This paper concerns the novel ‘The Lord of the Flies’ by William Golding. It is specifically concerned with the nature of the ‘illness’ which Golding believes lurks inside human beings and will always make sure that a society will turn bad. The novel tells the story of this descent into chaos, and it does through several key moments which foreshadow its chaotic and destructive climax. It is the thesis of this paper that this ‘illness’ can be described as a need for destruction for its own sake. This need to does not pay attention to reason and does not care about the consequences of its actions. In order to demonstrate how this can be seen as being the ‘illness’ at the heart of human beings, the paper will draw attention to three specific moments in the text in which this tendency is presented.

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The first of these moments occurs in the first chapter of the novel. Although Ralph is not usually seen to be a destructive presence in the novel, he foreshadows the selfishness of the boys that will lead to the downfall of their society. He does this when he tells the other boys that Piggy is called Piggy, despite the fact that he has no reason to do so and Piggy has asked him not to. When Ralph blows the conch and calls the meeting it is clear that he has the opportunity to treat everybody fairly and to attempt to create a harmonious society. However, when Jack calls Piggy ‘Fatty,’ Ralph responds with the words: ‘He’s not Fatty…his real name’s Piggy.’ (Golding, 1997. 34) Golding writes that the boys then form a society from which Piggy is excluded: ‘A storm of laughter arose and even the tiniest child joined in. For the moment the boys were a closed circuit of sympathy with Piggy outside.’ (Golding, 1997. 34) Here Ralph indulges his desire to hurt Piggy for no reason and by doing this he shows that people are prone to this kind of behaviour. The description of the boys as excluding Piggy foreshadows the destructive and war like community which emerges at the end of the novel.

The second instance of destruction for its own sake comes when Ralph and Maurice kick down the sand castles of the ‘little uns’ for no reason other than their own entertainment. Golding describes this event and he also makes it clear that in world where no parents or authority exist then people will always engage in such selfish behaviours. He writes that; ‘In his other life Maurice would have received chastisement for filling a younger eye with sand. Now, though there was no parent to let fall a heavy hand, Maurice still felt the unease of wrongdoing. At the back of his mind formed the outlines of an excuse.’ (Golding, 1997. 70.) It is clear at this point that some of the boys still have a sense that they should be punished for bad and selfish behaviour, however this sense does not stop them from engaging in it. It seems that Golding means to state that the central ‘illness’ in people is this desire for destruction, even when it serves no purpose.

The most obvious example of this destruction occurs with the death of Simon in an act of savage group murder. Simon emerges from jungle having seen a vision in which he believes that he has seen the truth of the nature of the Beast and has understood that it is something which lies inside of people rather than an external threat which threatens to destroy them. He is killed by the boys who do not recognise him and indulge their violent desires for no real reason. When he describes this event then Golding makes it clear that the boys are enjoying their act of destruction and violence and that they have lost control of their reasoning. This comes through especially in his description of Simon as he emerges from the jungle: ‘The circle [of boys chanting] became a horseshoe. A thing crawled out of the forest. It came dark, uncertainly. The shrill screaming that rose from beast was like a pain.

The beast stumbled into the horseshoe.’ (Golding, 1997. 90) At this point it is clear to the reader that the ‘beast’ is Simon, however by describing him in inhuman terms, Golding creates the impression the that boys’ desire for destruction is enough to completely dehumanise one of the members of their own society. This sense is added to when Simon attempts to escape from the boys and they act with a mob and a crowd mentality towards him: ‘At once the crowd surged after it [Simon] poured down on the rock, lept on to the beast, screamed, struck, bit, tore. There were no words, no movements but the tearing of teeth and claws.’ (Golding, 1997. 220) By emphasising both the dehumanisation of Simon by the boys and the boys’ descent in an primal state, Golding shows how they indulge in destruction and how their society has degenerated. This shows that the ‘illness’ which lies at the heart of people is the desire to act out of impulse rather than thinking and that this impulse is often one of destruction.

In conclusion, the ‘illness’ at the heart of people can be seen to be the impulse towards destructive behaviour. Throughout the novel, Golding shows that this can take the form of selfish bullying, actively hurting people and finally a complete descent into violence and murder for no reason. It this which leads to the downfall of their world and Golding suggests that it is this which will always do so regardless of whatever social structures are put into place.

  • William Golding, The Lord of the Flies (London: Faber & Faber, 1997.)