and inflict violence on those that are weaker. Here, Golding may be looking for understanding of the atrocities carried out in POW camps.

In the novel Golding hints at a light at the end of the tunnel, that is, of signs of hope for the future of humanity. Golding symbolises this through the characters of Ralph and Simon.

Ralph demonstrates that even while society is tumbling into chaos and being devoured by the beast, individuals can fight for control and keep the beast at bay. In chapter 9 Ralph and Piggy are lured into the dancing frenzy celebrating the kill, but unlike Jack who revels in the feeling, Ralph is ashamed of it. He controls the beast and this is symbolically portrayed when he stumbles across the Lord of the Flies in chapter 12, knocks the skull to the ground and takes the stake it was impaled on, signifying people can chose to be good or evil.

Simon represents innate goodness and contradicts Goldings theory that humans are innately evil. In chapter 3, Simons kind and generous nature is evident. He helps with the building of the huts and helps the younger boys reach the fruit on the trees. In this chapter we also feel his connection to nature when he sits alone in the glade and we get a sense that his goodness is innate.

Ralph wept for the end of innocence, the darkness of mans heart

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