November 6th 2014
Knowing one’s evil: William Golding’s “Lord of the Flies”
Since human conscience began, civilization has been built on law and figures of power. Structured society relies on rules with humans naturally conditioned by their own restrictions, contrasting an unsuccessful barbaric, savage or primitive way of life. With the loss of restraint, there would be no stopping humans descent into madness—with a lack of punishment and order, there is a lack of justice. The view of right and wrong is distorted and primal animalistic urges within oneself will, eventually, reinstate. It is impossible to deny humanity’s own evil that rests within society. In his novel Lord of the Flies William Golding expresses this very idea of a structured society gone animalistic. What might seem as a simple novel portraying adolescents on an uninhabited island is truly an allegory for what our society may be doomed to, using its many symbolic features. The boys on the island begin orderly, but as the novel progresses, that established order is torn, leaving them to their descent into a barbarous community. Golding uses the characters, tone and setting in Lord of the Flies to show without rules and influential figures, humans will succumb to their own evil. The novel paints a vast portrait of the basic human trial between the civilized instinct—to act lawfully, obey rules and remain with intact morals—and the savage instinct—disregarding morals, seeking dominant power, and the indulgence of violence. All of this is weaved into the story, the underlying meaning depicting humanity’s own flaws. Humans, especially youths, are impressionable. They need to be habituated and taught in order to grow up with the idea of right and wrong, ethical and unethical. The more the voice of reason fades, the more animalistic one becomes. The boys on the island are English boys, already seen with proper expectations. This view however, is betrayed by their actions as they lose sight of what is right and what is wrong due to lack of authority.
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. (62)
Here, Roger is first tempted by the urge to torment his younger peers. In this case, it is the temptation to prove his superiority over the smaller boys by using violence. There is still inhibition overpowering that urge, his civilization instinct dominating that of a savages—despite this, the cracks in his morality are beginning to show. At this point in the novel, Roger remains constrained by “parents and school and policemen and the law”, showing the only thing preventing him from hurting these children is the influence of adult figures he had prior to the island.
The Conch is perhaps one of the strongest and most recognized symbols within Lord of the Flies, representing civilization and order on the island. Ralph finds the shell with Piggy on the beach, using it to first summon the other boys after the plane crash. This conch shell is linked to the word of authority the boys lost upon arrival of the island.
'And another thing. We can't have everybody talking at once. We'll have to have 'Hands up' like at school.' He held the conch before his face and glanced round the mouth. 'Then I'll give him the conch.'
'That's what this thing is called. I'll give the conch to the next person to speak. He can hold it when he's speaking.'(33)
In this passage, the Conch is linked to political legitimacy and democratic power: Ralph gives the boys their chance to speak in an organized and structured fashion, rather than dominating. With this method, the group of boys are able to function as a small society.
However, as this once functioning civilization begins to decay, the