Lord of the Flies By William Golding Critical Essays Major Themes

Problem of Evil

Lord of the Flies was driven by "Golding's consideration of human evil, a complex topic that involves an examination not only of human nature but also the causes, effects, and manifestations of evil. It demands also a close observation of the methods or ideologies humankind uses to combat evil and whether those methods are effective. Golding addresses these topics through the intricate allegory of his novel.

When Lord of the Flies was first released in 1954, Golding described the novel's theme in a publicity questionnaire as "an attempt to trace the defects of society back to the defects of human nature." In his 1982 essay A Moving Target, he stated simply "The theme of Lord of the Flies is grief, sheer grief, grief, grief." The novel ends of course with Ralph grieving the indelible mark of evil in each person's heart, an evil he scarcely suspected existed before witnessing its effects on his friends and supporters. The former schoolboys sought unthinkingly to dominate others who were not of their group. They discovered within themselves the urge to inflict pain and enjoyed the accompanying rush of power. When confronted with a choice between reason's civilizing influence and animality's self-indulgent savagery, they choose to abandon the values of the civilization that Ralph represents.

This same choice is made constantly all over the world, all throughout history — the source of the grief Golding sought to convey. He places supposedly innocent schoolboys in the protected environment of an uninhabited tropical island to illustrate the point that savagery is not confined to certain people in particular environments but exists in everyone as a stain on, if not a dominator of, the nobler side of human nature. Golding depicts the smallest boys acting out, in innocence, the same cruel desire for mastery shown by Jack and his tribe while hunting pigs and, later, Ralph. The adults waging the war that marooned the boys on the island are also enacting the desire to rule others.

Ironically, by giving rein to their urge to dominate, the boys find themselves in the grip of a force they can neither understand nor acknowledge. The Lord of the Flies tells Simon "Fancy thinking the Beast was something you could hunt and kill!" and then laughs at the boys' efforts to externalize their savagery in the form of an animal or other fearsome creature. Simon has the revelation that evil isn't simply a component of human nature, but an active element that seeks expression.

Outlets for Violence

Most societies set up mechanisms to channel aggressive impulses into productive enterprises or projects. On the island, Jack's hunters are successful in providing meat for the group because they tap into their innate ability to commit violence. To the extent that this violence is a reasoned response to the group's needs (for example, to feed for the population), it produces positive effects and outcomes. However, when the violence becomes the motivator and the desired outcome lacks social or moral value beyond itself, as it does with the hunters, at that point the violence becomes evil, savage, and diabolical.

Violence continues to exist in modern society and is institutionalized in the military and politics. Golding develops this theme by having his characters establish a democratic assembly, which is greatly affected by the verbal violence of Jack's power-plays, and an army of hunters, which ultimately forms a small military dictatorship. The boys' assemblies are likened to both ends of the social or civil spectrum, from pre-verbal tribe gatherings to modern governmental institutions, indicating that while the forum for politics has changed over the millennia, the dynamic remains the same.

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