The Lord of the Flies by William Golding is tale of a group of young boys who become stranded on a deserted island after their plane crashes. Intertwined in this classic novel are many themes, most that relate to the inherent evil that exists in all human beings and the malicious nature of mankind. In The Lord of the Flies, Golding shows the boys’ gradual transformation from being civilized, well-mannered people to savage, ritualistic beasts. From the time that the boys land on the island, both a power struggle and the first signs of the boys’ evil, Piggy’s mockery, occur.
After blowing the conch and summoning all the boys to come for an assembly, an election is held. “‘I ought to be chief’ , said Jack with simple arrogance, ‘because I’m chapter chorister and head boy'”(page 22). This represents the beginning of civilization in all of the kids (which is changed later. ) After Ralph is Chief, Jack envies his position and constantly struggles for power with Ralph throughout the rest of the novel, convincing the rest of the boys to join his tribe rather than to stay with Ralph.
Also, soon after the boys arrive at the island, Piggy, a weak character, is mocked by the other boys. After trying to recount all of the liluns’ names, Piggy is told to “Shut up, Fatty,” by Jack. Ralph remarks by saying, “He’s not Fatty. His real name’s Piggy. ” All of the boys on the island, except for Piggy, laugh and make themselves more comfortable at Piggy’s expense. “A storm of laughter arose and even the tiniest child joined in. For a moment the boys were a closed circuit of sympathy with Piggy outside”(page 21). That quote shows that they are starting to become uncivilized.
The boys become more comfortable with one another after Piggy’s mockery and create a bond, leaving Piggy on the outside. Along with inherent evil, man is also capable of being good and kind. While Jack and Ralph are exploring the island, they encounter a piglet which Jack supposedly attempts to kill. After gaining the courage to kill the baby pig, Jack talks about it by saying “I was just waiting for a moment to decide where to stab him (page 31). ” This event clearly illustrates the good in Jack, since he is hesitant to kill something.
Jack almost couldn’t kill the pig, because he felt bad doing it.. Jack’s mercy is short-lived, however, and when they encounter another pig, Jack and his hunters are relentless. They return to beach ritualistically chanting “Kill the pig. Cut her throat. Spill her blood,” where they excitedly explain the details of the hunt. “I cut the pig’s throat,’ said Jack, proudly, and yet twitched as he said it (page 69). Jack is internally struggling between his civilized teachings and savage instincts in this example, in which he both proudly exclaims his murder and twitches while doing so.
Another example of the boys’ inherent evil is the brutal murder of the sow. Without any regard for the sow’s newborns, Jack commands his tribe to attack it. The boys “hurled themselves at her. This dreadful eruption from an unknown world made her frantic; she squealed and bucked and the air was full of sweat and noise and blood and terror” (page 135). The weird behavior of the boys in this example show that evil is starting to drive into them. After the death of the sow, the boys play with its blood and ritualistically celebrate their kill. The boys show no mercy for the sow and behave like savages.
The murder of the sow allows the boys to revert back to their evilness and lose all traces of guilt and conscience. Ralph shows fatigue, a good causer of anger and dislike. He momentarily forgets the reasons why the signal fire is so important. “He tried to remember. ‘Smoke, he said, we want smoke. Course we have. The smoke’s a signal and we can’t be rescued if we don’t have smoke. I knew that! ‘ shouted Ralph” (page 172). Ralph begins to lose his initial cheerfulness and enthusiasm and replaces it with disinterest and hate. Piggy and Ralph separate themselves from Jack and his tribe.
However, when Jack and his tribe kill a pig and invite Ralph and Piggy to join their feast, the two accept and cannot resist the temptation of the meat. Later on in the celebration, Jack and his tribe perform a ritualistic dance, in which Piggy and Ralph later join. “Piggy and Ralph, under the threat of the sky, found themselves eager to take a place in this demented but partly secure society” (page 152). They realize that the dance fueled the boys to murder Simon, and later deny their participation in it. “We left early, said Piggy quickly, because we were tired” (page 158).
Ralph and Piggy recognize the evil in the dance, and know that if the others found out about their participation in it, then the boys would claim that Piggy and Ralph would be going against their own beliefs. Also, by not admitting their partaking in the dance, Piggy and Ralph are denying their involvement in Simon’s murder and their inherent evil. They do not believe that evil exists within them and believe that it will “disappear” if they do not believe in it. Simon and Ralph represent goodness and reason, and both encounter the Lord of the Flies.
The Lord of the Flies is the head of a pig which is sacrificially given to the beast in order to preserve the boys’ safety. Simon is the first to talk with the Lord of the Flies ,and when he does, he learns that the beast (evil) is not in an animal out in the woods, but in the boys themselves. “Fancy you thinking the Beast was something you could hunt and kill. You knew didn’t you? I’m part of you,” (page 143) says the Lord of the Flies to Simon. The Lord of the Flies even says that the Beast is part of Simon, the symbol of goodness, suggesting that all human beings are born with both some evil and goodness.
Later on while Ralph is fleeing from Jack and his tribe, he stumbles upon the Lord of the Flies. “Little prickles of sensation ran up and down his back. The teeth grinned, the empty sockets seemed to hold his gaze masterfully and without effort” (page 185). Soon after, Ralph hits the pig’s head and smashes it into pieces. By destroying the Lord of the Flies, Ralph denies his internal evil and primitive instincts. The difference between Ralph’s and Simon’s encounter with the Lord of the Flies is that Simon accepts The Lord of the Flies and listens intently to what it is saying to him.
However, Ralph destroys it and then walks away from it. Both Ralph’s and Simon’s experience with the Lord of the Flies states that all men are capable of evil, and that evil is in all humans. “The Lord of the Flies” illustrates the capabilities of evil in all things. All of the boys on the island are tempted by evil, but not all of them give in to the craving. However, along with the evil that lies within all people, there is also a little bit of goodness, suggesting that all people have the free will to choose their destiny. The book clearly shows how people can turn into savage beasts.
2. Definition of “Evil”.
2.1 Common definition
2.2 Golding’s definition
3. The Concept of Evil in The Inheritors
3.1 Summary: The plot of The Inheritors
3.2 Characteristics of Golding’s Neanderthalers
3.3 Homo sapiens’ characteristics
3.4 An interpretation
4. Evil in Lord of the Flies
4.1 Summary: The plot of Lord of the Flies
4.2 Evil in Lord of the Flies
5. Conclusion and perspectives
As the motif of evil is the central theme in William Golding’s work, I will consider in my term paper his definition of evil and its realization in his first two novels Lord of the Flies (1954) and The Inheritors (1955). How did he understand this complex but central motif of human life and religion? Is there a general position towards evil that can be recognized in his work? Did he consider human beings as generally evil or generally good? – Thinking about the idea of “evil”, many questions arise. Trying to answer some of them, I will concentrate mainly on the book we talk about in class, The Inheritors, his second and – as he himself said – favourite novel.
In summary, The Inheritors deals with evolution and the development of human beings. On the example of a Neanderthal group, Golding depicts the conflict between the Neanderthalers and the “New Men”, homo sapiens, which finally ends in the death of the Neanderthalers and the victory of the superior homo sapiens. But are homo sapiens really superior to the Neanderthalers? What is Golding’s position?
In a further step, I will examine Golding’s first and most famous novel, Lord of the Flies (1954), for the idea of evil. Is the attitude he gives in The Inheritors the same as in Lord of the Flies ? Or did his view change after the first novel?
As a summary, I would like to give a final conclusion of Golding’s understanding of his central motif “evil” and consider perspectives for further examinations.
2. Definition of “Evil”
In this chapter I will first examine some definitions of “evil” in the usual sense, mainly those given in dictionaries. In a further step I am going to find out more details about Golding’s understanding of evil and his position towards human goodness or maliciousness.
2.1 Common definition
The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary gives the following explanation about “evil”:
adj. 1 (of people) enjoying harming others; wicked and cruel 2 having a harmful effect on people; morally bad 3 connected with the Devil and with what is bad in the world 4 extremely unpleasant
noun 1 a force that causes wicked or bad things to happen; wicked behaviour 2 wicked or harmful thing; the bad effect of sth.
Following that explanation, evil can be a characteristic of people who do harmful things to others, or a power or person (devil) opponent to God, who is believed to be the personification of goodness.
Some people believe that evil lies in every human being, others are more optimistic and believe humans to be intrinsically good and only influenced in a negative way by education or society.
As I study (Protestant) theology, I looked up the idea of evil in a theological encyclopaedia in which it is characterized as: “das nicht v. Gott Geschaffene u. Gewollte, sondern das gleichsam irrational aus geschöpfl. Freiheit Hervorbrechende” and as “Möglichkeit u. Werk menschl. Freiheit u. Verantwortung”.
These statements include the position that resulting of their god-given freedom human beings have the possibility to decide if they want to act in a good or evil way. But this possibility also is connected with the ability of rational thinking: Reason enables people to commit crimes, to be evil.
As it is clear that there is evil in the world and that human beings often act in an evil way, the question arises: Who is responsible for this evil energy? This question is a specific question of monotheistic religions because in polytheistic religions there is one god responsible for good and another for evil, but in a monotheistic concept this is not possible. This question is a standard question in theology, in German it is called “Theodizee”, coined by Leibniz. One possible answer to this question is the personification of evil in a person, the devil. It is for example defined as “eindeutig böse”, “Widersacher Gottes” and “Anführer der Dämonen”. But there are other theories which seem to me more plausible. – Did William Golding believe in a devil? What was his answer to the question of “Theodizee”? Is it possible to find out something about his ideas towards evil in his work?
These are the questions I am going to examine in the next chapters.
2.2 Golding’s definition
On several occasions, not only in his novels, Golding gave his view on evil. His service in the Royal Navy during the years 1940-1945 caused a serious change in his opinion of human nature:
Dieser [World War II] bewirkt einen einschneidenden Wandel seiner Sicht der menschlichen Natur. Das Vertrauen in die aufklärerisch-optimistische Menschenauffassung und die Überzeugung, dass Vernunft, Bildung und Zivilisation sichere Barrieren gegen das Böse seine, ist unmittelbar nach dem Krieg bei Golding zerstört.
Before the war he believed society to be able to protect human beings from their own innate maliciousness, an idea which he explains in his essay Fable (1962) as follows:
Social systems, political systems were composed, detached from the real nature of man. ... They would perfect most men, and the least, reduce aberrance. ... It seemed to me that man’s capacity for greed, his innate cruelty and selfishness was being hidden behind a kind of pair of political pants.
After the war, he is not able to agree with this view any more. He reflects his opinion in the following way:
Before the second world war I believed in the perfectability of social man; that a correct structure of society would produce goodwill; and that therefore you could remove all social ills by a reorganization of society.
Instead, he believes in an innate evil which lies – without exceptions – in every man: “The only enemy of man is inside himself”.
3. The Concept of Evil in The Inheritors
To find out what position towards evil Golding expresses in The Inheritors, in a first step I will give a short summary of the plot of The Inheritors and then have a closer look at the Neanderthalers’ and homo sapiens ’ characteristics and their concepts of good and bad. As a conclusion, I will analyze these discoveries in a final interpretation.
3.1 Summary: The plot of The Inheritors
The Inheritors (1955), William Golding’s second and favourite novel, gives a hypothesis as to why the Neanderthalers died out and homo sapiens survived.
The story is told from the point of view of a young Neanderthal man (Lok). Together with his group of eight people he moves from their winter residence to their summer home. The winter had been unusually hard and they hope for a better season with more food. When they arrive at their new home, they find something to eat, are happy and carefree – until one member of the group and then several others disappear for unknown reasons. Those who are left behind suppose that the others have found a way to an island in a nearby river; until that time it had been impossible for them to get there. But then it becomes clear that they have been killed by a group of homo sapiens who live on that island. Finally, the New Men kidnap the People’s two children, Liku and the new one. The last two remaining adult People try to set them free – a futile attempt because the New Men are far more violent and evil, but also much more intelligent than the People. At last, Lok is the last survivor of the People (except the new one who is adopted by the New Men) and dies alone in their old summer home.
The victors of this conflict, the New Men, are The Inheritors, as they are called in the title of the novel.
 Karin Jaentsch, Das Böse in den späten Romanen William Goldings (Frankfurt a. M.: Peter Lang 1994), 48.
 The Neanderthalers call themselves “People” and the homo sapiens “The New Men”. In this paper I will use these expressions.
 Oxford’s Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, 430f.
 Wiedenhofer, Siegfried: Böse, Das, Systematisch-theologisch, in: Kasper, Walter (ed.), Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, Bd. 2, Freiburg, Basel, Rom, Wien: Herder 1994, 607f.
 Merks, Karl-Wilhelm, Böse, Das, Theologisch-ethisch, in: Kasper, Walter (ed.), Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, Bd. 2, 607f.
 The English term „theodicy“ exists but is very rare.
 Klein, Wassilios, Teufel, Religionsgeschichtlich, in: Müller, Gerhard et al. (ed.), Theologische Realenzyklopädie, Band 33, Berlin, NY: Walter de Gruyter, 2002, 113f.
 Jaentsch, Das Böse in den späten Romanen William Goldings, 48f.
 Golding, The Hot Gates, 87; cited by Jaentsch, Das Böse in den späten Romanen William Goldings, 49.
 Golding, The Hot Gates, 86; cited by Jaentsch, Das Böse in den späten Romanen William Goldings, 49.
 Golding, The Hot Gates, 89; cited by Jaentsch, Das Böse in den späten Romanen William Goldings, 49.