Saturday, November 16, 2013

Beasts within Us



“Civilization is skin-thin: scratch it and savagery bleeds out.”  [Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, Civilizations]

Nobel laureate William Golding’s first novel, Lord of the Flies (1954), tells the story of a group of school boys plane-wrecked on an uninhabited island.  The leadership of the democratic and sensitive Ralph is soon usurped by the savage Jack, and childhood innocence soon gives way to uncanny cruelty on the island.  The novel is the story of evil in the human being and his society.

Seeing that there are no adults to restrain them, the children are initially excited.  But Ralph emerges as a leader reminding them of their responsibility to find ways of returning home.  Ralph is a moral character in the novel.  His is a cultivated morality, the product of human civilisation.  Jack, on the other hand, is the uncultivated savage.  He soon wrenches the leadership from Ralph and becomes a dictator who imposes both his will and his savagery on the group.  Most of the children abandon Ralph’s benign leadership and become the followers of the bullying  Jack.  Jack provides them “fun and games” like hunting and mimicking hunting with one of the younger boys playing the role of a boar.

Simon is one of the few boys who do not follow Jack.  He is a saint of sorts to whom goodness comes naturally.  People like Simon do good and only good not because of any external moral obligations but merely because goodness comes to them naturally from within.  Such people may not last in the world of normal human beings.  Simon is killed eventually mistaken for the mysterious beast that was dreaded by most of the boys though none had really seen it.

There really was no mysterious beast on the island.  But Jack finds the myth of the beast useful for establishing his reign on the island.  He becomes the saviour of the boys from the mythical beast.  He sets up the head of a wild boar that they had hunted on a stump as a ritualistic symbol for propitiating the mythical beast.  A cult is born on the island.  Thus Jack is now not only a political ruler but also a religious leader.  He is a tyrant, in fact.

In a world where the beast is perceived as real, where fear is a dominating emotion, rules and morals are ineffectual and they may even totally vanish.   Rules and morals work when there is a feeling of security.  Where survival itself is in danger, power becomes the significant virtue.  Jack provides the security of that power.  He assures the boys that he will save them from the mysterious beast.  He constructs a religious cult with its own weird rituals.

Ralph and Piggy refuse to join Jack and his gang.  Piggy is soon killed though it was Ralph who was the real target.  Ralph flees in order to save himself. 

Piggy is the intellectual, scientific thinker in the group.  The intellectual has no place where myths and cults reign supreme, having created an environment of smouldering fear.  Jack’s boys steal Piggy’s spectacles whose lenses were the only means for making fire on the island.  Science is stolen from the scientist and is misused by antisocial elements.   

There really is no safe place on the island where Ralph can take shelter from Jack’s gang.  He is fortunate that a soldier, having seen the fire set ablaze with the intention of killing him, lands on the island with his parachute.  The boys are saved.

Golding believed that evil was an integral part of human beings.  Civilisation helps to keep it under control.  Morality, ethics and the various rules and regulations keep the wild beast in man under chains and whips.  The beast resides within every individual – with some exceptions like Simon who may not last long.  Left totally free, the child too will reveal fangs and claws.  There is really nothing like childhood innocence.  Such innocence is a transient dream.  The reality within the human being is a protean beast which can become various myths and assume numerous shapes.


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18 comments:

  1. Reads across as a story drawing some serious parallels with out own society. I haven't read this one but whenever I catch hold of it I am sure to read!

    Richa

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    1. Classics have parallels with all societies, Richa.

      This novel was prescribed by Kerala University for undergraduate students even before the author won the Nobel. I was one of those lucky students.

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  2. Nevertheless, the evil within every humans , often reveals itself through actions that bring about mayhem and threatens to sabotage civilizations. And yes, the evil powers within us , though dormant , have been raging to overpower the good forces...Probably that justifies the astronomical rise in Crimes....

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    1. It has become a Herculean struggle for good to survive!

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  3. It is true there are Evils within Every Humans,The Good try their best but most of the time they are in Vain and as a matter of Fact Humans easily get attracted to Evils

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  4. "easily get attracted to Evils" - you said it, Harsha. The novel shows how the "littluns" (little ones - very small children on the island) choose to go with the violent Jack rather than stay with the sensible and sensitive Ralph.

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  5. We had this book in college, unfortunately no good prof. to teach us with it's right message. But now when I read your article, I see a very big parallel in our country today to the core theme, and for us Ralph is a myth too unfortunately.

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    1. Teaching is an art that many Profs fail to achieve. Degrees don't make teachers.

      You're right: Ralph is a myth today. Jacks rule creating gods out of monsters.

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  6. The moment I read this book for my undergrad studies, the following names came to my mind.
    Jack: Ayatollah Khomeini
    Piggy: Galileo against the Catholic church
    Ralph: Benazir Bhutto.
    Simon: Kofi Annan.

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    1. Interesting comparisons, Brendan. In a way, the novel is more applicable to the adult world than the children's. It's a fable about the adult evil.

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  7. This book was interesting read.

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    1. Yes, and it continues to inspire many today too.

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  8. Insightful post and your conclusion drawn from the book you have read is really good.

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    1. Thanks, Uma. Good books inspire us in many ways.

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  9. Enjoyed reading this post, Matheikal. Never really got down to reading the book, my misfortune.

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    1. It's a book that's easily available, Aditi, provided you have the time. It's not difficult to read either.

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  10. Well, the topics you come up with! As always, great one.

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    1. It's just that I give a personal touch to my interpretation of the books. Moreover, these days I seem to be a bit obsessed with the idea of 'evil'.

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