The Fading Boundaries between a Philosophical and a Political lecture on Lord of the Flies.
It's easy enough to make a broad generalization about philosophical, political or even religious interpretations on each book ( even if we consider religion in some way vinculated to philosophy), but in reality the issue is an extremely complex one. It would be so comfortable to reduce a story to a mere source of external references and to lose all the nuances that make literature a special phenomenon; I´m not saying literature is only style but it must not be subdued to its content. And, unfortunately, that is a typical contemporary quirk.
This not only happens in literature; for example, in children´s films, where the content is supposed to be political unexisting, there always appears somebody who tries to give the movie a second political reading, trying therefore to measure its value by any subjective comment. It would appear then that some creations do not have enough interest if viewed from a neutral point of view.
The fact of the matter is that literature is not a mere moral eulogistic topic. In this essay we shall try to contrast several interpretations, mainly focusing on philosophical and political aspects, including religion if necessary.
A number of key issues arise from the simbology of the book. The story is an allegory traced with great skill and allows the reader to give the book second readings.
Firstly, we would like to explain some possible meanings of the islands as a metaphor. When framing the book on an island, the author´s purpose is to freely experiment with the characters and the role they shall take within the book. This virgin territory can be identified with the primary idea of all times. In fact, the story illustrates the corruption of mankind since a kind of the Rousseaunian Natural Man disappeared due to the establishment of some sort of social -or, what is the same for the french philosopher- anti natural order.
As for the will of being rescued that the children have, one may observe that a real, but unconscious anxiety to escape from terrenal world could be deduced from a strictly religious point of view; therefore the island is a secluded portion of a bigger world that waits outside.
Another point of a view could be synthesized as follows: the author extrapolates a group of children from high class school to a wild and unexplored territory. We could blend the kid´s origins with their final destination, in this case a desert island dwelled by a supposed beast. If these children come from a well based class they have to be the living example of moral, religious and political correctness. This purity, not only because of being children but also because those circumstances could be identified with the so called innate leniency that some philosophers maintain. When you find out that these lenient children fall into total depravation, you question yourself if real goodness in mankind is rather dubious.
Existentialism fits too with the idea of escaping from routine. A great effort is made to that purpose, but when the unavoidable frustration that appears as a result of that fight make strength fade away; as the fire in the novel finally disappears.
In addition to this, we shall consider an island as a symbol of loneliness, of solitude; escaping is sometimes an impossible task. This existentialism tortures and leads anyone to void. Some may desire to escape from the island which bears human condition.
Human condition is depicted through the main characters in the novel. Each one embodies a determined social stereotype which will be later on deeply explained. This existentialist dissatisfaction is a factor which endarkens human kind like other factors such as the kind of fear which is dealt through the book, being this one of the main causes of chaos. Those parallelisms, being some of them adventured, are valid too exposing two questions which take far beyond this point: to what extent is cruelty a mere result of circumstances or a genuine feature in mankind.
We shall now shortly analyze the novel. The will of being rescued will unite all the children with a same purpose. They pursue a determinate objective. For this purpose, a first rudimentary political and social order is established. We would like to trace a parallelism between the situation of the kids when their plane crashed and the so called Natural Man conceived by Rousseau. The Natural Man was an idealized savage who lived in harmony with his instincts and enjoyed communion with nature. Once the social order appeared, the corruption of his condition begun, and the consequences of a degraded order derived into a different kind of savagery: social savagery, a kind of paradoxical parable. The plot in the novel describes with special care how the democracy of the shell generated enough envy and conflicts to finally fracture their attempt to organize themselves under a rational thought.
An elementary hierarchy was established at the same time with a first order. Apart from that those who reincarnate some kind of power that will be later outlined, the mass is curiously seen as a bunch of hypocrites. Only a few worked hard when constructing the shelter; the majority did not make great efforts and hid in the anonymous existence of plurality. Based on people whose main interests are not as solidary as we would like to think, social order is then seriously threatened.
The fire has a crucial importance as it represents the common will of abandoning the island. In fact, the knot of the novel starts when Jack is ashamed by Ralph, for being the guilty of its extinction in the very moment a boat was sailing at a long distance. Jack's success on hunting the pig is endarkened by his carelessness: the seed of rivalry and hate between the two characters is going to change the events into a tragedy.
The fear which the beast provoked in them is also a factor which we must point out. Imagination and myth take place in the illusory description of the creature which Sam and Eric invent. This has something to do with the hieratism of some religions whose main idea is the existence of a terrible supernatural justice that won't have mercy on mankind: the idea of God is conceived -this idea is stronger in some religions than in others- as an implacable entity whose source of power is terror. Anyway , those beliefs have at least a reward: the comprehension of the world and of the universe. For some civilizations it could be a worthwhile compensation, but we should not forget the coercive power that a premeditate use of terror (maybe even its creation) has within the high spheres of power.
We can find an example on Jack's use of fear to achieve his purposes. therefore, the group's fear towards an unknown beast will end up driving all the group into Jack's fascist hands: in other words, the the primary ideas and events which united the group, are finally disintegrated. Jack will not only use fear but also leadership to recover his pride and his prestige within the group. This pride grows when the tribe is formed. So, to reinforce his pride Jack hides his own image behind a mask; a mask which has something to do with the fascist imaginery, like the paint of the faces. The paint institutionalizes the group and makes personal identity disappear. In all those societies marked by dictatorial there is an uniformity in how people think, dress and react towards certain stimuli; and the same thing happens with the tribe itself.
In contrast, the first established order in the text could be related to a democratic one. But in this system is more uncomfortable to give way to your unhappiness and disconformity: you have to think and you need to collaborate within the system trying to find all the mistakes in it. A fascist order justifies by itself (as the term and the particular circumstances of its creation indicate) providing you with methods to canalize your insatisfaction: hostility, hate, easy thoughts... although its ideals are always used to favour interests which are far from those of the community; as it happened in the novel, , where Jack is the selfish tyrant of the tribe. As an example, we have the members of the group servilism, which is not totally imposed: they find pleasure in being committed to the lidded and his safe but at the same time irrational order.
In the one hand it is worth stating at this point that the most outstanding key issue lays in Simon's savage killing. He represents the search for the truth, but even the truth has not enough power to be heard in such an unbridled atmosphere. What deserves especial consideration is the similarity between Simon and Christ's figure. Simon is the only character depicted in the novel who will have enough courage to search and confront the beast, finding the logical solution to this enigma (more concretely, the parachute's mechanism).
And on the other hand, irrationality and reason are in conflict in the book, and they are solved through someone's killing, the tribe's scope goat, which also represents adulthood and awareness; in this case it will be Piggy.
We can stand a premonition of Simon's death through the Lord of the Flies' message. It can be considered as an advice of the potential danger implied on the possession of truth. Ignorance is praised as a condition to enjoy life without getting in trouble; so Simon is encouraged to leave that forbidden place and play with the other children. The Lord of the Flies reveals itself as the main cause which will not allow them to abandon the island. This powerful symbolic connotation is directly explained by the text, although in an abstract and obscure way.
Once Piggy and Simon are dead, reason is out of the island. There is still one representative character of the initial order, but he is persecuted and his credibility no longer exists. Therefore he will be tracked and hunted as a pig until the officer arrived.
The plot is solved with the coming of the only adult figure which the story portraits, although the matters arised in the book are not given a concrete answer. A big interrogation is still in the air, but the fact that the end of this book is not as metaphorical as the rest of the book will allow us to make our own conclusions freely.
So,. is the book a great interrogation which solves small questions? From a religious point of view, the arrival of the soldier represents an ideal of salvation which is only comparable to God's mercy, but we think the end is not a clear metaphor but a pretext to avoid the responsibility of solving those questions. Even the author himself could not be able to solve it; his main achievement consists in giving a clear, bright, and representative allegory. Maybe to be wise is to make the good question rather than the right answer.
It is essential to realize that the merit of the allegory is the relation established between characters and those ideals which they incarnate. Let us begin by saying that firstly we shall outstand the crucial characters, passing later on to a further insight into those characters which we consider less active in the events.
Ralph represents leadership, charisma and reason as an attitude. He often needs Piggy's help to express clearly what his purposes are. The relation between these two characters defines the authority of the democracy of the shell. Ralph is balanced enough to compilate a sensible character with his like for adventure. His humanity is perhaps one of his most suggerent characteristics: he could not bear sleeping alone in the night even when being persecuted by the children's tribe and decided to hide near the Castlerock. The beast, an illusory creation, was less frightening to him than the imminent danger of his own hunting.
Piggy embodies the voice of adulthood. He is laughed at by everyone, a fact which is in clear contrast with his early cleverness to point out ignorance and unconsciousness. His appearance as rejected as his intelligence. As the story goes on, fear and hatred acquire a relevant importance. He is the perfect complement of Ralph for maintaining an order which later disappears. He also has a tool which is essential for everyday life and protection of the community: his glasses, which are firstly used to make fire and later on became an object which triggers a major conflict. Science and its use is therefore partried in the fight for Piggy's specs.
Jack symbolizes the triumph of instincts as a consequence of destabilization. At the beginning of the story he is reasonable and worried about his own and the group's rescue. But his envy grows after being ashamed and he finally uses the children's fear for his own purposes. As a result, he will obtain what he desires, being therefore dominated by egoism.
It is strange that the only symbol of uncomformism is a character whose actions are considerably the causes of the disaster. Uncomformism should not be considered as a negative factor since it is a brain-teasing factor which can provide solutions in many aspects in life. We think the author blends rebellion with a kind of destructive disdain. The degeneration of Jack's character makes us miss a more dignified conception of the search of any possible alternative.
Jack also reminds us of one of the fallen angels; so it is easy to make a comparison between his corruption and the story of Satan, the first fallen angel.
But if we are searching for a figure who can be seen as the reincarnation of the forces of evil we have there in mind Roger. In spite of his quiet character, he is a blood-thirsty kid who enjoys hunting and hurting people, finding special pleasure when killing Piggy. He unconsciously downloads responsibility in Jack. ; but if Jack tends to represent the evil figure, Roger represents evilness as an abstract force. The relation Jack and Roger hold could be compared to that of Ralph and Piggy. If Piggy symbolizes the voice of reason, Ralph's charisma makes his reasonable proposals come to light.
Roger is also the executive power, the indispensable authority which stands beside the leader doing the dirty work; but a secret yearning of power is observed when mistreating Sam and Eric.
Simon is the opposite of Roger, a strange and secluded one, like the artist which trusts in solitude to develop inspiration and deep thinking. He could be seen as the philosopher who sacrifices enjoying any pleasure for making complex intelligent efforts. As Christ helped the disfavoured, Simon took delight in taking care of the "littluns". His like-mindedness with the children leads him to search and discover the enigmatical truth.
Simon and Eric are also interested in the good working order, since they need an amity with the group similar to the one that the two brothers maintain. The strength of their union is idealized to the extent of being considered an only person. It is so explicit that the kids on the island even call them by a single name: Samneric.
We can also outstand other features in their character like being subdued to the leader. Firstly they accept the order of the shell, but later on their lives overcome their honour and they finally betray Ralph. Their betrayal is due to their innocence, but their act could be seen within the adult world as a sign of cowardliness and interest.
The adult world appears finally in the book with the coming of the officer, an officer which is taking part in a real war. He is surprised of finding a burning island, but he is still proud of being a soldier who also contributes on a nuclear war which is destroying the whole world. So therefore we are dealing with mankind's hypocrisy; an hypocrisy which Ralph shows too when he does not want to recognize being implied on Simon's murder.
Perhaps the reason to be learned from this book is that we all hide a tyrant, or an evil, or a dark instinct which must be sacrificed in favour of living in society. Maybe those features are natural; but the human being is also social by nature, and so the fatal conflict could be intrinsic and unavoidable within ourselves. 'The Lord of the Flies' could not be a great question but a mere explanation of what we are. An explanation of human history and a pessimist message for those who believe in utopia. Anyway, if pessimism is an obstacle, it is also a challenge to be faced; and by facing trouble, if you are not destroyed, you will surely check out that there is a lot of truth in this simply, known but overwhelming phrase: whatever does not kill you makes you stronger.
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