What separates humans from animals? Or, to be more precise, what is the difference between humans and other animals? When I finished the last page of the book, Lord of the Flies by William Golding, I could not put the book down for long. All kinds of emotions swelled up inside of me while my thoughts tangled together in a mad chaos. This book about civilization and humanity shocked me greatly, as this was my first time reading an exquisite apocalyptic book written with such delicacy. As I sit in front of my desk, writing this down, trying to sort out the mess by pulling one end of the invisible entangled string in my head, little by little everything becomes distinct and clear again. From this confusion, the question of humans versus animals was the question I first came up with. Humans, after six million years of evolution, developed their own system of communication and a civilized society, and slowly we began to regard ourselves superior to other species. But are we?
In the book, a group of schoolboys were stranded on an uninhabited island with no parent supervision. They clung to a simple rule of leader and followers, with Ralph being the leader. Everything worked well until a shift took place in the book’s tone and things began to go wrong. Order was completely broken down as Jack, the boy with a brutal face and a lot of freckles, snatched power from Ralph. It seemed like the collapse of order was all the fault of Jack’s misdeeds. But fortunately, in the end, Ralph succeeded in escaping from Jack’s frantic attempts to kill him and all the boys left were rescued.
From this I would like to bring up the concept of “imagination,” which I concluded from reading this book is an important element that distinguishes humans from animals. Simply put, imagination means the ability to create images or ideas inside your mind that do not necessarily exist in real life. Order, rules, countries, banks, for example, are all ideas that have no shape, no concrete form. They only exist in our imagination. Humans created such notions to keep society functioning properly, to hold it up from falling apart. Different from how these rules were created, however, the break-down of these notions can happen easily. If you burn down the banks, the banks would feel no pain; redistribute the boundaries of countries, countries themselves would not break into tears; if nobody believes in the orders and rules anymore, then rules would simply cease to exist. The construction of such a civilized, though imaginary, world took humankind thousands of years to accomplish, but the destruction of it might take just the barest second. We can see this in the following dialogue between Ralph and Jack:
‘“The rules!” shouted Ralph. “You’re breaking the rules!”
Ralph summoned his wits.
“Because the rules are the only thing we’ve got!”
But Jack was shouting against him.
“Bollocks to the rules! We’re strong-we hunt! If there’s a beast, we’ll hunt it down! We’ll close in and beat and beat and beat-!” Jack had shouted.’
Why did Jack and his tribe members return to the state of barbarism so quickly after Jack gained power? It was done by the intentional ignorance of civilization and deliberately made rules. Wiping the rules out of his mind, Jack was freed from restrictions and indulged himself in doing whatever he wanted, hence becoming a savage-like animal. That is how easy annihilation of order could be, which shows just how powerful imagination can be.
Haruki Murakami wrote, in his novel, Norwegian Wood, “Death is not the antithesis of life, but what to be eternal as part of life”. I think that this could be reworded to apply to the novel: barbarity is not the antithesis of humanity, but what to be eternal as part of humanity. The inner beast, the animal nature, is always inside us hiding deep down, waiting to seize the opportunity to emerge from the water. Simon had been trying to warn the boys that, “maybe there isn’t a beast … maybe it’s only us,” but most failed to listen. In the book, the other boys mocked Simon and made fun of him by saying that he was timorous, cowardly and eccentric, but this is a flawed reading of the book. Simon was a boy full of intelligence. Out of the many boys who were marooned on the island, Simon is the only one to perceive the bigger picture. He understood the nature of the beast, but the others did not. Simon was one who foresaw things and was brave enough to stand out and give vague warnings. Unfortunately, this did not sit well with the other boys. Also, Simon did not mix well with others, not because of his quiet personality, but more because he was able to seeing through the actions of the others. Simon knew what would finally become of the island, and knew it would not do him any good to team up with one side or the other.
Throughout the novel, Ralph clings to the hope of keeping the fire going so that a passing ship might see the signal and rescue the boys. However at the end of the book when the whole island was set on fire and men from the civilized outside world came, he seemed to have lost everything. Lying on the beach, he wept. He wept for the end of innocence, the darkness of man’s heart, and the loss of one true wise friend called Piggy. This shows that while we are different from animals, it is not a significant difference. The question remains, are we humans, animals, or savages?