Lord of the Flies: Man Is Savage at Heart

Copyright (C) 1996 By Kevin McKillop

A running theme in Lord of the Flies is that man is savage at heart, always
ultimately reverting back to an evil and primitive nature. The cycle of man\'s
rise to power, or righteousness, and his inevitable fall from grace is an
important point that book proves again and again, often comparing man with
characters from the Bible to give a more vivid picture of his descent. Lord Of
The Flies symbolizes 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.

The novel 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
organize 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 civilized
behavior: (Riley 1: 119). When the confusion finally leads to a manhunt [for
Ralph], the reader realizes that despite the strong sense of British character
and civility that has been instilled in the youth throughout their lives, the
boys have backpedaled and shown the underlying savage side existent in all
humans. "Golding senses that institutions and order imposed from without are
temporary, but man\'s irrationality and urge for destruction are enduring" (Riley
1: 119). The novel shows the reader how easy it 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.

Lord of the Flies\'s apprehension of evil is such that it touches
the nerve of contemporary horror as no English novel of its time has
done; it takes us, through symbolism, into a world of active,
proliferating evil which is seen, one feels, as the natural condition of

man and which is bound to remind the reader of the vilest manifestations

of Nazi regression (Riley 1: 120).

In the novel, 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\'s 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 pig, they put
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 in souls wounded by fear" (Baker 12). 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 is described as beautiful and pure. The
description of his death, the manner in which he died, and the cause for which
he died are remarkably similar to the circumstances of Christ\'s life and
ultimate demise. The major difference is that Christ died on the cross, while
Simon was speared. However, a reader familiar with the Bible recalls that
Christ was stabbed in the side with a a spear before his crucifixion.

William Golding discusses man\'s capacity for fear and cowardice. In the novel,
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 organize
and begin to feel more adult-like themselves, the fear of monsters takes 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. The author wishes to show, however,
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 the idea or belief that man is pathetic and savage at the very core
of his existence. Throughout the novel,