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Lord of the Flies
The situation which is presented in William Golding's novel Lord of the Flies is a concept human kind has been struggling to fully comprehend since it first realized its ability for abstract thought. In this novel, Golding explores the wounded psyches of a group of young boys stranded on an uninhabited island and the descent of a majority of the group into feral madness, eventually leading to the known deaths of two of the boys. It is with this plight that Golding raises questions of morality and societal construct to his audience and guides them down the dark road that is simply the beginning of exploration of the potential evil lurking in all of mankind.
Humanity's origins are animalistic in nature. Due to this simple fact, it makes complete sense for humans to act upon impulses that arise from beastial instincts, except for when a singular feature that the human mind possesses is taken into account: the ability to process abstract thought. Abstraction is the distancing of ideas from physical objects or physical forces. It has only been confirmed to exist in humans at this point in time. Thus, more often than not, humans fearfully shun their instincts in favor of abstract thought believing that this ability is the strongest separation between them and the animals they consider devoid of consciousness. It is a short leap from this separation to the common misconception that humans should not be capable of committing acts deemed monstrous by society, such as those that are portrayed in
Lord of the Flies, against other humans.
One would recoil with an almost visceral disgust upon reading the descriptions that Golding provides for the acts perpetrated by the savage boys against members of their own species. The intestines of the reader clench with a nearly sickening pseudo-pain and the eyes unwillingly keep reading, unable to look away from the horror that is being presented to them. This reaction to fictitious situations is clearly illustrated in the response of the sole outside witness to the death of a prominent character in this novel, known as Piggy. Piggy becomes the voice of logic on the island through Ralph, the first appointed “leader” of the castaways. After his glasses are stolen by the renegade group of savage boys, Ralph and Piggy confront the group. During this confrontation, he speaks profoundly on the subject of the boys' fate on the island. “I got this to say. You're acting like a crowd of kids.” (Golding 180) Piggy calls for rules and order, attempting to dissuade the boys from their feral actions and indicating to his fellow castaways that they must grow and mature to survive until their eventual rescue. As a clamor rises amongst the savages over what Piggy declares, a boulder is pushed from its resting place on the cliff above by a boy enraged by Piggy's words. Within the span of a few moments, Piggy is struck by the stone and falls nearly forty feet onto a rock in the sea to only moments later have his now lifeless corpse washed out to sea by the waves lapping at the cliff-side. What causes the inherent reaction to the reading of this scene is the empathy which is allowed for by the abstraction of thought. Humans are gifted with the ability to empathize or vicariously experience the feelings of another though the situation exhibited causes them no direct physical or emotional pain.
Perhaps it is this ability for empathy that provides man the basis for creating the construct of the society in which he lives and possibly the largest deterrent for modern humans to revert back to animosity. In essence, human beings have domesticated themselves in order to escape the consequence of empathized pain and the fear of possibilities for instinct to dominate actions. With the crudest of tools, or even bare hands, a person could end the life of another being. Usually early in the course of one's life, there is some type of incident, the stepping on of an insect or the accidental, or possibly even motivated, killing of a small animal. In most cases, the child is horrified at the realization of the amount of control they can exercise over the life of another creature and that they have the ability to take life away from another being. Society and our ability to empathize with the pain of other creatures teaches humankind the morality needed to function within such constructs.
Due to the nature by which humans define themselves and live, fear creates society which in turn creates fear. Through the fear of their potential to harm and cause strife and the fear of the natural habitat humanity has domesticated itself into society with set morals and order. This morality and sense of order dissuades many from following beastial instincts due the fear that society would punish those who deviated from the accepted values, which in all actuality is a probable occurrence depending on the offense and its effects on those involved. Other than sheer empathy, this societally based fear is another reason as to why a person reading Lord of the Flies may become so shocked at the occurrence of the death of young Piggy. A recent example of this outcry against departure from the socially accepted view of normalcy was the public outrage and discrimination against homosexuals. Due to the United States being a heavily Christian-based country, homosexuality was not accepted as customary. The idea of homosexuality was indeed such a deflection of the social “norm” that for many years it was included in the American Psychiatric Association's list of mental disorders. This was not changed until 1973 when it was removed from the list (Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Issues). This example clearly shows the degree to which people fear things that are different due to the pressures of society.
With the influence of these factors, one can see how humans are constantly pitted in battle. The perpetually changing battle between the raw instinct which relates all of humanity back to its primitive side and the effect of abstract thought is a disquiet of the human psyche that will not be silenced as long as humans have the enlightenment most have already achieved. Perhaps this is a universal battle or perhaps the next step in the evolutionary chain. The paradox of humanity still stands: a species who with all its knowledge and intellect can see the the prison and unlock its doors, yet chooses to stay in the darkened prison cell. Mankind as a collective entity shall never be able to harmoniously balance its instincts with its intellect. The battle shall rage or end with one aspect in triumph at the end.
Puppets who cannot cut the strings,
Crumbling plaster, the world's debris,
With all of mankind still in the wings,
Intellect forces open the eyes,
While ignorance shrouds the truth in shadow,
All that awaits is our own Lord of the Flies.
-C. Holmes Edelby