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

Lord of the Flies

by William Golding

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What does Lord of the Flies reveal about human nature?

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As was mentioned in the previous post, William Golding reveals humanity's inherent wickedness throughout the novel. Initially, the boys attempt to create a democratic society in order to survive on the island. However, the boys gradually descend into savagery as the novel progresses. The belief in the beast terrifies the boys and causes disorder among them. During Simon's encounter with the Lord of the Flies, Golding reveals the central issue concerning human nature. The Lord of the Flies tells Simon that the beast is inside each boy and cannot be killed. This scene depicts Golding's cynical view of humanity and suggests that humans are inherently wicked. Golding's setting also alludes to the Biblical account of the fall of man, which takes place in the Garden of Eden. The boys go from behaving like obedient, civilized young men to acting like brutal savages. By the end of the novel, Simon and Piggy are dead, and the group of boys is hunting Ralph. Golding believed that humans would behave like primitive savages without the laws, rules, and regulations of a civilized society. 

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William Golding experienced first hand the atrocities of World War II, and this experience left him cynical about man's goodness. 

In the novel, as soon as the boys are removed from civilization, they try to preserve society. However, their decorum and civility doesn't last long, and the boys turn savage. Their descent into savagery is best shown threw their appearance and their conduct toward the pigs and beast. After their civility is no longer redeemable, they become so lost that they murder Simon and then Piggy. 

At the beginning of the novel, the conch symbolizes order and power. When the conch shell breaks and Ralph realizes it didn't hold any power anymore anyway, it is a symbol of how the boys have completely strayed from democracy and organized leadership. The double-ended spears are a symbol of savagery and animalistic behavior.

With Roger and Jack at the forefront, readers can see that these boys are evil. However, Golding does not excuse any of the boys besides Simon. Ralph, Samneric and even Piggy are all at fault for losing themselves to their animal instincts. Therefore, Golding's message is that humans are inherently evil. Without society's rules and expectations, people descend into  animalistic behaviors and turn to survival mode. There is no compassion or reasonability at the end of the novel. 

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The theme of the novel Lord of the Flies is the nature and origin of evil. Discuss.

A novel's theme is a universal truth about life or humanity that readers can glean from the content of the story. Ideally, a theme should be formulated as a statement, not just a word or phrase. A work can have multiple themes; however, one must support any proposed theme with proof from the work itself. One could certainly make a cogent argument that a prominent theme in William Golding's Lord of the Flies relates to the nature and origin of evil. To perfect this as a theme, one needs to assert what the novel tells readers about the nature and origin of evil. A supportable statement of theme for the novel could be phrased like this: A theme of Lord of the Flies is that evil—the tendency to harm others in order to benefit oneself—comes from within people, not from outside influences.

Golding uses three primary manifestations of evil on the island. Two are metaphorical, namely the Beast and the Lord of the Flies. The third, represented by Jack and his tribe, is real and grows stronger as the novel progresses. The Beast that terrifies the children is actually the fear of harm that the children have when the restraining hand of their parents and civilization has been removed. It's as if the children, even the littluns, understand innately that the evil of humanity will find free rein without the laws and structure that society provides. The Beast that Samneric see turns out to be a decaying human, a symbol of the rottenness of humanity. Simon shows great insight when he suggests at the meeting that the Beast isn't something lurking in the jungle, but rather it is something lurking in each of their hearts.

Simon later has an encounter with the Lord of the Flies, another symbol of evil. "Lord of the Flies" is the translation of Beelzebub, a name for a demon or the devil. In his vision, Simon hears the pig's head tell him, "You knew, didn't you? I'm part of you? Close, close, close!" This supports the idea that evil comes from within.

The reality of evil soon takes shape on the island. Jack lets his thirst for blood and power overtake him many times, and before long, it spreads to other boys, especially Roger. Jack hurts Piggy and breaks his glasses in order to defend his own pride. All the boys in the hunting party, including Ralph, get carried away when playing the hunting game, feeling the desire to inflict pain on the boy who is play-acting as a pig. After the feast, all the boys participate in the murder of Simon, and then Jack's tribe commits violence and theft in order to obtain Piggy's glasses. Near the end of the book, evil is running rampant. Piggy is murdered, and Jack's tribe intends to hunt and kill Ralph. When the naval officer appears at the end, he comments on Coral Island, the setting of a children's book that Golding wished to refute. Despite being "good" English schoolboys on an island paradise, they have succumbed to evil. It didn't come from the island; it came from their own inner selves.

Golding's novel communicates that evil comes from within people and manifests as the desire to cause harm in order to pursue one's own desires.

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What does Lord of the Flies say about human nature?

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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Discuss the theme of human nature in Lord of the Flies.

I've linked you back to another post that discusses this same topic.

In a nutshell, Golding is suggesting that mankind is full of basic savages. If we remove the system of reward and punishment that society has in place for us, we will resort back to the violent and primitive mannerisms of our early ancestors. Many of the characters in LOTF are cruel by nature, Jack and Roger the two most prevelent. Golding has created enough good and decent characters to give us hope, but has also made it pretty clear that those with the "right" ideas aren't heard often enough.

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What is the theme of Lord of the Flies?

It can be argued that there are several themes in Lord of the Flies, and it's difficult to say which of them is the most central to the text. We might also distinguish between what the text explicitly says, and what is implicit (these are the thematic concepts and thematic statements); this is important because the many books are not necessarily forthcoming about what their theme is supposed to be. In the Enotes link below are details on several themes that are commonly identified in Lord of the Flies, such as Good vs. Evil and Reason vs. Emotion. However, I think the central theme is closely linked to the narrative conflict of Man vs. Self: Civilization is a thin veneer that struggles to contain the beast within us.

As you might assume, I think that the Beast is probably the most important element in understanding the theme. We could almost think of the Beast and Simon as the true narrators of the theme, will all of the action taking place in the "background", progressing towards what seems to be an inevitable conclusion. The Beast even seems to gain power, going from being an unidentifiable "thing", to becoming embodied in the paratrooper, and finally speaking and giving itself titles (the Lord of the Flies) in the form of the pig's head.

The connection between the Beast and humanity is made early in the story, and only grows over time;

However Simon thought of the beast, there rose before his inward sight the picture of a human at once heroic and sick.

Simon, possessing an abstract and visionary sense, figures things out even if he's not really aware of the meaning.

There isn’t anyone to help you. Only me. And I’m the Beast. . . . Fancy thinking the Beast was something you could hunt and kill! . . . You knew, didn’t you? I’m part of you.

The Beast itself makes things pretty clear.

I think we could tell the story of Lord of the Flies, at least in terms of its themes, with only the characters of Simon and the Beast. The other boys and the action that takes place on the island is almost like a separate story; this is also emphasized by Simon's isolation and choice not to interact with them. In essence, we see the theme "acted out" by the boys, whereas Simon acts like a one-man Greek chorus, telling us more pointedly what that theme is.

In terms of how this is evidenced by the boys, we can clearly see many symbols of power, both civilized and savage, that the boys use as they transition from an orderly society to a wild one. Much is made of the conch, and how it represents the rule of law, but equally important are the face paint, fire, violence and blood-drunkenness that the hunters come to be associated with. Psychologically these elements might be considered to be part of a "collective memory", or instinct, buried within the human past, and emerging in times of chaos to reveal who we "really are" without the restraints of civilization to keep us in check.

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What is a theme of Lord of the Flies?

Theme is the story’s moral or message.  Since Lord of the Flies is allegorical, we need to look at what lesson the story is trying to teach us.  The main lesson is that without external forces keeping them in line, people are savages.

An allegory is a fairy tale or fable that is written to tell us something about human life.  Golding’s tale of a bunch of boys who get stranded on an island and try to form a society but end up killing each other is clearly allegorical.  Golding is trying to tell us that human beings are savages at our core.  We are more likely to fight each other and look for our own interests than to help each other.  The innocent characters who do act morally—Simon and Piggy—are the ones who are killed.

When Ralph is rescued, he thinks back at what has happened and immediately begins crying.

The tears began to flow and sobs shook him. He gave himself up to them now for the first time on the island; great, shuddering spasms of grief that seemed to wrench his whole body. (ch 12)

Ralph’s reaction is a demonstration of the loss of humanity the boys have suffered.  When isolated on the island with no adults, they civilization broke down.  Ralph is crying not just because of what happened on the island, but because he has learned a terrible fact about human nature.

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Describe the view of human nature presented in Lord of the Flies.

The view of human nature in "The Lord of the Flies" is open to interpretation.  While the struggle is seen as civilization vs. savagery, the interpretation of what causes the regression of the boys, representing human nature, to the darkness of the human soul is what is debated.  Is savagery intrinsic and civilization mere trappings of elevation of human nature?  Certainly, history confirms that once there is a breakdown in society, cruel and savage actions do occur.

In his study, "Lord of the Flies:  Fathers and Sons," critic Patrick Reilly states that the novel has been read as three types of fables:  moral fable of personal disintegration, social fable of social regression, and religious fable of the fall of man.Without civilization, Ralph the golden boy, the figurehead, is ineffective as a leader and Piggy as an adult figure cannot hold his own.  Without the trappings of civilization, the young boys revert to little savages, superstitious and fearful enough to follow others; the older boys Jack and Roger embrace evil.  Without goodness, the boys are capable of murder as they slaughter the truly good Simon and knock Piggy and the conch down the mountain with a swift, savage blow.

Yet, which element is victorious?  Reilly explains Golding's novel as a "dark epiphany":  The evil in man as a whole is balanced by the Simons within; the individual heart can be rescued from the darkness. 

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