About Lord of the Flies
Based upon his wartime experiences in the British Navy, Golding asserted that the unlimited brutality shown by the Nazis was a capacity not limited to Germans or indeed to any particular group. While the world was horrified by news of the Nazi death camps, Golding felt that none of the nations was too far from committing atrocities of the same magnitude. According to Golding, humankind's propensity toward evil and violence coupled with the "psychology of fear" motivates humanity to act in unconscionable ways. When the United States used the atomic bomb in Japan, more than 100,000 people were killed in three days by dropping two bombs. Overall, a total of 55 million people lost their lives in World War II. Such catastrophic violence and loss of life was clearly not lost on Golding: An atomic war causes the boys' evacuation in Lord of the Flies, and the sign from the world of grownups that the boys so wish for turns out to be the body of a dead paratrooper, floating down from an aerial battle.
Such a fatalistic view of humanity directly conflicted with the rationalism on which Golding was raised. His father's rationalist optimism held that humankind can be perfected with enough effort, purged of aggressive or anti-social tendencies. Golding's view is much more pessimistic about humankind's true makeup; he perceived human nature as equal parts good and evil, permanently intertwined. Rather than looking to social reform to cure humanity of its cruelty, Golding felt that breakdown in the social order, such as occurs in Lord of the Flies, is directly traceable to moral meltdown at the individual's level.
Golding's representation of humanity's inherent evil is a treatment of the Judeo-Christian concept of original sin. When Lord of the Flies was published, many critics were not impressed by it because Golding was not part of one of the contemporary literary movements, which concerned themselves not with theology or mysticism but with existential and sociological themes. Instead Golding was a 43-year-old schoolteacher with a wife and children addressing classic themes of good and evil.
As a schoolteacher, however, Golding experienced the reality of schoolboy behavior and tendencies, which provided him with valuable literary material. That reality was quite different from the picture painted in many children's adventure stories, such as R. M. Ballantyne's classic Victorian tale Coral Island. Coral Island exemplified certain assumptions about English schoolboys and British culture that Golding knew to be false, such as the idea that British Christian children were naturally virtuous and innocent. Golding wrote Lord of the Flies as a solemn parody of Coral Island, relocating savagery from the external sources such as heathens and foreigners to residency in each individual's heart.
Another issue Golding addressed was the western world's post-war confidence in technology, another spin on the rationalist idea that human society can be perfected; rationalism's anti-mystical bent is a part of technology worship. Included in the scientific advances of the first half of the twentieth century was the field of psychiatry, which promised to explain emotional disturbances in a logical way — a technology of the mind. Golding wove in references to technology's influence in Lord of the Flies through ">Piggy, who asserts that psychiatry can explain away their fears and that ghosts can't exist because if they did then television and streetlights wouldn't work. While Golding's novel does not prove the existence of ghosts, it does provide a complex commentary on the underlying fears and true demons found in humanity.