Analysis: Lord of the Flies
Lord of the Flies by Nobel Prize winning William Golding is an outstanding, although short, novel that explores the nature of evil. I have decided to analyse Lord of the Flies because of the literary significance of this text. Lord of the Flies was included in Time Magazine's top 100 novels from 1923 to 2005 (Grossman and Lacayo, 2005). Due to there being an abundance of symbolism, there are many ways in which you could locate meaningful symbolic references. It was first published in 1954 and was the first book written by Golding, although he had published a book of poems some twenty years earlier. The book was published in the early days of the “Cold War” which took place after the end of the Second World War. This was all so in the early days of nuclear weapons. These two significant events may have been the birthplace for some of the ideas for the book.
Lord of the Flies is an enthralling tale about a group of rather prim and proper British school boys who are stranded on a deserted island after a plane crash. Left alone without any adult supervision, the boys meet the darker side of human beings. The reader can find symbolism in nearly all characters, situation and every item and creature on the island. Some of the symbols I will discuss include the beast, the pig's head and the use of disguise, although this list is not exhaustive.
Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) was the Psychologist who devised the theories of Psychoanalysis. The mind is an extremely complicated system and according Freud's theory the subconscious is composed of conflicting and disputing extremes known as the id, ego, and superego (Colman 2006). In Lord of the Flies, Golding presents the conflicting personalities of the key characters as representative of the elements in Freud's concept. The id is the part of the mind that consists of primitive instincts and urges. It also controls the destructive and aggressive tendencies toward anything that interferes with gaining pleasure. Jack Merridew is the character whose actions are representative of the work of the Id. As the book progresses, Jack appears to forget all aspects of his former civilised self and is drawn deeper into barbarism. What starts as the hunting of a pig for meat soon exhilarates Jack. He compares the taking of the pig's life to "a long satisfying drink." As the book progresses, the hunting becomes more than sport or a necessity for food, but a savage ritual in the thirst for blood. The id, having no morals and seeking instant gratification, is shown through Jack by the terrible acts he does in order to get what he wants. He wants to lead and kill, whether that killing is of an animal, or as we find later in the story, the taking of a human life.
The superego is in the form of Ralph. The superego is in constant battle with the id and its primal urges and as a result Jack and Ralph are always at war (including the literal sense) with one another. The superego controls impulses that produce antisocial actions. From them being stranded, Ralph seeks the approval of the boys on the island. He wants to be liked as a friend and respected as a leader. Ralph also clings to what he has been taught is socially acceptable. While Jack and his tribe of savages are wearing little clothing and painting their faces, Ralph refuses to take part so as to stay civilised. The superego is also responsible for feelings of guilt and after Simon's death, Ralph feels horrible for what they had done to him.
Piggy is representative of the ego which contains the abilities to calculate, reason, and plan. He is the most intelligent boy and is always coming up with new ideas. He wants to create a sundial and is the only one to realise that the boys can build a fire near their shelters in order to avoid the beast. The ego also represses inappropriate urges or memories. When Ralph tries to talk about his remorse of Simon's murder, Piggy does not want to discuss it. He, in fact, tries to forget that he was even there. The ego is also responsible for controlling the id's emotional impulses. In more than one instance, Jack lashes out at Piggy when his emotions are difficult to cope with. "Able at last to hit someone, stuck his fist into Piggy's stomach." The anger vented from Jack was unleashed on Piggy. The opposing extremes of the id and superego, mediated by the ego are shown through Golding's characters.
From a political view point, the book starts with the boys forming a democracy similar to the one documented in ancient Athens. From the onset, each boy is given one vote and an equal chance to speak so they can choose who to have for leader or President. Once the President has been elected, rules or laws are formed for parliament. The main issue with the democracy formed on the island is the lack responsibility within the population. As a consequence this democracy deteriorates into a tribal system that we can see in many developing countries around the world. This appears to be a result of inexperience of the boys in the adult world of government. Finally there is a bloody coup led by Jack and supported by his tribe of savages. Jack then creates a dictatorship on the island in which he keeps power through fear.
Another aspect to the text is in the form of religion. The scenic island could be construed as the Garden of Eden from the Old Testament. Although the Island is portrayed as Idyllic it is soon obvious that darkness and violence may be nearby. A beast appears on the island, at first only in dreams but later in the form of the dead parachutist after falling on the mountain at the top of the island. The beast could be a metaphor for Satan as a serpent as in the Garden of Eden. The boys experience sin first hand when they kill the boy in the forest.
The title of the book itself may have a link to religion. The name "Beelzebub," as mentioned in the Second Book of Kings and occurs nowhere else in Jewish literature, is a variant form of "Baal Zebub" the god of Ekron. The name literally translates from Hebrew as ‘The Lord of the Flies' (Berlin 2004). Probably the most pitiful symbol is Simon. He is a real child of nature, caring about all of the islands creatures. He is not interested in leading the group or any type of violence, and is the exact opposite of the ever increasingly evil Roger. Simon is a Jesus like figure playing an important role. His ability to maintain his humanity despite what is occurring around him makes the others boys appear to be more evil by comparison. Most of the other boys realise this subconsciously and despise him because of it. Like Christ, he is sacrificed at the hands of the bloodthirsty mob.
Not long after being stranded on the island, the boys, especially the' Littluns', are terrified of what lies in wait for them deep in the jungle. They are certain that they are being hunted by a ‘beastie' or some equally scary creature. They feel that they are, at any time, about to fall victim of something evil and of course, they are correct. This dangerous beast can be interpreted as the evil that lives within mankind. Without the familiar rules of civilised society to govern them, many of the boys do indeed become victims of dark inclinations and sinister actions that they would not have believed existed within their own beings prior to their abandonment. The Biguns suppress their fear as being a far-fetched tale, but slowly, bit by bit, almost all them start believing in the deadly creature which haunts air and sea around the island. So, in reality, the "beastie" was stalking each of them, and in the end consumed some of the boys.
When the boys hunt for pigs in the early part of the book, they have no success. This can be as a result of their lack of experience in hunting and also that they have never killed an animal before being stranded. Once hunger becomes part of the picture, however, the boys enjoy killing a little too much. Their greed and the evil within urges the boys to kill the "largest sow of the lot . . . her belly . . . fringed with a row of piglets that slept or burrowed," (Golding 134) not thinking of the risks involved in such a large prey. When the thrill takes over, the evil within emerges even more. The boys brutally kill the animal, chasing her down and metaphorically raping her with their spears (Golding 135). This is only the beginning of the monstrosities the boys perform throughout their stay on the island.
Another important symbol within the book is the head of the pig that was skewered on a spike - the "lord of the flies" himself. The sow was not just a victim of their need for food but also their lust for blood. Once the head is placed on the stick, it begins to rot and deteriorate. The head could symbolise the society that the boys have created, surely the carcass's quick decomposition, as a result of the heat of the jungle, is symbolic of the society that took its life. As the pigs head rots and falls apart so does the structure of the newly formed society on the island.
One of the more startling images happens when the boys decide to paint their faces in a tribal ritual. Their innocent faces are changed by their masks, allowing the boys to totally change their personalities. The disguise allows the boys to freely commit terrible acts that they would probably never have committed without the painted faces. This war paint allowed them to hide any feelings of guilt behind these disguises. Essentially, they were playing a part, acting. Definitely it was not the boys who took joy in their violence; rather it was the savages with the painted faces.
Lord of the Flies deserves close reading. The reader should analyse carefully all of Golding's symbols to properly understand their true meaning. The story itself is a study into mans capacity for evil, which is considerably more abhorrent when emanating from young boys. Once all regulations, rules, and true leadership disappear, all that remains is the darkness of the human soul. Man's inner evil becomes clear once it is unleashed, away from all rules and governance of society, only then can it be allowed to rear its ugly head. Golding shows his belief that man is fundamentally evil through this novel.
Berlin, A. (2004) The Jewish Study Bible: featuring The Jewish Publication Society TANAKH Translation. Oxford University Press: New York
Colman, A. (2006) Oxford Dictionary of Psychology. Oxford University Press: Oxford
Golding, W. (2002) Lord of the Flies: New Edition, Faber and Faber: London
Grossman, L & Lacayo, R (2005). The Complete List: TIME Magazine- ALL-TIME 100 Novels. Time: New York. [Online]. Available from <http://www.time.com/time/2005/100books/the_complete_list.html> accessed 6th May 2010