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Who's the real bad guy?
To thousands of people, The Lord of the Flies is just an adventure story about boys on an island. A magnificently written story, but just a story, nevertheless. To others, however, this book is like the island itself. Rich with treasures and surprises, but also terrifying and mysterious at times. The most cryptic element in this tale is the Lord of the Flies itself. It obviously symbolizes something. The question is, what? In this essay, I will prove that the antagonist in this book is not a physical being. It is something entirely different, as old as the human race.
England was a dangerous place to be during World War II. Many parents sent their children away to keep them safe from bombings. This was what happened to thirty boys, aged from four to fourteen. On their way to their refuge, their plane was shot down. They crashed on a small island in the middle of nowhere. One of the boys, Ralph, becomes the leader of the group. Jack, the leader of the choir, becomes the leader of the hunters, and Piggy, an overweight boy with asthma and glasses, becomes Ralph’s closest advisor. Together, they ruled the island, playing, feasting on tropical fruits, and thoroughly enjoying themselves, until the day one of the littluns complained of a beast. He claimed that it rose out of the sea at night, and slithered through the jungle. Ralph is quick to dismiss this idea, and he comes up with an explanation for it. They move one, no one admitting that the idea of a beast on the island had spooked them all, even the bigguns. One day, something lands at the top of a cliff. It is actually a dead parachutist, but when the boys encounter it in the dead of night, they assume that it is the beast that haunts their dreams. Ralph and Jack themselves are called to investigate the situation, and they confirm that there is, in fact a beast in the jungle. Ralph thinks that as long as they avoid it, it won’t hurt them. Jack, however, insists that it must be hunted and killed. Tension rises as the two leaders begin to turn against each other.
Jack and Ralph were alike in so many ways. They were both dignified, intelligent leaders. They were both courageous and loyal. They were both looked up to by the other boys. So how was it that one of them turned out so differently? How did Jack become a bloodthirsty killer? Whatever the reason for it, the fact still remains that it was Jack, and not Simon or anyone else who ran off to start his own tribe, who worshipped him and chased the beast. One day, when they are out hunting, they kill a sow which had just had piglets. They cut off her head and put it on a stick that had been sharpened at both ends. Then they wedged the stick into the ground in the middle of the jungle and left it as an offering to the beast. Later on, one of the boys, Simon, encounters the pig’s head.
Simon was an “embryo mystic”. He worked on the island when the others played. He took care of the littluns when they were left neglected. He was the only truly good character in the whole book. It wasn’t that Ralph, Piggy, and the others were bad, it was just that they were taught to be good. Manners and morals were pounded into them by civilization. Simon was different. He taught himself right from wrong. He really knew the difference. Perhaps it is because of this that the pig’s head, the Lord of the Flies, chose to speak to him. First, it identifies itself as the beast. Then it says, “You are a silly little boy. Fancy thinking the beast was something you could hunt and kill!” It then says that Simon was overwhelmed by the “ancient, inescapable recognition”.
At this moment, the reader realizes that there really is a beast on the island, but it is definitely not a dead parachutist. It is the Lord of the Flies, a pig’s head on a stick, and apparently, it is invincible. You cannot destroy it. When the Lord of the Flies tells this to Simon, it is warning him, warning him of terrors to come, for the island, the boys, and especially for Simon himself.
That was the night of the first human death on the island. After that, the inner savage of every boy in Jack’s tribe is let loose. They let go of every rule they ever learned, any sanity they still held on to. They give in to their demonic animal sides.
Why did they do this? Why did they give up on being rescued? Why did they join the wrong side? Why did they choose to become killers? Part of it must have been out of fear. Jack’s tribe offered both protection and a life of ease. The other answer is also simple, although it has confused even the greatest minds. It was because of human nature. Because deep inside, no one likes following rules. No one likes being under someone else’s power. No one likes working or having responsibilities. No one likes doing what don’t want, but sometimes have to do. Something we do like, is having power. Knowing that we can control something and do whatever we want with it. This was why the boys enjoyed hunting so much. They liked knowing that they were more intelligent than their prey. They could capture and kill it with their own hands, and it was powerless to do anything. It was completely at their mercy.
It was this feeling of power that drove Jack to leave and form his own tribe in the first place. This hunger for power was what caused people to get killed on the island. Both Ralph and Piggy had had the feeling before, but it disgusted them so much that they refused to give in to it. The other boys had decided that it didn’t matter anymore. When they gave in to the temptation, they lost their own innocence, and it was all the beast’s fault.
What is the beast, really? What do this monster, the Lord of the Flies, and the flaws in human nature all have in common? The answer is, everything. These three things are all one and the same. When the older boys started getting scared, they thought it was because of an actual, physical, monster, but really, it was themselves they were afraid of. It was their loss of control, and what they were becoming. The flaws in human nature were the real monsters.
Now how does the Lord of the Flies, a pig’s head on a stick, fit in with all of this? It is actually a symbol. It symbolizes the boys, the island, basically the whole story. It symbolizes the beast and the flaws in human nature. It is a symbol for the “end of innocence, and the darkness of man’s heart”. We know this because of what it told Simon in his hallucination. The Lord of the Flies says that it is the beast. It says, “Fancy thinking the beast was something you could hunt and kill!” What about Simon’s “ancient, inescapable recognition”? That was when he got it. He realized that the only thing they had to fear was themselves. They were their own enemy.
At the beginning of the story, the boys were playful schoolchildren, thinking of the crash only as an adventure. The island was gorgeous, tropical, and peaceful. The sow who would later become the Lord of the Flies was then a loving mother, “sunk in deep maternal bliss”. By the end of the book, all of these things have become horrors. The boys became painted savages and inhuman murderers on a manhunt for Ralph. The island was burning to the ground in chaos. The sow had become the Lord of the Flies, a grotesque symbol of bloodlust and forgotten identities.
Who was to blame for this? Many people will say it was Jack, but can you really say that all if this was because of one fourteen year old choir leader? I say no. We cannot blame just one person? I don’t even think that we can blame all of the boys on the island combined. What we have to blame is humanity, and specifically, its weaknesses.
At the end of the book, Ralph falls to his knees and weeps. He doesn’t cry because he is scared, or angry, or frustrated. He doesn’t cry because of what is happening. He cries because he finally gets it. He finally realizes what Simon figured out so long ago, even though it was too late to save him. This is why I believe that the antagonist in this story is not a physical being. It is something born at the beginning of time. The chink in our armor, the thing we all have in common. Our destiny, our fate. The “ancient, inescapable recognition” that will exist forever.