What does Lord of the Flies say about human nature?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually... from his youth. Genesis 6:5 & 8:21

After serving in World War II and witnessing the horrors of war, William Golding wrote Lord of the Flies in response to the Victorian novel Coral Island by R. M. Ballantyne in which a group of boys stranded on an island prevail against the dangerous natives, proving that the intrinsic goodness in the English boys is superior to the evil ways of the natives.  In Lord of the Flies, Golding considers this theme of the intrinsic goodness of man, and finds it wrong; evil does come continually from the hearts of man as mentioned in the Bible's Book of Genesis; it is only society's restrictions which curtail certain evil acts.  In Chapter Four, for instance, the sadistic Roger watches as the small boy named Henry plays in the shallow water of the shoreline; his desire to do gratuitous harm to this child is curtailed only by the conditioning of British society:

Roger gathered a handful of stones and bega to throw them.  Yet there was a space round Henry, perhaps six yeards 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 policeman and law. Roger's arm was conditioned by a civilization that knew nothing of him and was in ruins.

Involved in a world war, this society of Roger's has its lines of civilized behavior blurred, placing it in "ruins." Symbolic of this ruin of the standards of goodness is the naval officer from a warship who rescues Ralph and the others while a warship lies in wait in the background.

With Roger and Jack symbolic of the intrinsic evil that emerges from man if no societal controls are in place, Simon symbolizes the Christ figure who emerges to try to save the boys from their inherent evil nature.  Futilely, though, he essays to enlighten the boys to the fact that the "beast" is no tangible thing such as the dead parachutist at the top of the mountain or the head of the pig; instead, the beast is within them. In Chapter Eight, Piggy asks Simon,

"What's the good of climbing up to this here beast when Ralph and the other two couldn't do nothing?"

"What else is there to do?" Simon whispers to him, for he has tried to explain what he has intuitively sensed. Later in this same chapter, of course, Simon encounters the slaughtered pig's bleeding head surrounded by flies, and Beelzebub tells him,

"You knew, didn't you?  I'm part of you? ....I'm the reason why it's no go? Why things are what they are?

In his effort to come down from the mountain and explain the evil that is within them to the boys, good Simon becomes the sacrificial victim to the savage hunters as they bludgeon him to death.  Locked now in a frenzy of blood lust, Jack and Roger, who "understands the mask" of savagery, strongarm the others such as SamnEric to pursue Ralph, burning the island in the attempt to kill him with, as the Bible says, "every intention of the thoughts of [their] heart[s]... only evil continually." For, it is only the intervention of the "society in ruins" that deters their evil intent.

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Lord of the Flies

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