Is Society Constraining Our Inherent Barbarism? (Lord of the Flies by William Golding Analysis)


“Maybe there is a beast.... maybe it's only us” (Golding 80). Here Simon - the character in the novel that represents purity and kindness - explains that the beast may be something within us humans, rather than what all the other boys believe it is: an alive being. In William Golding’s novel Lord of the Flies, English boys who are in the middle of the Cold War are being transported to a safer place outside of England. When they are on their way to the safer destination, their plane accidentally gets shot down, and they are consequently left stuck on an island with no other signs of humanity. In the midst of trying to figure out a society, the boys think that the beast they believe to have seen is something external or physically alive. However, by reading the novel one will find that the beast merely symbolizes the inherent, evil human nature that lies within all human beings. While this evil human nature does not particularly come out in society as we know it, the boys face the challenge of creating their own society on the island, and their barbaric human qualities become all so evident. Barbarism is the “absence of culture and civilization”, as defined by the Oxford dictionary (Lexico.com 1). Also, the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English defines barbarism as “extremely violent and cruel behavior” (Ldoceonline.com 1). 

The quality of barbarism becomes clear when the boys kill Simon with their bare hands. Most of the killers have no remorse for it whatsoever. As the boys are savagely chanting at Jack’s feast, “Kill the beast! Cut his throat! Spill his blood” (Golding 152), they notice a dark figure coming out of the woods. The figure is saying that he saw a dead body at the top of the hill. As readers, we know that this is actually Simon telling everyone that the “beast” the boys think they have seen is actually a parachutist. However, the boys are so uneasy on the thought of the beast, they decide to ignore Simon’s cries and kill him with their bare hands: “There were no words, and no movements but the tearing of teeth and claws” (Golding 153). But, when the young boys figure out this is actually Simon they are tearing apart, they show no mercy. They continue to murder him. The next morning, Ralph exclaims, “I’m frightened. Of us. I want to go home. Oh God, I want to go home” (Golding 157). Here Ralph explains that he is fearful of himself and his own friends. He realizes that they lost their self identity and have all turned to savages. He is afraid of what even he is capable of. 

Another example of barbarism in Lord of the Flies is when Jack and his hunters raided Ralph and his group’s shelters to steal Piggy’s glasses for the signal fire. Jack’s group takes the route of violence to acquire the glasses, and would seemingly even kill for an animate object. To better understand the situation, the narrator of the novel describes the killing: “Then there was a vicious snarling in the mouth of the shelter and the plunge and thump of living things. . . Piggy’s corner became a complication of snarls and crashes and flying limbs. Ralph hit out; then he and what seemed like a dozen others were rolling over and over, hitting, biting, scratching. . . He [Jack] was a chief now in truth; and he made stabbing motions with his spear. From his left hand dangled Piggy’s glasses” (Golding 167-168). Jack and his group of hunters decide to take acts of violence to retrieve Piggy’s glasses, rather than simply asking. They were savagely, or violently, scouting for the glasses and immediately went to war for them. This scene could easily parallel with what is going on in the real world, outside of the island: The Cold War. Only instead the boys are fighting for glasses, something so obscure in the uniformed society people are familiar with. However, in this setting, a pair of glasses can mean the difference between life and death. 

Another instance of barbarism on the island is when Jack and his hunters take any means possible to attempt to hunt Ralph down and kill him. They take this act so seriously that the hunters viciously torture Samneric to discover Ralph’s whereabouts: “. . . he heard fresh noises - cries of pain from Samneric, cries of panic, angry voices” (Golding 191). They are willing to find Ralph taking any means possible. Ralph himself even describes Jack’s tribe as barbaric, using the word “savage”. When the savages could not get to Ralph with the help of Samneric, Jack decides to set the entire island on fire in order to force Ralph out of hiding: “He [Ralph] wormed his way through the thicket toward the forest, keeping as far as possible beneath the smoke. Presently he saw open space, and the green leaves of the edge of the thicket. A smallish savage was standing between him and the rest of the forest, a savage striped red and white, and carrying a spear” (Golding 195). In this particular situation, the boys almost forget the fact that this fire could ultimately kill them too, yet in their minds it is worth it. The boys forget every aspect of civilization and become almost numb to the fact that Ralph is a fellow human. 

To illustrate another instance of barbarism, according to Brandon Johnson in Humanity and Barbarism in Lord of the Flies, “A comparison of Golding’s description of the eyes of his characters and the actions of his characters themselves manifest the barbarism of humanity. The first description of Jack, the ultimate leader of the savages, portrays Jack’s eyes as protruding ‘out of [Jack’s] face, and turning, or ready to turn, to anger’ (20)” (Johnson 1). This is suggesting that barbarism is inherited, rather than a developed trait. The human eyes are one of the qualities that never grow or become different. Also, the fact that this happens so early in the novel - where this excerpt of text is from - proves that when the limitations of society are lifted, savagery takes over.

Another example of barbarism becoming prevalent when the restrictions of society are lost is the conch shell shattering. The conch symbolizes civilization and unity by summoning all the boys together and developing an initial hierarchy. According to Brandon Johnson,“By choosing to have the conch fade and ultimately be obliterated concurrently with the fall of the boys’ order, Golding suggests that the civilized part of humanity is superficial and cannot and will not hold against true humanity when a structured government is removed” (Johnson 1). With no laws and accountability, people become all natural without a structured routine. People revert to their survival instincts and fight for power through violence. On the island, the conch shell is solely an object that helps the boys feel a sense of reality and civilization. Order and structure is man made, it is not something instinctual. Without order, people would simply revert to their savage human qualities. 

In the end, the novel Lord of the Flies portrays the inherent and evil human nature that people all have within them through the notorious beast. Simon’s gruesome death, the stealing of Piggy’s glasses, the shattering of the conch, the look in Jack’s eyes, and finally the malicious hunt to find and attempt to murder Ralph all attest to their succoming to barbarism and mere gruesomeness. While they try to grasp for a sense of society and order, the absolute opposite ends up happening, and chaos strikes. When the constraints of society are lost, the barbarism within us is let out.

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