Dr. Richard Baker
Human Nature and Violence When William Golding wrote Lord of the Flies he explained the theme of his novel as “an attempt to trace the defects of society back to the defects of human nature. The moral is that the shape of society must depend on the ethical nature of the individual and not on any political system however apparently logical or respectable” (Epstein 204). Golding understood that human nature has many flaws but did he believe that we are inherently evil? The debate of nature vs. nurture is an old one. In his novel Golding uses the young boys stranded on an island to symbolize, just a few, of the character traits we witness in modern societies all over the world. The most predominant characters in the novel such as Ralph, Jack, Simon and Piggy each symbolize a basic character type in our world. Looking at how Golding uses these characters in his story gives insight into his view on this age old debate.
Ralph is the first character Golding introduces us to. He is described as “the boy with fair hair”(Golding, Lord of the Flies 7) and Golding says “you could see now that he might make a boxer, as far as width and heaviness of shoulders went, but there was a mildness about his mouth and eyes that proclaimed no devil” (Lord of the Flies 10). A major tool used by Golding in Lord of the Flies is the description of physical appearance to symbolize something more. Ralph’s physical appearance is a symbol of good. He is pleasant to look at and his stature is one of strength and power but his face does not show any evil accompanying the strength and power. Ralph is immediately selected as the “chief” of the boys based on his physical appearance, then, throughout the story his actions show that he was written to symbolize not only leadership but responsibility, civilization and democracy. Ralph, following Piggy’s advice, suggests to the others that they need to make a signal fire in order to be rescued. He is personally taking responsibility for their situation and their hopeful rescue. He then puts the boys in charge of various tasks such as tending the fire, hunting, and building huts. He is attempting to form an ordered society with rules and a plan of action. His creation of the rule that whoever is holding the conch shell has permission to speak shows the human need for democracy and civilization. The interesting thing about Ralph is that, while he symbolizes what most of us would want to embody as our own human nature, Golding also shows how fragile this character type is. Ralph repeatedly loses sight of his “responsibility” to get the boys rescued. He allows himself to get caught up in killing the wild pig and also in the murder of Simon. The defining factor for Ralph’s story is that he feels guilty afterwards and is able to pull himself back on the track of civilization. Golding allowed Ralph to survive in the novel for a very specific reason. In an interview with James Keating Golding said “If I’d gone on to the death of Ralph, Ralph would never have had time to understand what had happened to him, so I deliberately saved him so that at this moment he could see-look back over what’s happened- and weep for the end of innocence and the darkness of man’s heart, which is what I was getting at” (“Interview with William Golding”). The second character introduced is a boy nicknamed Piggy. Piggy is one of Golding’s most basic character types. He is the intellect who supplies intelligence, civilization and voice of reason. Our first view of Piggy is “The naked crooks of his knees were plump, caught and scratched by thorns. He bent down, removed the thorns carefully, and turned around. He was shorter than the fair boy and very fat. He came forward, searching out safe lodgements for his feet, and then looked up through thick spectacles” (Golding, Lord of the Flies 7). As the novel progresses we learn that Piggy is asthmatic, extremely over weight and basically blind