William Golding Stated in a Radio Broadcast That “the Boys Are Suffering from the Terrible Disease of Being Human”. Explain How This Pessimistic Assessment of Human Nature Is Constructed in “Lord of the Flies”. What Indicators Are There of...
The novel ‘Lord of the flies’ is a text by William Golding which deals heavily with underlying themes of an evil that lives in the heart of all of mankind. The novel does indeed portray the idea of the boys suffering from ‘the terrible disease of being human’, and this is suggested at various instances throughout the text. There are also references to a light at the end of the tunnel through the appearance of the character Simon. Throughout the novel, there is a constant contrast of ‘good versus evil’ on a primitive political level between Jack and Ralph, while toying with the themes of the island boys becoming savages due to fear, and evil that lurks within humanity. Although there are hints at goodness within mankind, this is also silenced during the second third of the novel due to the arising savagery of the boys. Examples of such behaviour (both good and bad) include the political struggle for power between Jack and Ralph; the face paint of the savages as a representation of evil; the presence of the Conch as a representation of civil authority; the appearance of the character Simon and his messiah-like presence amongst the boys; and the collapse of all society leaving Ralph as the final civil member.
During the novel, there is a maintained contrast between the civil, political governing of Ralph, against the savage, tribal ways of Jack’s rule. This eternal dance of opposites on the island serves to show that the evil within all of mankind can stir and grow, and savagery can overcome civilisation in the right circumstances. Even at one point, Ralph almost descends into savagery as he felt "the desire to squeeze and hurt was over-mastering." (p. 126). This occurs during the play-hunting passages, a scene in where the boys re-enacted the killing of the first pig in an almost tribal ritual, where the primal urges overcome even the civilized chief. This shows that even the main representation of civilization was perhaps falling and faltering, if only for momentarily, this is still an example of a sophisticated human giving into primal temptation. A key example of a savage metaphor includes the boys’ face paint.
The painted faces of the savages do not exist early on in the book, as not many children have the desire to hunt, a possible reason for this is that the memories of civilization and rules are not yet forgotten, and to kill innocent animals was as yet unheard of: "Here, invisible yet strong, was the taboo of the old life." (p. 56). Jack was hesitant in killing his first pig, perhaps the downfall of the society begins here, as the hunter is enraged at himself, his naked face symbolizing the innocence of the children. This is changed by the presence of face paint, which provides the boys a barrier to hide behind, a mask to hide, yet one which reflects the true nature of man.
"'I painted my face--I stole up. Now you eat--all of you--and I--'"
- William Golding, p. 67
This is a demonstration in the sheer pride of Jack's first kill. His confidence and his tribal, hunting nature is accentuated by his mask of paint. His inner primal form escapes for the first time escapes here for the first time in the text. In contrast to this emergence of animal-like behavior are metaphors for authority and civilization as a whole, such as the Conch.
The conch represents civilization and stability, highlighted by it’s impressive shape and pure white glow (white obviously representing cleanliness and purity). Early on, the conch holds authority, and is used to maintain control over the tribe of boys, as the story progresses however; the conch becomes less and less valuable. As the boys begin to disrespect rules and authority and disregard them, the conch deteriorates, if only to be kept alive by the human representation of rationality, Piggy. The fall of civilization is climaxed with the death of piggy, and simultaneously, the conch:
"The rock struck Piggy a glancing blow from chin to knee; the conch exploded into a thousand white fragments and ceased to exist."
- William Golding p. 200
As the conch shatters into pieces, so does the island boys chance for civilization to restore, the last remaining flicker of society gone in an instant when faced against the painted faced tribal boys. It can also be argued that the downfall of the boys was reinforced by the death of Simon. As the true nature of humankind comes to light here, Golding shows that the existence of purity will ultimately be silenced by the evil within man. As evil nature is a key theme in this book, so is the existence of goodness and purity which is personified through the character Simon.
Simon can be considered a Christ like figure throughout the novel. He often thinks to himself on his own in the forest and experiences hallucinations and faintness, much as biblical prophets did. As he was the only one who understood what was going on truly in the island, suggested when he says 'Maybe there is a beast....maybe it's only us.' (p. 80). It can be suggested that even though he was killed before his message was spread of the beast; his mere existence proves there is still hope for mankind according to Golding, however small this glint of hope may be. Somewhat similar to Christ, who was (according to Christian belief) free of original sin, and died for mankind before he could spread his message. The merciless death of Simon and Piggy show the extent of mankind’s evils, but one civil member of society was left to tell the tale for a reason. Golding’s purpose for this was to allow the boys themselves to realize their evil, by keeping Ralph alive, he was able to reflect on the deaths of Piggy and Simon. In doing this, he was able to truly appreciate the ‘darkness of man’s heart’ for what it was. This climax provides a gritty, emotional realization for the focal character and in turn, the reader.
Through Ralph remains as the only civil member of the society left by the end of the novel, he can still be considered an ‘average boy’, though he remained civil and dignified throughout the novel, he occasionally lapsed into temptation unlike Piggy and Simon. Because there are still occasional hints of him regressing in his primal form, he occasionally forgets the purpose of his fire.
“There was something good about a fire. Something overwhelmingly good”
- William Golding p. 200
The reader is shown that even the nominated, democratic leader is succumbing to the terrible disease of being human. The disease that given the right circumstances, the right timing, man with regress back into it’s original, evil, diseased state of cruel humanity. As this is discovered finally by Ralph at the end of the novel, a powerful passage involves him breaking down in pain and realization of humanity’s evil.
"Ralph wept for the end of innocence, the darkness of man's heart, and the fall through the air of the true, wise friend called Piggy."
- William Golding, Lord of the Flies, Chapter 12
As Ralph realizes the true nature of mankind at the climax of the text, he is emotionally and mentally distraught at the thought that all of humankind is cursed with the terrible disease of being human. This shows that even the strongest of men can be reduced to tears at the thought of humankind and its ways.
To conclude, the pessimistic nature of man is constructed throughout the novel in the form of various acts and metaphors representing the different social statuses of the boys on the island, such as face paint representing savagery, and naked faces and the conch represent civilization. However, there is also some ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ depicted through the uncorrupted characters of Simon and Piggy. Though ultimately killed, their existence shows that perhaps there is still hope for mankind, despite its humane sickness. The ever changing dance of opposites between good and evil is finally resolved on the island, but as Ralph realizes, the darkness of man’s heart will never be changed.