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As a Nobel Prize winner, William Golding is an outstanding contemporary novelist. His most known novels include Lord of the Flies (1954), Pincher Martin (1956), The Spire (1964) and Darkness Visible (1979). His first novel Lord of the Flies has been an important tool for psychoanalytic studies all over the world. The novel’s success and popularity are closely related to Golding’s war experiences as well as his symbolic writing style. He skillfully manages to blend realities with symbols, which will be examined in detail. As proven by the barbaric behaviour of Lord of the Flies’ characters, human beings tend to quit their civilized conditions when left without regulations. In the essay, this phenomenon shall be discussed on a Freudian perspective.
Sir William Gerald Golding — a novelist, playwright, and poet, was born in September 19, 1911 in, Saint Columb Minor, a village on the north coast of Cornwall, England, United Kingdom. He was educated together with his elder brother Joseph at Marlborough Grammar School, where his father — Alec Golding, taught science, and at Brasenose College, Oxford. Because of his father’s profession, Golding was brought up to be a scientist; however, he revolted and instead, he read English literature. He worked in a settlement house and small theatre companies before he became a teacher at Bishop Wordsworth’s School, Salisbury. During the first years of World War II, he joined the Royal Navy which is the naval military organization of the United Kingdom. He served in the minesweepers and witnessed the sinking of the German battleship Bismarck. He participated in the invasion of Normandy on D-Day. After returning home from the war, he resumed teaching and writing. He taught at Bishop Wordsworth’s School until 1961.
Before analyzing the novel’s symbolic structure, it is necessary to go over William Golding’s involvement in World War II, in order to find the main reason behind creating such a novel. Many men of letters take inspiration from not only what they observe, but also what they themselves experience in their lives. William Golding is not an exception as his military background earned him a unique perspective on human nature. In one of his speeches, the intention of the work is explained as follows:
Before the Second World War I believed in the perfectibility 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. […] but after the war I did not because I was unable to. I had discovered what one man could do to another… I must say that anyone who moved through those years without understanding that man produces evil as a bee produces honey, must have been blind or wrong in the head.
As is understood from his statement above, his views on human beings and human nature in general become more and more negative after witnessing the evil capacity of men during his duty in the Second World War. He used R. M. Ballantyne’s The Coral Island as the frame story and even the names of the characters are the same; Jack, Ralph and Piggy. One of the aims of rewriting is to put emphasis on the theme’s universality: “Rewriting is more than just republishing old texts, it becomes a strategy to subvert, undermine and jam a discourse”. The Coral Island puts emphasis on the evil outside whereas Golding’s novel remarks upon the evil within all of us.
The novel opens with the aftermath of a plane crush from which only a group of English school boys survived. Soon after, they find each other by using a conch shell and try to select a leader in order to arrange their process of finding an escape from the island. Ralph becomes the leader and Jack appoints as the one who organizes the food hunting for the group. In order to attract a ship’s attention and to escape, they decide build a fire and try to monitoring it. In the meantime, little children start to believe that there is beast hiding on the island. After a while some military planes wage a war above the island and a dead parachutist falls into a tree near the signal fire. The children mistake it for the beast. At this point, Jack and Ralph take the exact opposite decisions about what to do next. Jack persuades his hunters to join him whereas Ralph supports the idea of building a new fire. Later on, Simon talks with the Lord of the Flies and he investigates the “beast”. He finds out that it is a dead parachutist and proceeds to tell the truth to the others but they kill him. After a while, they kill Piggy and chase Ralph. Next day, a British military officer sees the fire’s smoke and comes to rescue them.
The main message of the novel is conveyed through symbols. The plot itself is an allegory reflecting the deeper side of humankind’s unconscious. By putting a group of English schoolboys on an isolated island, William Golding shows that there is always an evil side in every human being no matter how civilized and educated he is. At first everything seems to be decent as the boys try to regulate an organization which can please all of them at the same time. However, as time passes by they split up to groups. As a result, they deviate from their only goal: finding a way to escape. Jack and his followers, as they call themselves “hunters”, gradually lose their sense and get corrupt. They forget about their initial aim and they only care about hunting and killing pigs. The island’s isolated and dark atmosphere reveals the boys’ evil nature. At this point, the novel becomes available for psychoanalytical study as its core is to go deep into the characters’ psyche.
The signs of the many important psychological theories can be traced in William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. Both the story and the characters are suitable to be analyzed under the light of certain psychologists, namely Sigmund Freud. There are obvious references to Freud’s theories of life and death instincts as well as his theory of three components of personality. The characters of Lord of the Flies are mostly motivated by their unconsciousness. All of them are different from each other both in appearance and in mentality. They all embody different types of perspectives and ideas. It is possible to divide them into two main groups as sensible and brute.
William Golding’s ideas on human nature are similar to those of Freud. They both support the idea that the evil side in humans is more dominant when compared to their good side. In his book Civilization and Its Discontents, Freud says that “aggression is an original, autonomous disposition in man, and I return to my earlier contention that it represents the greatest obstacle to civilization”. According to him, when left without proper restrictions, human beings tend to reveal their most evil side in order to seek pleasure. “Aggressiveness” is a typical characteristic of every human being. He adds that “the natural instinct of aggressiveness in man, the hostility of each one against all and of all against each one, opposes this program of civilization”. These statements are quite similar to what Golding had said in The Hot Gates, “I believed that the condition of men was to be a morally diseased creation”. It is believed by Freud that humankind’s capacity to repress his desires is the only way for him to establish civilization. Similar to this, in the novel William Golding introduces civilization as something human’s evil side hides behind. The moment it is gone, this evil side comes into light as it does in the novel’s children.
Before analyzing the novel in a psychological manner, it would be useful to start with the explanations of Freud’s theories mentioned above. According to Freud, firstly, there are two innate instinctual impulses that are responsible for human behaviour in general. The first one is life instinct, which is associated with Eros, includes procreation, social cooperation and basic survival. Life instincts are a must for sustaining the life and for continuing the race. In Lord of the Flies, life instincts are seen in the characteristic traits of Ralph. Throughout the novel, he insists on finding a way to escape which is emphasizing his impulse to live and to aim the survival of all of the children as quick as possible. Until his father, who was a major in the navy, came to save them, Ralph believes that they would have a very pleasant time on this desert island, far from the oppression of adults. At the beginning of the novel, he focuses on the basic needs for survival such as nurturance, affiliation and accommodation. He tries to unite all the children and as Freud states: “It [civilization] is a process in the service of Eros, whose purpose is to gather together individuals, then families and finally tribes, peoples and nations in one great unit – humanity”. In Chapter 3, believing that the fire is the only valid means of rescue, Ralph gets angry when he realizes that Jack and his hunter group did not care about keeping the fire up and went to ping hunting instead. He says “Don’t you want to be rescued? All you can talk about is pig, pig, pig!”.
The second one is death instinct, which is associated with Thanatos. Later Freud thought that the life instincts were not alone enough to explain human behaviour. In his Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Freud defines the death instinct as “the aim of all life is death”. Death instincts include aggression and risky behaviour in general. In the novel, Jack represents the death instinct since he directs them towards the other children on the island. His aggression and violence against people prove that he gradually loses his contact with reality. The reason behind this is as Freud explains, that everyone wishes to die inwardly in order to get away with daily life struggles, in other words reality, and to reach the eternal bliss. Jack unconsciously tries to relieve his inner depression by misbehaving others as well as shedding blood. Directing his death instincts outside, it is possible to say that he almost becomes a tyrant. In the first place, Jack is cast as a compatible person, for example, in Chapter 2, he says, “I agree with Ralph. We’ve got to have rules and obey them. After all, we’re not savages. We’re English, and the English are best at everything. So we’ve got to do the right things”. However, as time passes and the children spend more time in nature apart from moral, traditional, religious and legal discipline and impositions, Jack’s primitive side manifests itself. A quotation from Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan sums up the message that Golding tries to give with the character of Jack: “To this war of every man against every man, this also is consequent; that nothing can be unjust. The notions of right and wrong, justice and injustice have no place in the state of nature”. According to Hobbes, the death instinct reveals itself when humans are closer to their nature. In brief, Jack’s hunter group acts heavily upon their death instincts whereas that of Ralph acts upon life instincts. Ralph is a leader who believes in democracy; Jack is a wicked leader who believes in brutal oppression.
Secondly, Freud’s psychoanalytic theory is based upon the three principles: id, ego and superego. According to him, human mind has three layers which are interacting with each other. Id is the primitive and the unconscious component of the human mind and it is operated by pleasure principle. Superego is the layer where all social and moral rules are gathered to hold back the id’s insatiable desires. The ego finds the middle way between these two layers and ensures that the person’s mental health is not disturbed. The three characters — Jack, Piggy and Ralph — act as if they represent these three layers throughout the novel.
If Id becomes the dominant force in human beings, the person continues his life by ignoring the consequences of what he does by destroying the rules. This person just wants to have what he wants just quickly, and he does not care about harming others. Jack has all the features that Id has. At the top of these, there is his losing his self by gradually losing the connection with reality. Since Id is present from the birth, it does not have a connection with reality. Jack is the representative of id, therefore of ferocity, cruelty and violence. In Chapter 5 when Jack is speaking, it looks as if id itself is speaking: “Bollocks to the rules! We’re strong – we hunt! If there’s a beast, we’ll hunt it down! We’ll close in and beat and beat and beat!”. His desire to dominate and his fascination with power is seen here. Jack and his hunters are governed by their instinctual wishes. Jack and his hunters only care about killing pigs to satisfy their id impulse, even feeding themselves becomes of second importance. For example when the fire dies down, Jack is so proud of his hunting down of the pig that he does not care about it and he just wants to get compliments. This situation is described in the novel as follows:
He [Jack] sought, charitable in his happiness, to include them in the thing that had happened. His mind was crowded with memories; memories of the knowledge that had come to them when they closed in on the struggling pig, knowledge that they had outwitted a living thing, imposed their will upon it, taken away its life like a long satisfying drink.
The phrases “outwitting living things” and “imposing their will upon it” are the proofs of his unconsciously surrender to his id drive. He wants to dominate over both the children and the animals on the island. Later on, they dance like primitive men to celebrate their successful huntings. Hunting becomes an obsession for Jack.
Ralph undertakes the task of ego in the novel. From the very beginning, he acts as the consciousness among the other children. David Spitz defines Ralph as “chosen chief by an election, he sought always to maintain parliamentary procedures, to respect freedom of speech, to rule through persuasion, with the consent of the governed”. Ralph makes an effort to mediate between Jack’s pleasure-oriented desires and Piggy’s restricting social pressures that alienates him. As the protagonist, he insists on keeping the fire going as the sensible act. He assigns Jack to be the chief of his own choir. This shows Jack’s friendly and democratic side. In Chapter 10, his realization of the other boys’ capacity for violence makes him scared of their situation even more than before. In the next chapter, the disagreement between Ralph and Jack, that is to say id and ego, gets out of hand as they fight and with Piggy’s death at the end. As they struggle, Piggy and Ralph sum up the whole conflict of the novel.
“Which is better — to be a pack of painted Indians like you are, or to be sensible like Ralph is?” A great clamor rose among the savages. Piggy shouted again. “Which is better — to have rules and agree, or to hunt and kill?” Again the clamor and again — “Zup!” Ralph shouted against the noise. “Which is better, law and rescue, or hunting and breaking things up?”
Ralph and Piggy’s claim is quite proper to their current condition of the boys because all off the troubles happened after their division to two different ways: civilization and savagery.
Piggy is the embodiment of the superego in the novel. Superego is not as powerful as ego and id. Every time he opens his mouth, Piggy conveys the voice of reason and common sense to us, he sees the horror of the children’s condition with a realistic eye. He says that they should not be afraid of imaginary creatures, but of humans. Piggy, as David Spitz takes him “to be Socrates, the voice of reason”, exemplifies the brain of the children. At his suggestion, they start to build shelters on the beach. They decide to light a fire at the top of the mountain to signal ships to pass. He designs the construction tools of civilization such as the sundial. Moreover, David Spitz likens Piggy to “Plato’s philosopher who has emerged from the cave” because he is like a saint who knows what is better for the society. He becomes Ralph’s mentor. His name is symbolic because he is killed by the hunters like a pig.
The children, firstly the little ones, start to believe in the presence of a “beast”. In Chapter 5, Simon says that “Maybe there is a beast… maybe it’s only us”. He emphasizes the fact that the beast may be a product of their imagination. Moreover, it may be the outcome of their own wicked subconscious. In Chapter 8, Jack and his hunters kill a sow and place its head on top of a stick and place it in the earth in order to present it to the beast. Jack says “this head is for the beast. It’s a gift”. As the climax of the novel and as the point where the main message of the novel is given directly, Simon goes near to the pig’s head and he recognizes that the beast is not a physical being, rather it is something evil that exists in every child on the island. What matters is how much one adopts to it. The Lord of the Flies talks to Simon and it tells the truth:
“You are silly little boy,” said the Lord of the Flies, “just an ignorant, silly little boy.” … “What are you doing out here all alone? Aren’t you afraid of me?” Simon shook. “There isn’t anyone to help you. Only me. And I’m the Beast.” … “Fancy thinking the Beast was something you could hunt and kill!” said the head. For a moment or two the forest and all the other dimly appreciated places echoed with the parody of laughter. “You knew, didn’t you? I’m part of you? Close, close, close! I’m the reason why it’s no go? Why things are what they are?” The laughter shivered again. “Come now,” said the Lord of the Flies. “Get back to the others and we’ll forget the whole thing.”
The Lord of the Flies is Beelzebub which is “a personification of evil … and the beast that is part of man” in some religious books. It informs Simon about the reality. The children’s savagery and wildness are the result of their deprivation of civilization and culture. They return to the tribal order from the democratic order. The wild “beast” from which they feared and tried to escape settles within them. It is a symbol representing the potentiality of evil in every human being by nature. It is by nature because, as Jack does, humans are born as savages and like an infant, they are selfish creatures. They develop the sense of communication, in other words civilization, in the course of time. Jack and his hunters not only accept the existence of the “beast”, they also yield to it to the extent of worshipping it. They give up civilization over savagery and they unleash the “beast” inside them. When Simon tries to approach other children and explains the situation to them, he falls over and gets killed wildly by them.
As seen above, the novel is almost only based upon the possibility of a dystopia in which the unpleasant side of human nature, the idea of Freud and Golding, manifests. This dystopia is likely to happen when the primitive behaviors of humankind are practiced without necessary restrictions. Everything is brutal and bloody until a British marine comes to save them after noticing the fire which has been ignited by Jack to make Ralph show up so to kill him. The ending supports the idea that civilization is needed for survival and peace. However, the ending is also ironical and self-contradictory because the salvation of the children is not for good. The war is still going on and it has been already proved that even the children of the society are prone to lose their innocence quickly. It shows that being a child or adult does not matter as long as one finds an opportunity to unleash the beast inside. Nevertheless, characters like Simon, Ralph and Piggy show that William Golding believes in the existence of people who favor goodness and spirituality over heartlessness.
In conclusion, Lord of the Flies is a novel about how a bunch of English children, who are shaped by the superior civilized British society, are brutalized only by fear, superstition and desire when they spend time away from civilization. If the balance between Freud’s three components id, ego and superego is lost, the order spoils and this leads to chaos and destruction. Moreover, without social orders, Freud’s death instinct directs itself outwards and it results in murders. The novel’s three main characters reflect three different sides of humankind: Jack reflecting evil, Ralph reflecting mildness and Piggy reflecting rationalism.
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