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A Beacon in the Abyss
The voice of reason in this modern morality play, the physically flawed, socially inept Piggy serves as a confidant in The Lord of the Flies, providing Ralph with a balancing presence while embodying the principles of intelligence, technology, and progress. This story, like the morality plays of the Middle Ages, possesses characters created to represent different facets of human nature; Piggy, with his deep well of practical knowledge and keen sense of living, takes the role of intelligence and reason. However, unlike morality plays of old, Piggy presents a much more complex, multidimensional character, as he also exists to balance the malleable mind of Ralph, essentially competing in a mental tug-of-war with his polar opposite, Jack. As Ralph holds the most responsibility for the direction of the group after he gains leadership, Piggy’s presence and tutelage prevent Ralph from succumbing to the hunger that consumes Jack. Where he receives ridicule and contempt from nearly all of his peers for his pitiable debilitations and gauche social skills, Piggy garners sympathy from the reader, starkly contrasting the revolting savagery of Jack. Piggy, with all of his shortcomings, represents the choice between embracing knowledge and embracing savagery; essentially, Piggy personifies the difference between what is right and what is easy.
As the two boys initially find themselves alone together after the crash, Piggy’s influence on Ralph takes hold almost immediately, as evidenced by the celerity with which they solve the problems in front of them. While Ralph opts to stand his head in the middle of the scar as a response to such an overwhelming situation, Piggy remains calm, giving advice until Ralph decides to act upon it. Even when Ralph teases him Piggy “grinned reluctantly, pleased despite himself at even this much recognition”, depicting the general ignorance with which patience and knowledge are usually regarded. Unlike the way in which the boys bicker at later meetings, Piggy never pushes Ralph forcefully to see things his way, but assumes that the right ideas will prevail. Within minutes, Ralph finds the conch and follows Piggy’s instructions, blowing into it and gathering the boys together, illustrating the power of a focused mind. Instead of dwelling on the problems and anxiety at hand, Piggy helps Ralph look toward a solution, achieving it with ease. Overweight and asthmatic, Piggy lacks the physical stature he needs to accomplish any of his own plans, while Ralph, able-bodied and levelheaded but not inventive, needs Piggy’s aid in forging a path. Together, the two make a cohesive whole. However, as Ralph represents the will or ego in this morality tale, he can easily follow his hunger, his primal instincts, and his appetite. His mind hard-wired by his old society, Ralph betrays Piggy’s trust to get a laugh by revealing his nickname, and shows that he initially has both qualities of Piggy and Jack within him. In turn, Piggy’s influence on Ralph becomes greatly diminished upon the arrival of the other boys, namely Jack and his choir. Jack, with his insatiable thirst for the hunt, foils Piggy as the representation of Ralph’s id, or appetite. Jack’s intentions spring from the primal instincts, the savage, primitive behavior that dwells deep within the mind of man. Despite a brief power struggle, Jack and Ralph appear to get along well with one another, giving all the more weight to Piggy’s burden of balancing Ralph’s will as leader.
Deftly crafting the physical character of Piggy, Golding paints the picture of a pathetic young boy, friendless and nameless yet bursting with information and good intent, forming a target for the readers’ compassion. Jack, tall and exuding confidence and with a domineering disposition, forms Piggy’s physical opposite, evoking fear and contempt with his threatening appearance. Piggy, described as fleshy and pale, characterizes purity and cleanliness in comparison to Jack, sitting “painted and garlanded…like an idol”, a Sinai shaman among heathens. Sympathies lying with Piggy, the reader inevitably pulls for the underdog, the weak but intelligent challenger, to prevail. In the social microcosm that forms on the island, Piggy resonates as the only voice promoting a viable social structure. Understanding the hopelessness of their situation, Piggy thinks selflessly, seeking to create a manifest of names and to establish some hierarchal order for the good of the younger children. Unlike many of the other boys, Piggy opts for the proactive plan for rescue-lighting a signal fire-as opposed to waiting for adults to come. Piggy’s sense of realism lasts unwaveringly until his murder, buffeted only by the constant despair of his predicament. As the meetings occur and actions are proposed, the rift between the selflessness of Piggy and the hunger of Jack deepens. Piggy’s suggestions to build shelters, and again to take down names remain wholly in the interest of the group, while conversely; Jack only demands that he be able to hunt, to satiate the hole within him. Jack, his emaciated soul writhing in hunger, demands to kill and eat a pig, the dirtiest of meats, showing none but the most selfish tendencies. With a monomaniacal obsession with the hunt, Jack sinks further into the dark abyss of savagery, hardly able to pry his mind form the kill. In contrast, Piggy’s good girth symbolizes his wealth of knowledge, so much so that he physically bursts at the seams. Piggy’s Hephaestus-like good will and physical debilitation make him the perfect counterpart to Jack’s bloodthirsty Ares. Piggy, while the quintessence of knowledge and reason, also serves as an important foil to Ralph’s other chief influence.
As Piggy symbolizes intelligence and the ability to reason, certain aspects of his character gain much significance throughout his time on the island. As the only means to ignite a fire on the island, Piggy’s glasses exist as the most important resource to the children, as evidenced by Jack’s eventual theft. The glasses, like Piggy himself, are fragile, and must be cared for in order for them to perform. Piggy’s intelligence, unbeknownst to the boys on the island, also represents a valuable resource. However, the path of intelligence is much harder for Ralph to follow than that of the hunt, as staying with Piggy alienates both of them even more from the growing majority of the boys. Thus, after the division of the two island factions, Ralph faces a fundamental choice. Follow Piggy, on the path to enlightenment, or sink down to Jack and join the hunt. Intelligence, if to be won, must be worked for: Piggy, unappealing and handicapped without his glasses, demands attention and care, and will make life harder for Ralph. Conversely, Ralph could easily submit to the temptation of joining Jack, and throwing physic to the wind, abandoning reason and embracing madness. Piggy’s plight forces a choice upon Ralph, between what is right and what is easy. Regardless, though Ralph remains with Piggy, the island nonetheless falls to shambles around them, conferring Piggy’s inherent inability to command respect. As in the actual world, action and fast results often find favor over patience and reason. Even Ralph and Piggy together cannot manage to govern effectively using intelligence and practical thinking. In comparison, Jack rules using fear as his weapon. Employing propaganda to build up the threat of the beast, Jack uses the boys’ fear of the unknown to keep them bound to him, for they find safety in his dominant machismo. Although Piggy knows the beast does not exist, the boys would rather temporarily assuage their fears than take the time to dispel them. As in the actual world, action and fast results often find favor over patience and reason.
The culmination of the events on the island projects a frightening image, as savagery and evil so easily overcome the efforts of reason. Piggy’s tragic failure galvanizes readers in their contempt of Jack, but Piggy is nonetheless killed by Samneric’s boulder, the stone pushed by the twins who had such a short time before lived and sided with Piggy. The death of Piggy presents the biggest indicator of the importance of reason. When Piggy can no longer influence Ralph, the island falls apart within a day, illustrating the disrupted balance between reason and appetite. Jack, so devolved he resembles little more than an animal, attempts to consume everything. Similarly, Piggy’s absence emphasizes the need for practical thinking, and organized society. Jack’s camp is a smoldering cesspit, populated by children so filthy they border on unrecognizable. Piggy serves as a beacon of intelligence and reason as he advises Ralph, contrasting the savagery and idolatry of the hunters, while drawing readers to him with his pitiable form and lucid thought.
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