Lord of the Flies: The End of Innocence
Despite the progression of civilization and society’s attempts to suppress man’s darker side, moral depravity proves both indestructible and inescapable; contrary to culturally embraced views of humanistic tendencies towards goodness, each individual is susceptible to his base, innate instincts. In William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, seemingly innocent schoolboys evolve into bloodthirsty savages as the latent evil within them emerges. Their regression into savagery is ironically paralleled by an intensifying fear of evil, and it culminates in several brutal slays as well as a frenzied manhunt. The graphic consequence of the boys’ unrestrained barbarity, emphasized by the backdrop of an external war, exigently explores mankind’s potential for evil.
Dismissing the detonation of an atom bomb and the possible deaths of their parents as merely an “unusual problem” (14), the schoolboys selfishly indulge in their lush jungle environs. The overwhelming “glamour [which] spread[s] over them” (25) momentarily eclipses their awakening need for domination. At first, the boys express this necessity through the seemingly innocuous heaving of rocks and the belittling of Piggy, who is physically inferior. Had these actions occurred in the boys’ English homeland, they would have been accepted as ordinary,childish behavior. However, under the guise of innocent excitement, the boys derive an unimaginably “violent pleasure” (18) from “exercising control over living things” (61).
Ominously, their craving for power is a presage for the blood that is to be shed. This blood which had initially been so “unbearable” (31) is now lusted after; it compels Jack and his followers to hunt, because it seduces them with the promise of killing. Challenged by Ralph’s strong advocation for responsibility and order, Jack feels ashamed by his relentless compulsion to “track down [quarry] and kill” ( 51). Consequently, he uses the need of meat to rationalize his savage behavior, although there is an abundance of fresh fruit. The need for this excuse is obviated when Jack starts to apply a mask of paint in order to liberate himself from “shame and self-consciousness” (64). Moreover, this self-deception enables him to become an “awesome stranger” (63), capable of wholly abandoning any sense of morality or ethics.
Further blinded by the illusion that their supposedly superior English heritage precludes savagery, the boys ignore the perverse qualities of their actions. Nevertheless, they become terrified as they increasingly feel the blight of their own evil upon the island. Attempting to attribute the decay of sanity and civilization to external sources, they fail to look inwards. When Simon correctly proposes that the beast is “maybe. . . only [themselves]” (89), the others scornfully dismiss him as “batty” (52) and his suggestion as invalid; they refuse to acknowledge Simon because they are neither capable nor willing to believe the frightening truth that the evil arises from within themselves. As a result, the boys manifest their fear in a dead parachutist whose appearance they grotesquely distort. Ironically, this source of fear comes from the majestic adult world to which they have so long aspired.
Ralph continues to look towards the adults as the boys’ sole hope of rescue, unaware that they “[know] nothing of him and [are] in ruins” (62); the adults are trapped in the slaughter of their own war. Only Simon understands the universally “heroic and sick” (103) condition of mankind as well as the paradoxical nature of the beast. He recognizes that the only thing to be feared is the potential for evil in everyone, and that the blamed source is merely a “harmless [yet] horrible” (147) corpse. Simon assumes the role of savior as he attempts to liberate the others from their all-conquering fear by delivering the truth. Tragically, he is seen as a “big and horrid” (85) beast as he weakly stumbles into the midst of the boys’ wild frenzy. With bestial atrocity, Simon is ruthlessly “struck, bit, [and] tor[n] [apart]” (153) by the boys who have set themselves up as paragons of virtue.
Even Ralph, the upholder of civilization and hope, succumbs to the temptation of killing. His participation in Simon’s murder reasserts the “undefinable connection between himself and Jack” (184), because both are bound by their identical, innermost natures – mankind’s universal potential for evil. Ralph fully realizes this after reaching his epiphany. Ironically, this enlightenment is a condemnation rather than a liberation, because the knowledge of evil will forever remain as a scar upon his mind.
Now that Ralph truly understands the “darkness of man’s heart” (202), he will recognize it in all its forms and disguises, falling heir to Simon’s role of the bearer of truth and condemnation. The constant possibility that he may succumb to internal evil may instill Ralph with an further sense of anxiety and despair. This torment marks “the end of [his] innocence” (202), and Ralph will never be able to return to his former state of carefree happiness. Only death, the end to each individual’s experience of the human condition the same death that liberated Simon and Piggy can free Ralph from the enlightenment and curse of his insight.
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