William Golding's The Lord of the Flies: Innocence Lost

Of the required readings in high school English classes, I liked The Lord of the Flies the most. Its depiction of innate evil helped me understand the nature of humanity. And though institutions can and do oppress the defenseless, the creators have designed these structures to maximize their (the creators') gains at the expense of others. So in the end, the nature of the systems reveals the nature of humanity.

William Golding in The Lord of the Flies shows how innate evil surfaces when civilization's rules and moral codes no longer suppress human impulses, a view that Freud would probably take issue. For Golding, social norms and civil laws construct rather than suppress humanity. Jack represents the beast that seeks self-gratification at the expense of others; while Piggy the reasoning that has led humankind from darkness to enlightenment. When Jack and his group destroy the conch, a symbol of law and order, and steal Piggy's glasses, a symbol of reason and science, they were asserting savagery over civilization, much like the barbarians ransacking Rome and leading Europe into the Dark Ages.

Ralph tries to maintain a semblance of civilization, but Jack lures more and more members from the group and of those who stand by him, Piggy is killed and the twins Sam and Eric are tortured until they submit. In the end, Jack has to run for his life and only when the naval office arrives, when the instruments of law and order reassert themselves, does he escape death. He could not save himself anymore than he could Piggy.

A bleak picture of humanity William Golding has painted. We would like to believe that children are innocent and that society baptizes them into evil. When children kill other children, we would like to find the parent or teacher or school or church that has corrupted them. And often enough, we do find it. But Golding reminds that there is more fundamental source of evil.

Of course, in the novel, Golding didn't consider that social norms and moral codes are also human constructs, and at times, their designers have hidden agendas. Individuals can and do exploit the legal, financial and political systems to benefit themselves. And although, unlike olden times, now the law applies to everyone, some can better protect themselves against exploits while others can sneak through loopholes. Still, The Lord of the Flies gives great insight into the human heart.

William Golding (from Dutch National Archives, The Hague, Fotocollectie Algemeen Nederlands Persbureau (ANEFO), 1945-1989)

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