Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Devil within Ourselves: A Lord of the Flies Novel Analysis

This post is from one of my papers during my heydays in college (from my Comm 1 class). Might as well post this since it'd be a waste not to be "publicly read" (the hard copy is already there somewhere acting as organic fertilizer - doing its service to nature, nevertheless). 


Leo Jaymar G. Uy

Comm 1
October 7, 2009

“Kill the pig. Cut her throat. Spill her blood.” (Golding 69)

“The Devil within Ourselves: A Lord of the Flies Analysis”

William Golding’s Lord of the Flies is not your average adventure novel. It speaks of a bunch of school boys stranded on a deserted island, living free from the bonds of adult supervision. Digging through the novel’s interior, it delivers a horrifying truth about man’s (or humankind for the gender-sensitive sorts) capacity for savagery. The above quote is one of the most significant lines in the novel. It sends a statement to the readers about the boys showing signs of sending themselves into a state of savagery on the isolated milieu. This pretty much shows the declining state of civilization among the boys and the disregard of the rules set by the society they had once dwelt. The quoted line is more than a chant by Jack and the hunters. It magnifies the dark side of human personality.

The plot begins with a plane get shot down and crashing on an island. All of the adults in the plane were killed, leaving only a bunch of young boys as survivors. The story then shifts to the Ralph and Piggy who, after finding a conch, decided to “call an assembly”. The scattered boys eventually met to the rally point and decided to talk things through. The boys eventually found a common ground and agreed to establish their own “democratic” government – an obvious influence and product of the grown-ups back in the “civilized” society, and elected Ralph as chief. Things went well for the boys in the beginning, but as the story progresses, even the English, who are “best at everything” shows vulnerability especially when faced with great odds. 

Cracks in the foundations of civility begin to appear through the emergence of the “beast,” Jack’s rebellious stand against the organized government, and the absence of grown-ups in the island. The echoing cry of the hunters and Jack’s manner of killing the pig added mortar to the brick wall on what Golding is trying to convey to the readers of man’s (again, humankind) capacity to commit such atrocious behavior. Jack is the epitome of an individual succumbing back to primitivism. Having grasped his lust for blood and power, he then brags to Ralph about his feat:

Jack, his face smeared with clays, reached the top first and hailed Ralph excitedly, with lifted spear.
“Look! We’ve killed a pig—we stole up on them—we got in a circle—”
Voices broke in from the hunters.
“We got in a circle—”
“We crept up—”
“The pig squealed—” (Golding, 69)

Furthermore, Jack even takes pride on killing the sow during their hunt. He went on bragging to Ralph:

“I cut the pig’s throat,” said Jack, proudly, and yet twitched as he said it….
The boys chattered and danced. The twins continued to grin.
“There was lashings of blood,” said Jack, laughing and shuddering,
“You should have seen it!” (Golding 69)

Jack’s obsessions in hunting mark the start of the rifts between him and Ralph. From this set-up emerge schisms between the two head figures of the tribe and clashes between opposing concepts and ideals – signal fire against hunting, good against bad, and civilization against savagery.

The most obvious sign of the schism between Ralph and Jack can be found in Chapter Five. Ralph called an emergency assembly to address their shortcomings as a tribe. Ralph addressed the growing fear of a beast:

“Then the last thing. This is what people can talk about.”
He waited till the platform was very still.
“Things are breaking up. I don’t understand why. We began well; we were happy. And then—”
He moved the conch gently, looking beyond them at nothing, remembering the beastie, the snake, the fire, the talk of fear.
“Then people started getting frightened.” (Golding 82)

The young boys’ innocence causes this unknown element to become a threat and therefore, causes havoc among the ranks. Ralph tries to explain that all of the thoughts of fear aren’t real and only “littluns’ talk.” Even with the rational justifications, the fear wasn’t at any rate eradicated especially among the littluns. The bigguns (older boys), on the other hand, see this as a hoax. Jack would then go in outburst and disparages the littluns in starting the fear talk among the group. Piggy would also reject the fear talk for “Life…is scientific” and thus, debunks the possibility that such monster exists. Simon however has a different opinion, expressing that “maybe… it’s only us” - meaning, that the beast is not in any form an external element but rather, an internal one - that the ones they feared are themselves. This of course was met with laughter and ridicule among the others. In fact, this is one of the novel’s themes - the existence of innate evil within ourselves. Simon was open-minded and did not limit himself to his senses and the rationality of the sciences. He was however, unable to find any logical explanation of his opinion and instead of clarifying things, spun greater confusion that maybe “it is some sort of ghosts” (page 89). Jack on the other hand, rejected the beast’s existence. Sensing this as an opportunity to show off to the boys his leadership capability is greater than Ralph’s, Jack declared:

“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—!”
He gave a wild whoop and leapt down to the pale sand. At once
the platform was full of noise and excitement, scramblings, screams and
laughter. The assembly shredded away and became a discursive and random
scatter from the palms to the water and away along the beach, beyond
night-sight. (Golding 91)

It is important to take note that without the grown-ups to guide them and society to reinforce moral ethics and public order, it would seem inevitable for the order established by the stranded boys to eventually collapse no matter how Ralph and Piggy, the supposedly defenders of human civility, would try to contain the inner demons within the rest of the boys, and within themselves. Due to these contributing factors, savagery is starting to gain an upper hand over civility and reason. Chapter Five of the novel shows the “you don’t know what you got until it’s gone” scenario wherein Ralph, Piggy, and Simon realized the roles of the grown-ups in keeping peace within the society:

“Grown-ups know things,” said Piggy. “They ain’t afraid of the dark.
They’d meet and have tea and discuss. Then things ’ud be all right—”
“They wouldn’t set fire to the island. Or lose—”
“They’d build a ship—”
The three boys stood in the darkness, striving unsuccessfully to convey
the majesty of adult life.
“They wouldn’t quarrel—”
“Or break my specs—”
“Or talk about a beast—”

With every rise of the boys’ primitive acts, the power of the conch, the symbol of Democracy slowly declines. The remark made by Jack would somehow stir the minds of the boys into believing that Jack is the savior of them all – the protector of the tribe and an enemy of the beast, the one that could lead them to solve their problems and break their fears. The bolstering numbers of Jack’s supporters was an “in your face” statement to Ralph. It can be said that Jack was able to manipulate the children’s minds, just like how religion and mindless propaganda can brainwash people and uses the “fear of the unknown” in order to control and gain power. Their fear was only in their own heads, fear that is universally believed because they can’t find any “logical” explanation, thus they were forced to believe that their fears are real. In other words, they were the creators of their own fear, no one else.

Freudian psychology tells us that the human mind is divided into three entities – the id, the ego, and the superego. According to Freud, “the id works in keeping with the pleasure principle, which can be understood as a demand to take care of needs immediately (qtd. in Boeree).” Applying it on the novel, this would mean that the prevalence of savagery is also the prevalence of the id over the ego and the superego in the human psyche. With the id containing the human’s basic drives, this could be interpreted that Jack represented the id on the novel, just as he represented the idea of just having fun on the island while disregarding the priority of making a signal fire. For a normal person, the ego must balance the needs of the id (the need for pleasure) and the superego (the need to seek perfection and moral ethics). However, this was not the case in the novel. Ralph (ego) was unable to balance the desires of Jack (id) and the Piggy (superego). Rather, it is shown on how Jack was able to dominate the minds of the boys and at the same time, overthrow Ralph’s authority. The id has taken control of the mind and thus, created treacherous consequences.

Since the novel was published in 1954, it would be no surprise if the novel is somewhat associated with the Second World War, the most devastating war in history to date. The novel was written only nine years after the war had ended, so Golding most likely still has his memories of the war intact. It would also be no surprise if Golding, having served in the military, wrote of his experiences about the war. This literary piece of work is a reflection of everything that he witnessed during the war – a war that is waged among “civilized” nations and cost millions of property destroyed and lives lost. The war would impact Golding’s perspective on man’s nature. In this war would he “lose his innocence.” The ending of the novel tells us of the boys’ pursuit of the routing Ralph, who is fleeing for his life after witnessing the death of his “wise friend” Piggy. This signifies the death of reason within the boys. In what would most likely to be Ralph’s end with his head put on a stick that is “sharpened on both ends” (Golding 190), a naval officer appears from out of nowhere in the novel (deus ex machina). In the closing pages, the novel shows a naval officer who scolds the kids for their display of primitive behavior:

“I should have thought,” said the officer as he visualized the search
before him, “I should have thought that a pack of British boys—you’re all
British, aren’t you?—would have been able to put up a better show than
that—I mean—”

It seems quite ironic that even the grown ups in the civilized world are at war amongst themselves. The war in the island is a microcosm of the war that is happening in the outside world. If the conflict in the island concerns the beast and the struggle for leadership, the war of the adults concerns the difference of idealisms, presumably the Capitalism-Communism rupture. The war outside is fought with guns, tanks, and bombs - even worse than slitting a pig’s throat, or clawing Simon to death by a bunch of savages, or even throwing a red boulder at Piggy. Are the grown-ups any better than the boys? Does killing each other with nuclear bombs any better than killing each other with sticks and stones? Does making rules for war justify the killing of another individual? Even how much man claims himself to be civilized, he can never escape the harsh reality that everyone of us has this “Lord of the Flies” – an inner demon, within ourselves, waiting for the opportunity to unleash its fury to others, and mostly, to ourselves.


Boeree, C. George. Personality Theories. 23 Sept. 2006. 03 Oct. 2009. Web.
Golding, William. Lord of the Flies. New York: Perigree, 1954.

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