Lord of the Flies by William Golding

Lord of the Flies book cover
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Evaluate Golding's pessimistic stance about human nature in Lord of the Flies.  

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Blaze Bergstrom eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The question of whether Golding is an optimist or a pessimist is one of the most often debated aspects of Lord of the Flies. This is actually a slightly different matter than his view of human nature. It seems realistic to say that Golding primarily agrees with the philosopher Thomas Hobbes, who saw human life as “nasty, brutish, and short.” The boys on the island do not inspire much confidence in the future of the human race. They create a dystopia in pretty short order, and do not merely harm but actually kill each other. Nevertheless, not all the boys perish; they are rescued by adults.

While Golding’s novel is often considered as a parable of all humanity’s behavior, it is important to remember that he deliberately chose characters who are children, not adults. The boys do initially manage to create some semblance of social order. The problems they experience are related not only to their isolation but to their immaturity. Their terror of the danger they are facing manifests itself in the fanciful personification of the Beast, much as children see monsters in their dark bedrooms. In this regard, the novel is as much about the importance of environment or nurture as it is about nature. Golding created a scenario in which children are cut off from adults. They not only have no role models present, they seem to vary exceedingly in the kind of guidance they had before arriving on the island.

On the whole, it seems fair to say that Golding’s view tends toward pessimism but that he manifests very strong elements of optimism. Ralph, portrayed as a natural leader, is generous and fair. Although he loses the leadership position to one of the nastiest boys, he himself is fundamentally unchanged. He does start to succumb to despair as he realizes that the odds are against him and all of them. The boys who betray him, Samneric, do so only after they are tortured not because they believe in the false tyrant Jack. And Ralph’s allies who die, Piggy and Simon, exhibit together almost all of the best human qualities.

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Kristen Lentz eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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William Golding's novel Lord of the Flies attempts to reveal "man's essential illness" through the boys' struggles and descent into savagery (89).   He creates a scenario about boys stranded on a deserted island with no adult supervision, and the worst possible outcome occurs:  the boys become savages and end up murdering one another. 

Seen from this perspective, Lord of the Flies is a pessimistic view of human nature, because Golding's characters do give into their savage, animalistic natures and lose touch with civilization.  With that being said, Golding could have made the outcome of the novel even more bleak than the original ending; at least the boys didn't cannibalize each other, and Ralph did survive to be reconnected with the saving power of civilization in the end.  

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