Lord Of the Flies: Progression of Evil
Lukas Schmelter 10P
Lord of the Flies, Behavioral changes in William Golding’s characters
As the novel progresses, what evidence is that the influence of civilization is or is not becoming less within some of the boys?
The theory that man is born with the inherent capability for both good and evil is a controversial notion that has sparked dispute and debate amongst even the greatest philosophers and thinkers of our time. William Golding however, offers a very own, original, yet exceedingly pessimistic and cynical interpretation of this topic through his brilliant allegorical novel, the Lord of the Flies. In this Nobel Prize winning novel Golding gives a breathtakingly accurate account of what befalls humanity if all restrictions and limitations of civil society are removed. The tragic degradation from civility, and all its integrated behavior and manners, to fierce, animalistic savagery, is brutally demonstrated by Golding’s well developed and characterized figures. He achieves this in a highly artistic manner, most vividly with his main characters Jack and Piggy who individually represent different aspects of human nature, and likewise display the deterioration and, on the other hand, the conservation of civilization amongst the boys stranded on the desert island.
In the beginning of the novel, Jack is introduced as a poised, strong willed young boy who asserts himself as a natural leader, and seemingly loves to exert his superiority upon others, who according to his ego are of less value and importance. This extreme confidence derives from him being accustomed to leadership roles, and the resulting power that comes with it. “I ought to be chief…I am chapter chorister and head boy” (Golding/18) is Jacks response to when the boys reach a consensus on the fact that they need a leader to organize and establish order. This further demonstrates Jacks immense egotistical nature and arrogance, which becomes even clearer with Jacks reaction to the boys electing the more subtly confident, charismatic Ralph as their leader. “Jacks face disappeared under a blush of mortification” (Golding/19), Jack is furious to see someone else take charge, of what he believes is his designated position. Regardless of his initial reaction, Jack does cooperate under Ralph’s orders and assignments, however he displays aggression toward some group members especially Piggy, who is seen as a kind of outsider. “Shut up fatty!” (Golding/17). Further indicating an inclination toward aggression is his eagerness to be a hunter, and willingness to kill for meat. Despite this eagerness, when Jack, along with Ralph and Simon, do stumble across a piglet caught in vines, on their first expedition of the island, he can’t seem to bring himself to kill the animal, and endure the resulting guilt. Guilt that is the product of civilization and mannered upbringing, which condemns acts of violence toward any sort of living thing, and thus restricts him from committing a deed, that essentially breaks the rules of civil society. Never the less Jack denies any claims of being scared or frightened, and underscores his denial by again demonstrating aggression. On pg. 31 of the novel, Jack fiercely slams his knife into a near lying tree trunk and glares around challengingly, in response to Ralph mentioning his failure of slaying the pig to the other boys at the assembly.
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This failed attempt laid a burden of shame upon his shoulders, and thus Jack became more determined than ever to kill and shed blood, in an effort to redeem himself, and re-establish what he sees as ruined reputation and lost courage. As a result he comes close to killing a pig again in chapter 3, and at this point one can truly sense that Jacks behavior has changed, and that the constraints of society have been lifted and become irrelevant to his state of mind. “Jack was bent double. He was down like a sprinter, his nose only inches from the humid earth.” (Golding/48) This description of Jack supports the fact that by this point in the novel something has changed in him and the image Golding creates very much resembles an animal of some kind. Furthermore, when Golding comments on this particular “rush” or “thrill” that Jack gets surging through his veins whilst being on the hunt, it again most certainly suggest that a fierce savageness and violent being is dwelling with in him. When Jack then explains this feeling to Ralph, Golding writes that a kind of madness consumes Jacks eyes, and once again Golding refers to the circumstance that Jack has indeed changed since the beginning of the novel. In addition to that, Jack actually challenges Ralph at this stage, making his antagonism toward him clearly evident, by not shying away from making his opinion clear. Although this conflict of interests does not yet escalate at this stage, there is indeed a sense that a very turbulent time is to ensue, and that Jack is now obviously confident in his ability to challenge Ralph.
In the chapter immediately following this incident, Jack makes his transformation into a savage complete. Jack and his choir boys had been assigned the task of hunting for food as well as keeping the signal fire on the mountain intact. This signal fire on the mountain was to serve the purpose of generating enough smoke to catch the attention of a near passing ship, which could then potentially rescue the boys back to civilization. Due to the fact that the fire could mean possible rescue, it in a way represents hope, and a certain connection to the modern society they had left, of course only as long as the fire actually burns. It is this lack prioritization in tasks and assignments that is key to Jacks transformation into a savage. After discovering face paint, Jack becomes so consumed by his determination to kill that he completely forgets about the signal fire, and since all choir boys were following his lead, there was no one to keep the fire burning and thus they missed a chance for rescue when a ship did actually pass by. Jack as a result has failed to prioritize civilization, morality, and rescue and so demonstrates that he no longer believes in civil society and its rules. Instead he has given himself into the animalistic savage instincts that, according to Golding, dwell within every human being. He emphasizes his new actuality by brutally slaughtering a pig, and therefore achieving what he had failed to do earlier in the novel due to civil constraints, that he had now shed in the place of blood thirst and violence.
These events are consequently the turning point in Golding’s novel, since Jack becomes the role model for the other boys, who consequently follow his transformation in to a savage, and as a result jeopardize the existence of everything that Ralph has worked for until then. It is unmistakable that Golding’s character Jack embodies the savageness and inherent evil in all human beings, and that he consequently represents the deterioration of civilization in the Lord of the Flies.
William Golding presents his character Piggy following his description of the novels protagonist Ralph. Piggy is introduced as the intellectual with poor eyesight, a weight problem, and asthma. He is physically the most vulnerable of all the boys on the island, despite his greater intelligence. His incredible curiosity and inquisitive mind is displayed right from the start as he persistently asks Ralph questions, and urges for a meeting to be held with all the boys. “We got to find the others. We’ve got to do something.” (Golding/10) His impulse to be active and work effectively is one that is evident here, and is further emphasized through his notion to use the conch as a communication device. Despite this great perceptiveness and vast, useful knowledge, Piggy is a sort of outsider, who is teased due to his shape and size. In addition Piggy is quite shy, and does not have the confidence of Ralph or Jack to speak up and state his opinion; instead he keeps to himself and is very cautious about his actions, especially around Jack who shows aggression toward him from the very beginning. “Piggy opened his mouth to speak; caught Jacks eye, and shut it again” (Golding/42). This extreme caution originates from a very protective upbringing, where caution was instilled as an absolute necessity. Piggy’s behavior supports this as he is often quoting his auntie’s rules and instructions when he does something that he finds uncomforting or wrong, “My auntie told me not to run” (Golding/3).Never the less Piggy’s intellect greatly benefits the boys on the island as his specs are used to light the signal fire in one instance and he later proposes the idea of a sundial. However Piggy’s ingenious ideas and innovations only assist the group through Ralph, as Piggy simply does not possess the capability to lead the group and thus becomes Ralph’s advisor.
As the novel progresses, Piggy is continually harassed by Jack and other group members, and the only reason he is still included in meetings and other gatherings is because he is under Ralph’s protection who sees him as a vital asset to the community, although he dare not admit it. Piggy’s knowledge and understanding are not appreciated and people like Jack especially, despise him for expressing his intuitive nature. As a result Piggy becomes more and more detached and excluded as Jack and the other boys transform into savages, because he is the only boy on the island beside Simon and Ralph who does not undergo this transition. Instead he becomes more desperate in upholding civilization, and relies on civility and its rules to keep the group together. He truly believes that when someone holds the conch, they get to speak. “I got the conch, ain’t I Ralph?” (Golding/45) This is one example of the fact that Piggy believes in social conventions, and that they are the key to the boys survival. The problem with Piggy’s dependency on social order however is that other boys such as Jack respond aggressively toward Piggy for that reason and thus make his exclusion even more drastic. Golding further shows Piggy’s exclusion and uniqueness by making him the only boy whose hair does not grow longer. Long, messy hair is a trademark of savage appearance and the fact that Piggy’s hair seems to resist this degradation despite the fact that the majority of boys around him are, indicates that Piggy truly believes and embodies morality and good nature. This, along with is desperation to uphold civil society amongst the boys, and his naturally intuitive and curious nature, makes it patent that Golding uses Piggy to represent the scientific, rational side of humanity. Furthermore Piggy stands for the conservation of civilization on the island, as oppose to Jack’s savage and violent nature that threatens to destroy what Piggy so dearly treasures.
So in conclusion, there is no denial of the fact that Golding achieves to express his opinion about human nature in a wonderfully artistic manner. He has developed individual characters, in a way where they not only tell a story of a group of stranded boys, but an allegorical tale that explores the inherent capabilities of man. Two of such characters are Jack and Piggy who each represent a different aspect of humanity. Jack on one hand represents the savageness as well as the evil that all men, according to Golding, are capable of. In addition his behavior signifies the deterioration of civilization amongst the boys, and is subsequently the catalyst for the brutal violence and slaughter that grips the island. On the other hand there is Golding’s intellectual, whiny character Piggy, who clearly embodies the intellectual, rational as well as scientific side of human nature. Through clever characterization, Piggy also symbolizes the conservation of civilization, as he desperately tries to uphold social order and well-being through his intuitive and equally curious nature. Overall the Lord of the Flies truly embodies the pessimistic and cynical view of its author William Golding whose superb novel touches on the very controversial question, of whether man is born inherently good or evil. The books’ exciting characters give a very insightful view into human nature and leave one thinking about whether we too have evil dwelling deep within us, perhaps hidden behind a mask of false optimism and morality.