Lord of the Flies by William Golding

Lord of the Flies book cover
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Does William Golding agree with the Hobbesian or a Lockean view of human nature and government in Lord of the Flies?

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David Morrison eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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William Golding's worldview in Lord of the Flies is Hobbesian through and through. Hobbes famously believed that, in the state of nature, we'd all be at each other's throats, taking what we want whenever we want. There would be be complete chaos; no one would feel safe and so there'd be no incentive for anyone to engage in the foundational activities of civilization such as science, arts, or commerce. The law of the jungle would prevail and only the strong would survive.

If we apply that grim view of humanity to Lord of the Flies, we can immediately see the parallels. Despite Ralph's best efforts to establish himself as sovereign, the boys remain in a primitive state, the state of nature. Hobbes would doubtless have welcomed Ralph's attempts to impose order on the unruly mob of schoolboys, but he would've been hyper-critical of the methods he used. For Hobbes believed that the only way to bring some measure of order to society was through the establishment of an absolute ruler or sovereign, with complete power to do whatever he saw fit to keep the peace. Ralph, however, doesn't fit the bill; he's an authoritative leader, but not the kind of absolute sovereign that Hobbes would demand.

Jack would be much more to Hobbes's liking in this regard. But even he wouldn't quite measure up to his ideal. The whole point of having an absolute sovereign is to create the peaceful conditions necessary for civilization. Yet under Jack's dictatorship the boys remain trapped in a state of nature, acting like complete savages. It's certainly difficult to imagine any civilization worthy of the name emerging out of Jack's brutal, blood-thirsty tyranny.

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sbzometa eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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William Golding would certainly agree with Hobbes’s social contract theory.

At the beginning of the novel, the boys establish a kind of government, with Ralph as an elected leader and the rest of the boys as part of a direct democracy. The meetings signaled by the blowing of the conch are a space in which each boy has the ability to voice his concerns and be heard.

The problem with this system is that the boys are too immature to shoulder the responsibility required to maintain order over the long term. As the structure of the meetings becomes more chaotic, the belief in Ralph’s authority wanes. As a result, lack of trust in the government leads to a splintering of the group—which leads to tragic and violent consequences.

Through this story, Golding espouses his theory that mankind is inherently evil and that civilization is the only thing that can keep that evil at bay. This is basically Hobbes’s philosophy in a nutshell.

At the end of the novel when the naval officer arrives, Ralph breaks down crying. Golding says one of the reasons for Ralph’s grief is “the darkness of man’s heart.” This line alone supports the idea that Goulding’s ideology aligns with that of Thomas Hobbes.

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Kristen Lentz eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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William Golding's novel Lord of the Flies shares in a most definite Hobbesian view of humanity. One of Hobbes' most well known quotes from The Leviathan summarizes the events of Lord of the Flies perfectly:

"No arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death: and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short" (Chapter 12). 

Hobbes' quote could be a summary for the back cover of Golding's novel.  Without the law and order provided by civilization, the boys on the island descend into darkness, fear, and death.  Their quality of life does become primal, and in Hobbes' words, "brutish and short."  The final two chapters of Golding's novel are animalistic and raw; due to the savagery of the other boys, Ralph feels like a cornered, hunted animal until he is finally rescued by the naval officer.   As Golding artfully suggests through Simon's conversation with the Lord of the Flies, man's sin has brought darkness and death to the island.

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