Natural Evil in Lord of the Flies
In his work “Essay Concerning Human Understanding,” John Locke explains his belief that the human mind is what he called a “tabula rasa,” which is Latin for “clean sheet of paper.” It assumes that infants know nothing when they are born and human ideas and behaviors come from experience. Thomas Hobbes, on the other hand, believed that in man’s natural state, moral ideas do not exist and that humans intuitively desire to obtain as much power and “good” as they can, and there are no laws preventing them from harming or killing others to attain what they desire. Lord of the Flies is a Hobbesian novel, as the boys’ decline to evil appears inherent and natural. This decline is made evident through the boys’ move towards meat for food, their attraction to Jack as a leader, and the idea of a beast infecting them all.
First, the boys’ choice of food changes as the story progresses. At first the boys ate fruit and are happy about it. The fruit symbolizes civilization, as the boys do not want to kill any thing. Then Jack tries and fails to kill a sow. The hunt soon consumes him, and the idea of meat infects the other boys. Notice also how Jack hunts the sow, not the boar or piglets. By hunting the sow Jack ends coming of a new life and maybe even hopes. When Ralph tries to hunt he goes for a boar symbolizing that he still has hope and wishes for life. Jack uses the meat to gain power. After he kills the first one, he covers himself in the sow’s blood and reenacts the murder. When Robert jabbed a stick through the sow is can be equated to rape imagery because it was “right up her ass!” (135). No one teaches or tells Robert to run the sow though he does it on instinct. He mutilates the sow in somewhat of a sexual fashion definitely in an evil fashion, with no prompting whatsoever. The change from fruit to meat is seen as a change from peaceful and feminine fruit to savage and masculine murder.
Second, Jack is the cliché evil character. When we first meet Jack we are told he was “tall, thin, and bony; and his hair red beneath the black cap. His face was crumpled, and freckled, and ugly without silliness” (Golding 20). Red hair in literature often represents a type of adventurer or rebel, which Jack is. Jack is strong-willed and egomaniacal, but is a natural born leader. He was the head choir boy at his school after all. He even has a knife for no explained reason. His knife represents violence and danger but can also be seen as a practicality. On the other hand Ralph has fair hair which is a classic cliché for good and light. He has the conch, a symbol of order and peace. He is a representative of order, civilization, and productive leadership in the novel; therefore most of the boys follow him at first. Although the boys are first attracted to Ralph, they soon move onto Jack as his sense for adventure and brashness attract them.
When the idea of a beast is first put forth the boys laugh it off, but slowly the idea of an outside evil takes control. The idea spreads like wild fire; fear is everywhere. When Simon suggests that the beast is inside them, he is rejected and scoffed at. The boys would much rather have an imaginary face to put fear on then have to face themselves. After Jack and his hunters create the Lord of the Flies, Simon talks to it. The sow agrees with Simon, saying “Fancy thinking the Beast was something you could hunt and kill! You knew, didn’t you? I’m part of you?” (143). The quotation suggests that inside every human is an evil idea just waiting to snap and take over. For example, after Simon dies Ralph snaps. Ralph was portrayed as the stereotypical perfect human, and the evil idea of revenge even gets to him. He is consumed by grief, by the realization that everything isn’t rainbows and butterflies. Even though Piggy directs Ralph’s anger onto the idea of rescue, it’s still there. The beast of anger is inside him and diverts his path of peace between Jack’s tribe and his into a yelling match and indirectly causes Piggy’s death. Along with Piggy, the conch also dies at the same time. Both symbols of order and the symbol of science and logic are gone at the same time. Evil trumps good at this moment all because the idea of a beast consumed the boys.
Lord of the Flies shows vividly that evil overtook boys when there was no outside influence of society, thereby reinforcing the Hobbesian theory that humans are born with an innate potential for evil and are not the “clean sheets” that Locke supposed.
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