Lord of the Flies by William Golding Thesis

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¶ … Lord of the Flies

William Golding's novel, the Lord of the Flies, focuses on the theme of the civilized man vs. The savage man. Golding explores the nature of man and how it can become corrupt by its own inclinations through his personal experience in World War II. In the war, Golding witness horrors that he could not believe and they changed his opinion of the nature of man forever. He suddenly saw that man was a savage at heart and left to his own desire, will choose himself and his needs over anything or anyone else. Golding uses the characters of young boys to emphasize the notion that the need for self-gratification is inbred within all humans and is more instinctive than anything else. Without some form of law or codes of conduct, man will turn savage before ever considering moral behavior. The implications of the novel insist that mankind must have order and some semblance of morality if it is to survive the savage beast that lives within.

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The Lord of the Flies reflects the attitude of the destruction of war coupled with man's ability to turn to evil with little or no regard. Golding's service in World War II made an impression on that would last a lifetime. After Golding joined the Royal Navy in 1940, he spent some time on a weapons-development program. Michael Prusse writes, "He was involved in the pursuit of the Bismarck and was deeply affected by the deaths and injuries he witnessed" (Prusse). The injustices he saw manifest in the characters in the Lord of the Flies, seeming innocent boys that resort to violent acts prompted by nothing but their humanity. As a result, war lies at the heart of the novel, even if it is humming quietly in the background. War is with the reader from the very beginning of the novel when we discover that the plane the boys were in was shot down. While the presence of an actual war with tanks and bombs does not exist on the island, another one does and this one might be more damaging to the human spirit than any other. Golding writes about how the war affected him. He says:

Thesis on Lord of the Flies by William Golding Assignment

It is bad enough to say that so many Jews were exterminated... But there were things done during that period from which I still have to avert my mind lest I should be physically sick. They were not done by the headhunters of New Guinea, or by some primitive tribe in the Amazon. They were done, skillfully, coldly, by educated men, doctors, lawyers, by men with a tradition of civilization behind them, to beings of their own kind... (Golding Hot Gates 86-7)

Here we see how Golding's personal experience and perspective weighted heavily on the development of the novel and theme. His point is to emphasize that the most primitive people do not seem to be as evil as the more "refined" individuals. When left to our own devices, we will think for ourselves and, more importantly, do for ourselves whatever we choose and there is literally no logic to stop that from occurring once the mind is made up.

The truth of our humanity is demonstrated through young innocent children whom, we assume, have been raised within a civilized society and understand rules and order. What little they learned is too quickly forgotten on an island with no limits and no order. Chaos emerges when the boys decide to act on their own accord and on personal behalf rather than for the group as a whole. When Ralph loses his control of the collective group, Jack begins to have a greater presence in the group. Things progress and we see the true nature of man emerge as the boys split into factions and commence to make trouble on every occasion.

Attitudes and mindsets depreciate over time. The boys become focused on proving their status among the group rather than on their survival and rescue. Dickson observes that Golding is "defining ethical behavior" (Dickson 135). "The fall of Ralph's society," he states, is a manifestation of "collective human evil" (135). Nothing demonstrates the fragility of the human psyche than seeing it broken in young children.

The war the boys face on the island is as powerful and as deadly as any other war. Dickson maintains that Golding's allegory combines the "best features of realistic and allegorical fiction" (Dickson 12). The island is the "appropriate stage for the survival story of the deserted boys, but it also suggests a universal, timeless backdrop for symbolic action" (12). Dickson is correct in this assessment and in his assumption that the story "dramatizes the real nature of all humans" (12-3). The boys' "nightmare world... parallels the destruction of the outside world through atomic warfare" (13). Interestingly, in the beginning of the story, the boys interpret the island as a Garden of Eden; however, Dickson notes, the "setting is sinister and hostile" (13). The island, over time, becomes a "burning hell" (13). We learn that war not only rages on the outside but it rages within as well. In an interview with James Baker, Golding notes that the nature of man is one that must be linked to the notion of original sin. He states:

I've never been able to see how anybody can deny what stares us in the face - unless we control ourselves, we sin. Our nature is to want to grab something that belongs to somebody else, and we have either to be taught or teach ourselves that you've got to share, you can't grab the lot. And for God's sake, history is really no more than a chronicle of original sin" (Golding qtd. In Baker 134).

The sentiment is best expressed when the boys would rather turn on each other than work together as a unit because they want to satisfy their basic instinct of power. Robert Merry agrees, stating, "Human nature contains plenty of goodness, but evil is forever lurking also in the human spirit" (Merry 156). An example of how the boys literally turn into savages is expressed when Ralph, alone on the island, considers Bill and how he has changed. He thinks of how Bill is now and thinks, "But really... this was not Bill. This was a savage whose image refused to blend with that ancient picture of a boy in shorts and shirt" (Golding LOTF 263). The war we must worry about is the one that causes our inner man to struggle against the greater good.

Perhaps one of the most incredible facts about the theme Golding presents in the Lord of the Flies is the fact that there are no outside forces encouraging the boys to do one thing or another. They are left to their own devices and somehow, the need to turn savage emerges while any sense of civility fades in the proverbial sunset. Bufkin refers to this as a "universal situation" (Bufkin) that Golding presents. Golding "has traced the emergence of evil, the result of Original Sin, as man's common mortal inheritance" (Bufkin). The boys arrive on the island in a "state of innocence" (Bufkin); but they "ignore the voice of authority and violate the rules that have been previously created -- by state (king), church (God), family (father) -- for order, mutual benefit, and happiness" (Bufkin). Bufkin relates this action to the boys' "liberation into savagery" (Bufkin). Bufkin elaborates that these boys demonstrate how men, as much as they might to deny the fact, need rules and laws. He states:

Man... is most truly free when he is most truly disciplined. When law and rules... are discarded and the private, individual good takes control and precedence over the public, common good, things begin to fall apart, reason and common sense become baffled, and chaos ensues. Man, defying prescripted authority, whether divine or mundane, becomes corrupt. (Bufkin)

Through the lives of innocent boys, we see how man can become savage in a short time.

The boys illustrate how very little it takes for individuals to lose control. After Simon has his encounter with the Lord of the Flies, we see how mob mentality can go horribly wrong. The boys have whipped themselves into a frenzy and do not even stop to think about what they are doing or to whom. We read, "At once the crowd surged after it, poured down the rock, leapt on to the beast, screamed, struck, bit, tore. There were no words, and no movements but the tearing of teeth and claws" (Golding LOTF 219). Here we see how the savagery of man engulfs they psyche on every level. None of the other boys thought twice about what they were doing - they only wanted to kill. This scene depicts a war scene when soldiers only know that it is them and the enemy and without thought or trepidation, they will kill anything they perceive as a threat.

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