The Philosophy Behind Lord of the Flies

In the novel, Lord of the Flies, by William Golding, Golding demonstrates how humans are not inherently evil, but guided by their environment and previous experiences to revert to a more primal state of nature. Although the novel is famous for alluding to the idea that humans are inherently evil creatures, this essay will enlighten how, the lives of the characters before reaching the island, shaped their actions, thus the ‘evil’ that emerges is not an innate trait, but a culmination of their experiences and the environment they were put in.

The first clear example of this is Piggy. Piggy is ridiculed by the rest of the group because of a dependence on authority figures, and an unfamiliarity with boys his own age. Piggy, a representation of logic and reason, developed these characteristics from a traumatic childhood. Piggy shares these facts rather reluctantly when confronted with Ralph’s pride in his father. “Piggy flushed suddenly. “My dad’s dead, “ he said quickly, “ and my mum--” He took off his glasses and looked vainly for something with which to clean them. “I used to live with my auntie. She kept a candy store. I used to get ever so many candies. As many as I liked. When’ll your dad rescue us?”(Golding 11). The tragic death of his father has left Piggy without a father figure. His mother likely also met a tumultuous fate. He was taken in by his aunt, who overindulged him. This overindulgence is clear in many facets of Piggy’s character: the unlimited sweets, how Piggy feels he deserves to be heard, how she coddled him from the other boys his age. Piggy shows a strong dependence on adults in general. When Ralph hypothesizes that there are no adults on the island, Piggy’s reaction is shock. “-Perhaps there aren’t any grownups anywhere.” The fat boy looked startled”(Golding 6). Whereas the other boys express joy at understanding there are no adults to be found, this is worrying to Piggy. Piggy enjoys the company and protection adults provide. Piggy demonstrates himself to be more comfortable with adults than his peers. In addition, he shows a dependence on his aunt, as he mentions her no less than six times in his first interaction with Ralph. He is closer with his aunt than anyone else in his life.

Piggy is also ostracized from his peers.“That’s right. Can’t catch me breath. I was the only boy in our school what had asthma,” said the fat boy with a touch of pride. “And I’ve been wearing specs since I was three.” He took off his glasses and held them out to Ralph, blinking and smiling, and then started to wipe them against his grubby wind-breaker. An expression of pain and inward concentration altered the pale contours of his face”(Golding 3). Because Piggy was restrained from running and playing with the other boys at school, a partition of physicality formed, as Piggy was barred from bonding exercises with his peers. This also led to a weight gain, that led to the cruel crowning in the nickname Piggy. His asthma singled him out, letting him focus on school and academics rather than sport. This developed a strong sense of reason and scientific prowess in Piggy, extending far above the other boys. The boys note the difference between them and Piggy: “There had grown up tacitly among the biguns the opinion that Piggy was an outsider, not only by accent, which did not matter, but by fat and ass-mar, and specs, and a certain disinclination for manual labor”(Golding 59). This quotation also hints at another idea: class. Piggy’s accent reveals a lower status in terms of wealth and his grammar is the most lacking of the older boys, despite his higher intelligence. “Piggy grinned reluctantly, pleased despite himself at even this much recognition”(Golding 9). Even though Ralph is tormenting him with his hated nickname, he relishes this peer to peer interaction he is unfamiliar with. Additionally, when confronted by figures of authority, Piggy is demure. “Piggy asked no names. He was intimidated by this uniformed superiority and the offhand authority in Merridew [Jack]’s voice. He shrank to the other side of Ralph and busied himself with his glasses”(Golding 17-18). This indicates the timid side of Piggy, reluctant to engage with authority figures. This Piggy is a product of years of bullying. His practiced submission to authority figures he carried from civilization. It is simple to deduce from this that Piggy also gloms onto Ralph to protect him from the other boys as he used to utilize his ‘auntie’ to protect him. In a group setting, annoyed by other people speaking over him, Piggy speaks out towards the injustice. “If I say anything,” cried Piggy, with bitter realism, “you say shut up; but if Jack or Maurice or Simon-”(Golding 39). Piggy is used to the fairness of the real world, or at least how the adults and teacher in his life have enforced an equality among boys in Piggy’s life, but on the island there is no one to enforce this fairness that Piggy seeks, thus he finds himself struggling against smaller indignities as doesn’t know how to fight for himself. Later in the book, when Ralph and Piggy sit wondering why everything is falling apart. Piggy notes, “We’re all drifting and things are going rotten. At home, there was always a grownup. Please, sir; please, miss; and then you got an answer. How I wish!...Grownups know things,” said Piggy. “They aint’ afraid of the dark. They’d meet and have tea and discuss. Then things ‘ud be alright.”...The three boys stood in the darkness, striving unsuccessfully to convey the majesty of adult life”(Golding 86-87). Piggy craves the finality that adults bring: the idea, prominent in adolescence, that the adults will make the final decision. The weight of the world unbeknownst to the wild abandon of childhood. This adds to the idea, when later in the story, Piggy and Ralph discard their adult worries as they join in on the frenzy of the fire. The troublesome weight placed on their shoulders for most of the novel becomes unhinged as they “found themselves eager to take a place in this demented but partly secure society”(Golding 140). Piggy, in particular, has always struggled to fit in with the boys on the island and the mainland, as demonstrated above, he was coddled, ostracized, bullied, his ‘evil’ actions were a result of a desire to fit in with the other boys, not an innate evil that causes them to kill Simon. For once, Piggy and Ralph were able to relax and not be in charge. Their actions are a result of a release of pressure of being adults as kids. Afterward, Piggy reasons out their actions by declaring them scared: “We was scared!...It was an accident...that’s what it was. An accident...Coming in the dark- he hadn’t no business crawling like that out of the dark. He was batty. He asked for it-”(Golding 145). This is pertinent to Piggy’s character because he is not used to acting poorly, he is not used to “getting in trouble”. The guilt is foreign to him. His actions were not innate, they were fueled by a set of experiences that inspired him to do anything to fit in with the other kids, including a murderous frenzy.

Ralph is another fascinating character because, for most of the book, he remains noble and refrains from embracing the primal lifestyle. Ralph’s childhood shaped his time on the island. “I [Ralph] could swim when I was five. Daddy taught me. He’s a commander in the Navy. When he gets leave he’ll come and rescue us”(Golding 11). Ralph looks up to his father, a famed Navy commander. He has a strong relationship with his father. His pride is clear in his father’s noble status. He has a strong belief that his father will come for them as he assures Piggy, in contrast to the other boys that believe that it is hopeless to maintain the fire, Ralph continues wholeheartedly, fueled by his trust in his father. Ralph, conversely to Piggy, is missing a mother figure. Ralph remembers one of the houses he grew up in, in the many moves they made as a family following his father, “-this one stood out with a particular clarity because after that house he had been sent away to school. Mummy had still been with them and Daddy had come home every day”(Golding 104). Ralph’s mother must have died or left the family when he was young. Ralph idealizes this time when his family was together. Ralph, although is not as dependent on adults as Piggy. “‘Aren’t there any grownups at all?’ [Piggy] “I don’t think so.”[Ralph] The fair boy said this solemnly; but then the delight of a realized ambition overcame him. In the middle of the scar he stood on his head and grinned at the reversed fat boy. “No grownup!”(Golding 2). This reveals a withheld rebellion in Ralph’s character. The prospect of no adults pleases him. He longs for more freedom. But Ralph, in his actions, mirrors the values of his commander father. He brings up the idea of a chief in the meeting. “Shut up,” said Ralph absently. He lifted the conch. “Seems to me we ought to have a chief to decide things”(Golding 19). The idea of a Navy commander means his father is a position of power, in a role to protect the weak and institute a fair government. Ralph develops these values as he becomes a leader himself. “He thought of the littluns and Piggy. Vividly he imagined Piggy by himself, huddled in a shelter that was silent except for the sounds of nightmare”(Golding 108). Ralph becomes a strong and considerate leader because he has learned what a good one looks like. The goal of a Navy is protecting the weak and Ralph does this by caring for Piggy and the younger boys. As well, the Navy places an imperative on rules. The Navy is famous for strict rules and procedure. “The rules!” shouted Ralph. “You’re breaking the rules!” “Who cares?” [Jack] Ralph summoned his wits. “Because the rules are the only thing we’ve got!”(Golding 84). This demonstrates how Ralph was guided by his experience of his father’s career to model his attitude and actions as a leader. Ralph’s faith that his father will come back for him drives his passion for making sure the fire is consistently lit, so a rescue is possible. Ralph represents the better aspects of government and order. He thinks, not just for himself, but for the entirety of the group. When Ralph launches a spear at a pig for the first time, he does not do it out of ‘evil’ as a lion does not pounce on a sheep out of an innate ‘evil’, but a necessity for food. Ralph also cleverly deduces that to join in on the hunt acquires the hunters’ respect, necessary to be a good leader. “He sunned himself in their new respect and felt that hunting was good after all” (Golding 105). The boys’ experience on the island, without the supervision of their parents, have let the games they used to play turn violent. “Robert squealed in mock terror, then in real pain…”Hold him!” They got his arms and legs. Ralph carried away by a sudden thick excitement, grabbed Eric’s spear and jabbed at Robert with it. “Kill him! Kill him!” All at once, Robert was screaming and struggling with the strength of frenzy. Jack had him by the hair and was brandishing his knife. Behind him was Roger, fighting to get close. The chant rose ritually, as at the last moment of a dance or a hunt. “Kill the pig! “Cut his throat!” Kill the pig! Bash him in!” Ralph too was fighting to get near, to get a handful of that brown, vulnerable flesh. The desire to squeeze and hurt was over-mastering” (Golding 106). Ralph, embroiled in the savagery of the hunt, is blind to pain Robert is experiencing. The rush of an interaction with a wild animal, as well as the dooming pressure from constantly being at odds with Jack, forced to reckon with the idea that they must acquire their own food, make him slip into a haze where a more primal nature emerges, the boys become no longer subject to the empathy and logic humans regularly possess. The same primal release of ordinary logic comes again at the infamous dance around the fire, while rain thunders around them, and Simon, in the midst of confusion, becomes the pig, slaughtered in their wake. The boys, captured in a swell of fear of the ‘beast’, take comfort in the fact that the killing the pig is in their control. Ralph is the first to declare their actions “murder.” He is the first to take in the revulsion, that is not shadowed by excuses. It is not that the boys couldn’t help but partake in the actions, it was not a genetic unfolding that led to the bloodshed, it was for the purpose of binding their community in the face of their fear that brought them together to commit an act.

Thus Ralph and Piggy are not perpetrators of the ‘evil’ other commentators speak of.

Now consider Jack and Roger who allegedly possess ‘the truly evil’ spirit. This is also incorrect. It was Jack’s troubled relationship with his parents and unwieldy desire for power along with Roger’s sociopathic sadistic nature, from which emerged a pattern of immoral behavior. Jack Merridew arrives on the island, already possessing a power complex. He declares as soon as he meets the other boys: “I ought to be chief,” said Jack with simple arrogance, “because I’m chapter chorister and head boy. I can sing C Sharp”(Golding 19). He has been given power and authority by the adults on the mainland, not only as chapter chorister but as head boy. He easily commands his choir. Golding uses an interesting word choice by instead of saying the boy who leads them, Golding notes “The boy who controlled them was dressed in the same way though his cap badge was golden”(Golding 17). And Jack does control the choir as they march in through the heat in wool cloaks. Simon, the youngest member of the choir even collapses before disobeying Jack. The choir attends a fancy boarding school, signaled by their expensive uniform: “the creature was a party of boys...wore a square black cap with a silver badge on it. Their bodies, from throat to ankle, were hidden by black cloaks which bore a long silver cross on the left breast and each neck was finished off with a hambone frill”(Golding 16). Jack, already spoiled by his power on the mainland, he is quick and decisive among his peers, pressing back at any exertion of power against him, “Why should I be Jack? I’m Merridew”(Golding 18). When denied power, Jack’s reaction is mortification, not a concession. Jack has clearly learned poor sportsmanship, either from the environment of his school, or perhaps a parental figure. Jack, guided by a looser set of moral instincts is more easily swayed by his amygdala, the part of the brain that fuels fear and the predatory instinct. After the first interaction with a pig, he is unable to kill, knife hovering, Jack is compelled to kill, to finish. “He tried to convey the compulsion to track down and kill that was swallowing him up”(Golding 46). This is not an ‘evil’ instinct. It is simply a matter of honor when Jack was hesitating in front of the pig before, he told the rest of the boys: “I was just waiting for a moment to decide where to stab him.”...They knew very well why he hadn’t: because of the enormity of the knife descending and cutting into living flesh; because of the unbearable blood...Next time there would be no mercy. He looked round fiercely, daring them to contradict”(Golding 27). Jack’s honor and power was brought into question when Jack could not deal the death blow. Each death he deals thereafter is recapturing his power. His desire to kill is to reclaim the honor he lost. To become head boy as well as chapter chorister, Jack proves himself to be driven by the pursuit of power, this is exemplified again on the island. Jack’s often bloodthirsty, seemingly deranged thoughts are just him satisfying his attraction to power. “His [Jack] 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”(Golding 64). Jack recalls the scene with the pig, not as killing, but as imposing power onto it, telling of his inner processes. This theme appears in each encounter Jack faces with someone who threatens his power, especially one so apt as Ralph. His actions, are not ‘evil’, but blinded by a greed for power.

Roger is an outlier. He unapologetically murders Piggy by pushing a boulder over a cliff to crush him beneath its weight.. “High overhead, Roger, with a sense of delirious abandonment, leaned all his weight on the lever”(Golding 167). Roger may indeed be considered evil by most standards. But this does not imply that all of human nature is inherently ‘evil’. Roger displays sadistic and sociopathic tendencies from the beginning of the book. However, the full extent of these tendencies was tempered by the adults on the mainland. “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. Roger’s arm was conditioned by a civilization that knew nothing of him and was in ruins”(Golding 57). Roger is guided by these same sadistic tendencies, only halted by the misplaced fear of punishment. The three previous characters have prior histories that informed their actions on the island. Roger has the least amount of prior background on him given by the author, due to the fact that this is a novel, however one can conjecture, given the three examples, that Roger also had a prior history that contributed to his egregious actions on the island. Although it is never explicitly revealed, it is a logical conclusion given the evidence in the other three cases.

In terms of the groups at large, there is a simple, psychological difference that divides the boys: belief that their parents, the adults in their life, will return for them. The children who stick with Ralph have a firm belief that their parents will return for them. Piggy is dependent and trusting of adults. Ralph believes his Navy father will come for him. The boys who join Jack are, as Piggy noted, “not caring-”(Golding 129), they do not care whether they keep the fire going, because they don’t believe or care to be rescued. Their life at home is dismal or their trust in adults is lacking enough for them not to ‘care’ about the fire.

In conclusion, the idea of good and evil relies on an assumption that there is a set of moral absolutes. Evil entails actions that are “profoundly immoral and malevolent” or otherwise an absence of good, lies in one absolute. However, the novel, Lord of the Flies, does not prove humans to be evil, to be, at their core, ‘profoundly immoral’, but flawed, and traumatized children, who have been tumbled through an upsetting childhood that subconsciously affected their action on the island. In addition, all of the boys were living through war time, watching the adults in their life fight the war of their lives, which impacted how they viewed peer-to-peer partnership. .The fatal combination of Ralph’s ‘Navy Father’ values, the ostracization of Piggy and his lack of experience in interacting with boys his own age, Jack’s hunger for power, because of years in an competitive environment, and Roger’s mentally ill behavior, cultivated unnatural violence and murder among the boys on the island, therefore humans, or more specifically, the caricatures of humans in Golding’s novel, are not inherently evil.


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