Two separate illustrations of an animal head and a fire on a mountain

Lord of the Flies

by William Golding

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How is the theme of evil explored in Lord of the Flies?

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I would tend to separate out Golding's focus on the "darkness of man's heart" and the nature of evil itself. Golding does, after all, dedicate a large section to the development of Simon's "Lord of the Flies." Lord of the Flies is Beezlebub.... Beezlebub is Satan. Satan is the Judeo-Christian representation of evil. In Christian religion, Satan is evil, and "possesses" the body of the human, tempting or forcing that person to perform immoral acts.

In the novel, the boys are being possessed by evil. The make a slow progression from good to bad, demonstrating that they are not evil to begin with. The killing of the pig is when evil begins to take over, hence the introduction of Simon's "Lord". The killing of Simon - the symbolic representation of innocence and purity - is when evil succeeds.

The true chilling revelation, however, is the full emergence of Roger’s character. Previously a strange loner, his personality has emerged as truly sadistic. Even more so than Jack, Roger loves the hunt for the pain he can inflict. He slowly drives his spear into the anus of the sow, torturing it more than killing it. This is the brutal extension of his previous torture of Henry on the beach. The Lord of the Flies represents Satan, and Roger represents one of his minions.

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Evil manifests itself in a number of ways, but the most disturbing (for me, anyway) is the propensity for evil that is a part of being human.

This take on the theme of evil can be found in a number of exchange. First, the boys, like most of us, are convinced that evil is not a part of their nature:

'We've got to have rules and obey them. After all, we're not savages. We're English, and the English are best at everything.'" (Ch. 2)

But things quickly go downhill:

He [Jack] began to dance and his laughter became a bloodthirsty snarling." (Ch 4)

By Chapter 7, all civilized nature seems to have vanished, replaced by a thirst for evil: "'Kill the pig! Cut his throat! Kill the pig! Bash him in!'" and "Ralph...was fighting to get near....The desire to squeeze and hurt was over-mastering."

By Chapter 12, it is all too clear how much evil a part of their make-up: "Ralph launched himself like a cat; stabbed, snarling, with the spear, and the savage doubled up." Ralph himself learns this painful lesson:

""Ralph wept for the end of innocence, the darkness of man's heart, and the fall through the air of the true, wise friend called Piggy."

(Of course, you could also explore the theme of mythical the "beast" in the novel and how it relates to evil as well)

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What does Lord of the Flies seem to say about the nature of evil?

Lord of the Flies speaks to Simon at the end of Chapter 8.  Here he tells Simon that he is "the reason why it's no go?  Why things are what they are?"  He elaborates with "Fancy thinking the Beast was something you could hunt and kill!"  He then tells Simon that Simon knew all along who the beast was.

When Simon stood up at the assembly that Ralph called in Chapter 5, Simon declares that the beast is "us."  The beast is inside.  Evil is inside.  The true threat to the boys' survival is not from without, but from within.  Golding shows us the power struggles, the differing priorities, the increasing violence on the island to portray the source of evil--it is the boys themselves.

Golding wrote the novel in an attempt "to trace the defects of society back to the defects of human nature."  It is human nature that is flawed, that is evil.  The Lord of the Flies is a symbol of that evil and because Simon refuses to "play" (engage in savagery), he becomes a victim of it.

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How does the question of evil addressed in Lord of the Flies?

The stranding of the boys on the island can be viewed as a horrific social experiment in which man's inhumanity to man can be seen to exist in everyone to some extent. The way the boys quickly go from civilized young people to brutal savages is startling.

For example, as early as Chapter Four, evil becomes reality. Golding does not mince words. He states over and over that evil has pervaded the camp. Scott Gerenser of RIT University explains it this way: "Roger's first showing of aggression foreshadows his becoming a very evil and sadistic figure, Jack's invitation to watch him paint his face is the start of their "evil friendship." Jack's mask of face paint represents a cover that he can hide behind, which liberates and frees him, allowing him to do anything when wearing it, without worrying about any important matters."

By Chapter Five, the mysterious evil of the beast is introduced: "Simon is the only one to realize that there really isn't any "beast," but just a force of evil or savagery inside all of them that can manifest itself in different ways. The boys are beginning to split into two factions, those that support Ralph and those that support Jack and his more savage ways. The conflict between them is continuing to build up."

By the conclusion in Chapter 12, "The fire set on the entire island shows the tribe's complete lack of foresight, as if they were not rescued, they would have no food or shelter. Ironically, the fire meant for evil started by Jack turned out to be what got the boys saved. The arrival of the Naval officer thus seems like a happy and ironic ending, but if one digs deeper it is just a continuation from one war to another. Once all the boys get on the Navy cruiser, they'll most likely just be subjected to more battle and fighting, this time on a worldwide level, due to the war taking place in the outside world."

The fact that the boys are rescued but thrown back into the evils of war is Golding's way of showing that evil is not an isolated incident on an island, but a pervasive aspect of human nature.

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