Thesis: A running theme in William Golding's works is that man is savage at heart, always ultimately reverting back to an evil and primitive nature.
A running theme in W. Golding`s works is that man is savage at heart, always ultimately reverting back to an evil and primitive nature. The cycle of man rise to power, or righteousness, and hiss inevitable fall from grace is an important point that Golding proves again and again in many of his works, often comparing man with characters from the Bible to give a more vivid picture of his descent. Golding symbolises this fall in different manners, ranging from the illustration of the mentality of actual primitive man to the reflections of a corrupt seaman in purgatory.
W. Golding`s first book, Lord of the Flies, is the story of a group of boys of different backgrounds who are marooned on an unknown island when their plane crashes. As the boys try to organise and formulate a plan to get rescued, they begin to separate and as a result of the dissension a band of savage tribal hunters is formed. Eventually the stranded boys in Lord of the Flies almost entirely shake off civilised behaviour": (Riley 1:119). When the confusion finally leads to a manhunt (for Ralph), the reader realises that despite the wrong sense of British character and civility that has been instilled in the youth throughout their lives, the boys have back-pedalled and shown the underlying savage side existent in all humans. Golding senses that institutions and order imposed from without are intemporary, but man's irrationality and urge for destruction are enduring" (Riley1:19). The novel shows the reader how easy is to revert back to the evil nature inherent in man. If a group of well-conditioned school boys can ultimately wind up committing various extreme travesties, one can imagine what adults, leaders of society, are capable of doing under the pressures of trying to maintain world relations.
Golding`s primary goal in writing Lord of the Flies is to create a readable story that people can relate to that conveys the message that man always reverts back to his savage nature. When he wrote the novel, he was "striving to move behind the conventional matter of the contemporary novel to a view of what man, or pre-man, is like when the facade of civilised behaviour falls away" (Riley 1:119). The boys in Lord of the Flies rationalise their manhunt as just a game (Baker 24). This is another example of Golding`s integration of the darkness of man's heart into his novels. None of the characters take responsibility for their wrongdoings.
In his first three books, Lord of the Flies, Pincher Martin and Free Fall, Golding "employed traditional form" and contributed to the impression that he was a deeply traditional thinker"(Baker XVII). In Lord of the Flies Simon is a peaceful lad who tries to show the boys that there is no monster on the island except the fears that the boys have. "Simon tries to state the truth: there is a beast, but it is only us" (Baker 11). When he makes this revelation, he is ridiculed. This is an uncanny parallel to the misunderstanding that Christ had to deal with throughout his life. Later in the story the savage hunters are chasing a pig. Once they kill the game, they erect its head on a stick and Simon experiences an epiphany in which he "sees the perennial fall which is the central reality of our history: the defeat of reason and the release of.... madness. As Simon rushes to the campfire to tell the boys of his discovery, he is hit in the side with a spear, his prophecy rejected and the word he wished to spread ignored. Simon falls to the ground dead and described as beautiful and our. The description of his death, the manner in which he died, and the cause for which he died is remarkably similar to the circumstances of Christ life and ultimate demise. The major inconsistency is that Christ died in the cross, while Simon was speared. However, a reader familiar with the Bible recalls that Christ was stabbed in the side with a spear before his crucifixion.
Many of W. Golding`s works discuss, in some context, man's capacity for fear and cowardice. In Lord of the Flies, the boys on the island first encounter a natural fear of being stranded on an uncharted island without the counsel of adults. Once the boys begin to organise and begin to feel more adult-like themselves, the fear of monsters take over. It is understandable that boys ranging in ages from toddlers to young teenagers would have fears of monsters, especially when it is taken into consideration that the children are stranded on the island. Golding wishes to show that fear is an emotion that is instinctive and active in humans from the very beginnings of their lives. This revelation uncovers another weakness in man, supporting Goding`s belief that man is pathetic and savage at the very core of hiss existence. Throughput the novel there is a struggle for power between two groups. This struggle illustrates man`s fear of losing control, which is another example of his selfishness and weakness. The fear of monsters is natural; the fear of losing power is inherited. Golding uses these vices to prove the point that any type of uncontrolled fear contributes to man`s instability and will ultimately lead to his (man`s) demise spiritually and perhaps even physically. The island in Lord of the Flies is the actual island; it is not simply an island, though. It is a microcosm of life itself, the adult world, and the human struggle with his own loneliness.
Baker, James R. William Golding, A Critical Study. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1965.
Golding, William. Free Fall. London: Faber and Faber, 1959.
Golding, William. Lord of the Flies. New York: Harcourt, 1962.
Golding, William. The Inheritors. New York: Harcourt, 1962.
Riley, Carolyn, ed. Vol. 1 of Contemporary Literary Criticism.
Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1973.
© Copyright 1995 Daryl L. Houston
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