When victims of muggings, rapes, domestic abuse, hate crimes or other violent crimes are attacked, their screams of agony and requests for help are often ignored. People surrounding the crime scene "don't want to get involved." The number one suggestion by law enforcement officers if you are ever stuck in a predicament like this, is to try to find a passerby with who you can make eye contact and make a specific plea for help, otherwise, yells into the terrifying night air will go unnoticed, as those who hear say to themselves, "surely, someone else will step in." What is it about human beings in a civilized society that allows them to bear witness to hatred, violence and crime and do nothing? We watch on our televisions about genocides in Africa and Indonesia, and flip the channel because it's "too sad", we hear about children begging for education in other parts of the world and think" glad I live here in the good ol' U.S of A" and turn a blind eye on the suffering of others. But what happens when that savagery, or cruelty comes knocking on our door? Do we want others to step in and take a stand? Certainly we do. Imagine if every member of the human society, whether in Bangladesh or the Baltimore slums, stood up to defend those who were in need of assistance just because it was the right thing to do? How different would our world be? It would be a utopia, certainly, and talking about it probably seems like senseless gibber jabber, one can stop and hope, and like John Lenon said: Imagine. This is one of the many themes explored by William Golding in his novel Lord of the Flies. Golding uses the butterflies that appear at various points throughout the novel to symbolize the helplessness of humans to help one another when faced with horrible atrocities and crimes against humanity.
Readers are first introduced to the butterflies early in the book when life on the island seems to be a dream like paradise, and the butterflies add to the paradise. The butterflies seem to just be a part of the excitement, fun and frivolity of the island. "The air was thick with butterflies" (28) and golden sunshine and merriment when the boys first arrive. Much like people everywhere, the butterflies blend into the scenery. They are a part of what make life rich and interesting. When Simon goes walking into the jungle off of the beach, he comes across an Eden-like scenery, and there again, he finds the "gaudy butterflies that dance around each other in the hot air" (56) who seem not to notice his presence at all. They are joyous, and pay no attention to the person who has just entered their environment. Early in the novel, Golding sets the reader up to understand that the butterflies are simply a part of the scenery, but as he continues to reference their presence, readers get a sense that there is more to the butterfly reference than a casual addition to the scenery.
As the story progresses, the butterflies appear in more contrast to more violent and gruesome settings. First, as the boys are tromping fearfully up the mountain in search of the beast, we again see the butterflies "flitting in the trees" (126), again, unaware of the boys and their fear. The butterflies, who likely dance around the head of the beast know that it is no beast, but instead a dead body, but the butterflies cannot communicate this to the boys. They are somewhat powerless. Like people who stand by and watch cruelty and savagery in their own backyards, the butterflies are completely useless. Later, Golding describes the scene of the killing of the sow. In this scene, the killing is very gruesome. It seems intentionally to model a rape or murder, rather than a desperate attempt to find food. After describing , the gruesome scene, the butterflies are again introduced to the scene. "The sow collapsed under them and they were heavy and fulfilled upon her. The butterflies still danced preoccupied in the center of the clearing" (135). At this point, Golding's statement about the butterflies is clear. They are to "preoccupied" to help the poor sow, or even stop and grieve for her. They are the silent, unmoved observers of the holocaust, of the genocide in Rwanda, Sudan. They are the man in the alley who looks the other way when he sees another man beating his wife. They are all of these people at this moment. The sad difference between butterflies and people, however, is that humans are not powerless. They are not weak or ineffectual. People have the power to step in and make a difference, but Golding seems to suggest by this last statement that it is a conscious decision not to help, and so, the suffering of our world continues.
In the end, there are many differences between butterflies and people. The many differences are obvious. But, by making comparisons between them, Golding seems to suggest that, like weak and careless creatures, humans stand by and allow terrible atrocities to occur. There is hope, however. Golding's admonishment of mankind is not fixed. We can reverse this cycle of indifference in human nature. In fact, the tides seems already to be turning. Recent Save Darfur campaigns attest to mankind's desire to learn from the lessons of the past, and not turn the other cheek in the face of cruelty and suffering. While Golding may have believed men were too foolish and self centered to step in help another human being in need, today's wave of non-profit organizations and advocacy groups stand a triumphant beacon of hope that mankind is not savage, is not indifferent, and can make a difference.