The Good and Evil Natures of Man in William Golding's
Lord of the Flies
According to Freud all people's psyche is made up of three things, the Id, the Ego, and the Superego. The Id controls the person's desire to experience pleasure. The Ego controls the person's rationality and desire to remain safe and the Superego influences the person to do good so that he or she will look good in the eyes of society. When all of these things are equally balanced, that person is a normal member of society. Good is defined as “being positive or desirable in nature” and “having the qualities that are desirable or distinguishing in a particular thing”. Evil is defined as “morally bad or wrong”. The characters' actions in William Golding's Lord of the Flies are controlled by their good and evil natures.
In this book, a group of boys land on on an uninhabited island in a plane crash. The only adult on the plane was the pilot and he is dead. One of the boys, Piggy, finds a shell and has another boy use it to call the rest of the boys. Once they are all together, a leader, Ralph, is chosen by voting. Another boy, Jack, is chosen to be a leader of the hunters. Throughout the book they form a kind of society. It works well for them until there is conflict between Ralph and Jack. Piggy tries to intervene but fails. By the end of the book that have resorted to extremely primitive ways and are only saved when a ship comes and sees them.
Two characters in the book are symbols of the good nature. These characters are Ralph and Piggy. Ralph is a symbol of goodness and organization. He is voted for democratically.
“None of the boys could have found good reason for this; what
intelligence had been shown was traceable to Piggy while the
most obvious leader was Jack. But there was a stillness about
Ralph that marked him out: there was his size, and attractive
appearance; and most obscurely, yet most powerfully, there
was the conch (shell).” (Golding . 22)
This voting shows that the boys wanted organization and Ralph gave it to them. He was a symbol of what they were used to in the adult world. It is well known to those who are around children that change tends to frighten them. Ralph was their sign of a familiar authority figure.
Ralph also tried to put the good of the community before himself when he risks Jack's anger. Jack had allowed the fire on the mountain to go out. It was understood between the boys that the fire must stay lit so that smoke could be seen if someone was trying to rescue them. Almost as though he had had a premonition, Ralph knew that the fire was out when he saw the ship on the horizon. When Jack returned with a dead pig, Ralph confronted him (Golding . 69-70). This was the beginning of the boys' conflicts. Ralph was controlled by his good nature and Superego. He wanted the boys and himself to be rescued and brought back to the modern world. It was this desire to help others at the risk of himself that later led to his downfall.
Piggy is a symbol of wisdom. He is the one who finds the shell and knows how to use it. He instructs Ralph in doing so because of his own asthma. He is wise to know that the sound will bring all the boys together. He attempts to count the boys but fails because of the lack of complete order.
“The you don't know how many of us there ought to be?”
“How could I with them little 'uns running around like
insects? . . . I never had a chance-” (Golding . 46)
Not many people listen to Piggy's ideas and so his valuable wisdom is thrown out. If he had been listened to it is possible that the boy with the mark on his face might not have died. '“That little 'un-” gasped Piggy- “him with the mark on his face, I don't see him. Where is he now?”' (Golding . 46)
Piggy is also a sign of order. Throughout the novel he states “I got the conch!” (The conch is the shell that was used to bring the boys together. It is later handed to someone who wants to speak and only the person with the shell may speak.) This shows that he is trying to create a set of laws that are universal on the island. When the boys run off to the mountain he says “Like a pack of kids...” (Golding . 38) It is not clear whether he knew what was about to happen but shortly after saying that the marked boy dies in a fire.
Towards the end of the story the boys have been divided and Piggy and Ralph are on one part of the island. The other boys are being led by Jack at Castle Rock. Jack's group has ostracized Ralph and his followers. Piggy realizes the danger of this and knows that they must be reunited. Piggy's maturity and wisdom are shown when he says, “What can he do more than he has? I'll tell him what's what. You let me carry the conch, Ralph. I'll show him the one thing he hasn't got.” (Golding .171) Unfortunately, Piggy's plan does not work and he is killed.
Ralph and Piggy are the signs of positivity, goodness, hope, maturity, and wisdom. William Golding uses them to show that mankind has a good side. They put others above themselves at the risk of their own lives. Sadly, all people are not like this. In Lord of the Flies there are also characters who are symbols of mankind's evil nature. Jack and the Lord of the Flies represent the worst of Man.
Jack starts out as a fairly innocent boy, albeit a bit controlling as shown when he does not let the choir rest. Jack, Simon, and Ralph come across a pig when they are exploring the island. Jack prepares to kill the pig but cannot bring himself to do so. '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.' (Golding . 31) At this point he is innocent but he soon starts to become more evil and begins to fell that while he is hunting he is also being hunted. Jack soon completely loses his innocence and kills a pig. He becomes bloodthirsty and murderous. He and the other hunters find great pleasure in the killings of the pigs without regard for their innocence.
'The pigs lay, bloated bags of fat, sensuously enjoying the
shadows under the trees. . .A little apart from the rest,
sunk in deep maternal bliss, lay the largest sow of the lot.'(Golding . 134)
It is only time before he becomes so crazed with killing that he and the other boys slaughter Simon, thinking that he is the beast that is really inside of them.
Jack is also the representation of the desire for power. Jack exerts his power over the pig when he kills it and later enjoys '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 . 70). Jack later deserts Ralph and tries to take the followers from him. This time he does not succeed but later does, bringing about the end of civilized society on the island.
The boys begin to perform rituals where they reenact the killing of the pigs. It is during one of these rituals that Simon comes out of the jungle to tell the other boys what he has learned. Instead of being greeted warmly, he is attacked and killed. Jack is once again showing his desire for power by use of violence.
Jack shows his true evilness when Piggy is killed. Jack had a great amount of control over his followers so it seems as though anything that any of them does could be linked back to Jack. Along with Piggy being killed, the conch is also shattered. The conch had been given great respect and its destruction is a sign of total abandonment of the civilized world. Jack has rid himself and the other boys of a world that gives someone other than Jack power. He has taken away all ties to order and has put himself in the position of a god.
The Lord of the Flies represents the fear that all people have within themselves. The boy with the mark on his face is the first to submit to fear. When he is not given the conch he begins to cry because he feels that the others need to know about the 'beastie' (Golding . 35). The other boys begin to fear the beast in the woods and try to convince each other that is doesn't exist. Because they are unaware that the beast is not a tangible thing but is simply the fear that they have inside themselves they cannot conquer the beast. The fear is made even more real when the boy goes missing during the big fire.
Simon is the only character who truly understands what the beast is. While Jack enjoys the darkness of the jungle, Simon enjoys the beauty of it. Simon's talk with the Lord of the Flies gives him an understanding of the true natures of Man. When Simon tries to enlighten the other boys, he is mistaken for the beast. He is murdered without remorse except for Piggy and Ralph.
In Lord of the Flies, Simon is a character of balance. He is the enlightened character, a Jesus figure. Simon is the only boy who remains with Ralph when he is building the huts. He stays true to his word when he says he will work until the huts are completed. Simon repeatedly goes to 'a place where more sunshine fell' (Golding . 56). Here he thinks and has revelations. His biggest revelation is when he speaks to the Lord of the Flies. This conversation is almost like he is speaking to God. The others think that Simon is crazy and treat him as such. Ralph is fond of him because he works hard but is slightly afraid of him. This may be because Simon gives off a presence of knowing something that the others do not know.
Simon is killed by the other boys without putting up a fight in a way similar to that of Jesus. He accepts his death from his peers because he knows that there is nothing to be afraid of. It is unfortunate that he had to die because he could have helped the boys keep a civilized society by telling them that the beast was truly inside them and that the beast on the hill was just a dead man's corpse. It was only through his death that the innermost feelings of each character are shown. Those who stay with Jack have been proved to be evil at heart and those who continue to follow Ralph are the few good people on the island.
In this book William Golding shows Mankind at its best and at its worst. The transition from innocence to evil is drastic. Golding allows us to see that 'the shape of a society must depend on the ethical nature of the individual' (Golding . 204). Because the majority of the boys on the island are evil, there cannot be a good and pure government. Jack has no morals so he rules completely over those who are ignorant enough to follow him and he casts out those who do have morals. The characters in Lord of the Flies are perfect examples of the good and evil natures of Man. It is because of their natures that they act the way they do. None of the boys are truly at fault for what they do. They have been removed from a structured society and are forced to revert to primitive ways. Without the wisdom and authority of adults, they are just a group of ignorant boys on an island forced to stay alive by any means necessary.
Golding, William. Lord of the Flies New York, NY: Berkley, 1954.