Fear in The Lord of the Flies
Fear. It resides in all, this unpleasant feeling of dread, gnawing at one’s subconscious and causing a sense of anxiety. However, fear does not stem from nothing. Whether it be a traumatic experience, or the exaggerated thoughts running within one’s mind, fears begin with a seed and blossoms into a poisonous flower. William golding explores how this fear develops in his novel, The Lord of the Flies, following English schoolboys who find themselves crashed on a deserted island as the result of a plane crash.
The boys gather at its coast upon hearing a conch blown by Ralph, an attractive boy with a natural sense of authority. They hold an election for chief, one which Ralph wins against Jack, a boy with angry eyes who also wanted the position. Ralph frequently organizes assemblies amongst the boys where they discuss work and rules as a group. During one of these assemblies, a young child reports a beast he supposedly encountered, resulting in a wave of fear amongst the boys.
While Ralph and the intellectual Piggy reason there is no beast, Jack embraces its idea and calms the group by announcing that he and his hunters will kill it. This moment presents the root of the inner conflict amongst the boys. While Ralph uses logic to dismiss this fear, Jack accepts it and relies on violence. The conflict occurs in the minds of these children on how to confront the mutual fear of the beast.
Jack becomes progressively more accepting of the idea of the beast and more sadistic in his determination to kill it. Over time, the boys give in to their savage instincts and join Jack in his barbaric lifestyle, abandoning Ralph and all hopes of rescue. The beast that frightens all the boys represents the primal instinct of savagery existing within all humans. Jack’s tribe succumbs to the beast, leaving a pigs head skewered on a stick as a sacrifice for it. Only Simon, a pure boy of few words, reaches the realization that they fear the beast because it exists within each of them. In a hallucination, Simon has a confrontation with the ‘Lord of the Flies,’ the sacrifice Jack had left unattended which symbolizes the beast. The beast mocks the naivety of the boys for thinking the beast could be hunted, and warns Simon there is no actual escape as he will meet it again at the coast. Soon after, Simon uncovers what the boys had perceived as a beast was a mere dead parachutist. When Simon makes his way to the coast to report this news, the boys are indulged in a frenzied ritual dance. Mistaking Simon for the beast, the boys mindlessly kill him. From this incident onwards, the island descends into savage madness.
Children often have concepts of a ‘monster under their bed’, one that terrorizes them with nightmares. This monster is a creature born from internal demons; a boogie man comprised of one’s biggest fears; a beast so real that it blurs the line between reality and fiction. Children, with their vivid imaginations and vast creativity, are well known for being masters at crafting such beasties. Lo and behold, for Golding turns the average monster under the bed into the fear inducing inner workings of the boys on the island. The initial discussion regarding the “snake-thing” deep in the thickets of the forest becomes a rising subject sounding like something straight out of a “nightmare”(35.36). Ralph tries to assure the group that there is no such beast and is frustrated at this discussion as he is put up against something “ungraspable”(36). Golding, early on in the novel, foreshadows the existence of a beast, rooting from the minds of the little boys. This child-like fear manifests itself into something much more sinister due to the lack of rational thought. This beast, existing only in the minds of these children, feeds off the lack of intellectual reasoning.
In another meeting, Piggy cogitates the beast must be “clever,” being able to “hide” from the boys (87). This remark provides insight into how the beast slyly hid in the subconscious of the boys, disguising itself in the fear of an outside force. As the boys grow more scared of the beast, they lose cognitive reasoning. Amidst all the confusion, the real beast continued to hide and feed off the their devolved thinking. Piggy persuades the boys to stay near the coast, near their civilization, reasoning that “maybe the beast won’t come near [them],” (101) and Ralph was able to put the beast “out of [his] mind” when not thinking under stress(109). Both these ideas strengthen the notion that the beast can not persist where there is intellectual thought and man is acting civil. Recognizing the beast is only in their head would have stopped the boys from devolving into primitive hunters acting solely upon instinct.
In fact, before the younger children introduced the idea of the beast, things were going smoothly on the island. The concept of the beast acted as an instigator for fear to blossom within each boy, and they can deal with it through either rationalization or brute force. So, what if there is a beast? What does it have to do with anything? Well, the beast is more than just a scary looking creature in the forest; the beast is the boys, and the boys are the beast. The boys’ descent into barbarity can most clearly be tracked in Jack. The once-civil choir boy lets out “bloodthirsty snarls” as he puts on a mask to kill a pig, symbolising the beginning of a new Jack (63). Golding describes Jack as almost morphing into an animal. It is a description more associated with animals than any twelve year old boy, displaying Jacks corrupted psychology. His characterization clearly indicates the results of him conceding to his primitive mindset. Jack, submitting to his fear, leaves a pigs head skewered on a stick as a offering to the beast. The gory head begins to talk to Simon in a hallucination, referring to itself as the Lord of the Flies. It enlightens Simon on the inner workings of the beast, one that can not be “hunt[ed]” nor “kill[ed]”, had been “close” to all of the boys since the beginning (143). Golding proposes that the beast is “a part” of each of the boys; a symbol of savagery as well as a symbol for fear (143). This beast is the fear of all the boys, not just the source of it, further grounding the notion that the beast resided amongst their minds, explaining its constant and unescapable presence. Ironically, by hunting for the beast and appeasing it with the pigs head, the boys only allow it to strengthen its hold upon them.
When Simon tries to report the dead parachuter that the boys had mistaken for a beast, he is caught between the primitive dance of the boys. The beast had warned Simon that he will meet it again “down the coast,” (143) and indeed his prophecy held true as the boys begin killing Simon with “no words, and no movements but the tearing of teeth and claws”(153). This scenario blurs the line between children and animals. The boys allow the fear to control them to such an extent that they become complete savages acting solely upon instinct. The boys’ unexplainable use of teeth parallels the kill or be killed mindset of most animals, acting unnaturally if it meant survival. Simon’s unattended body is brought to the sea by “a great wave,” where it is surrounded by “inquisitive bright creatures” beneath ”steadfast constellations” (154). As Simon dies, Golding describes the sending off of his body in a serene matter, almost as if there is an indication that the hope to rid the island of the lingering fear is drifting away with Simon. Everyone has their own beasts, and Golding demonstrates that one’s beast lives inside them, and truly cannot be hunted, only kept within check. This fear comes from everywhere and nowhere simultaneously, having already being planted within the boys and only blossoming when the time is right. This gnawing feeling, the pangs of dread, a descent into madness; that is fear.
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