Essay: Lord of the Flies

Author of Lord of the Flies
William Golding

They say that you should learn from your mistakes, as well as the mistakes of others. From history we learn that, although easy to get caught up in, totalitarian-type societies just don't work very well. They may indeed run smoothly at times, but eventually somebody, usually the general populous, draws the shorter straw. In William Golding's novel Lord of the Flies, man's susceptibility to this quick and easy organization called authoritarianism, or dictatorship, and his eagerness to follow a leader is well illustrated. There is the democratic system at first, then the people move into a more disorganized but "fun" dictatorial system, and in the end, nobody wins.

In the beginning, Ralph, the oldest and strongest of the boys, is elected "chief" of the children for their stay on the island. As shown in this quote from chapter two, just after the massive fire on the mountain, "'We've got to have special people for looking after the fire. Any day there may be a ship out there'--he waved his arm at the taut wire of the horizon--'and if we have a signal going they'll come and take us off. And another thing. We ought to have more rules. Where the conch is, that's a meeting. The same up here as down there.'"(42). Ralph is just as eager to act like a child as the rest of the boys, but he proves to be a fair and level-headed leader. He organizes the boys in such a fashion that everyone gets his turn to speak, and projects get completed. Of course, these are only boys, and they soon take advantage of Ralph's system and run amok, accomplishing nothing. Obviously the children do not realize that hard work and group cooperation will almost always result with a more organized, just, and peaceful environment, especially if they are led by someone like Ralph. Ralph's ideas and theories were great, but he did not execute them in a proper manner. He expected the other children to see how his plans would work and want to take part in building a strong governmental system.

Piggy from Lord of the Flies

Later on, after numerous arguments over priorities, Jack, Ralph's rebellious and almost equally sized peer, leaves Ralph's camp and sets up his own at Castle Rock, a cliff near the ocean on the opposite side of the island. He advertises hunting, playing, and eating as new priorities instead of Ralph's more practical ideas such as keeping a signal fire so as to be rescued by a passing ship. Jack claims that the rumored beast must be killed, and that he will make it happen. Eventually, most of the kids join Jack in his new "tribe," and forget about Ralph. They are eager to rebel and defy the original system where they were required to work. They follow Jack as he generates fear among them, thus gaining control. More importantly, he appeals to them with promises of food, fun, and safety, much like many political giants in the past, such as Hitler. He creates a savage, war-craving, careless populous so caught up in the action of hunting and face-painting that they neglect to consider the consequences. The whole second half of the book portrays the bad side, if you will, of standard governmental systems. It shows how easily a group of people can become so caught up in the excitement and action of a person's promises and ideas that they become extremely vulnerable to the dangers of an authoritarian dictatorship. While there are die hard followers, eventually there will be some who realize what the situation is leading to, and these people will be punished for not agreeing and for going against the group. Take for example this quote taken from chapter eleven: " 'Grab them!' No one moved. Jack shouted angrily. 'I said grab them!' The painted group moved round Samneric nervously and unhandily. Once more the silvery laughter scattered. Samneric protested out of the heart of civilization. 'Oh, I say!' '--honestly!' Their spears were taken from them. 'Tie them up!' Ralph cried out hopelessly against the black and green mask. 'Jack!' 'Go on. Tie them.' Now the painted group felt the otherness of Samneric, felt the power in their own hands. They felled the twins clumsily and excitedly. Jack was inspired. He knew that Ralph would attempt a rescue." (178). This is a perfect example of the power Jack has gained through making the general populous fear his wrath.

Conch shell ala Lord of the Rings
Conch Shell

In the end, Jack's tribe becomes out of control, attempting to kill Ralph and burning the entire island in the process. A ship arrives, attracted by the smoke, and they all bust out crying, realizing what fools they had been. . "The tears began to flow and sobs shook him. He gave himself up now for the first time on the island; great, shuddering spasms of grief that seemed to wrench his whole body. His voice rose under the black smoke before the burning wreckage of the island; and infected by that emotion, the other little boys began to shake and sob too." (202). The democratic system at the beginning did not work because the children did not understand the entire concept. They did not realize the benefits of such a system and were quick to join the other group where they were allowed to do as they pleased. They had no idea that Jack would become a dictator and rule over them with fear and violent force

It is clear that Golding is attempting to, among other things, illustrate a few of man's weaknesses, and describe through a variety of symbols and situations what some of our most serious flaws are. But in his attempt to point out bad characteristics, he also points out good ones. Although it is true that humankind is likely to revert back to the original id, it is also clear that the extraordinary ability to learn from our ancestors' mistakes and create wonderful, functional societies. Yes there are still problems, and indeed certain types of people pose as obstacles on the road to a more sophisticated and educated civilization, but it is better that than a bunch of savages, thinking only of themselves, right?