Lord of the Flies delves into the subject of ‘the darkness of man’s heart’. It explores the primitivism and savagery that comes with the human nature through the various characters and language choices. William Golding uses the concept of ‘fear of the unknown’ to show how it creates apprehension amongst the boys which leads to their chaotic behaviour. He explores the result of the absence of authority and order within a society. Golding also uses the boy’s conception of the ‘beastie’ as a symbol of the ‘beast’ within us.
The theme of ‘fear of the unknown’ runs throughout the book and is represented through the boys’ fear of the beast and the island. Fear first starts to appear at nightfall, when the younger boys have appearances of monstrous creatures in their dreams. The boys start wondering if they were in fact not alone on the island and start doubting their safety. “Ralph’s right of course. There isn’t a snake-thing. But if there was a snake we’d hunt and kill it. We’re going to hunt pigs to get meat for everybody. And we’ll look for the snake too.” (p 48) In this quote, Jack’s repetition of the ‘snake’ highlights their terror in dealing with the beast. Jack suggests that the ideal approach is to kill the beast even though he has no knowledge of what the beast is or what it is capable of. This shows when faced with a possible threat, human’s natural instinct to eradicate what they are frightened of incapacitates their rational thinking. Jack uses this fear to gain power and defect the children to join his side where he promises meat and security. “Piggy and Ralph, under the threat of the sky, found themselves eager to take a place in this demented but partly secure society.” (p 187) Even the most rational characters in this novel felt willing to go against their morals and values to join Jack’s tribe because it assured the somewhat safety against the beast. The boys’ struggle against the beast results in Simon’s gruesome death which symbolises humanity’s incapability when confronted with apprehension. Humankind’s natural instinct to act impulsively in the face of fear makes them savage and unruly.
Humans are inherently evil when left to fend for themselves. Without rule or order within a society, they are destined to crumble. The boys in Lord of the Flies come from a world where their parents controlled and educated them. From the moment they arrive on the island, these boundaries are removed and instead the boys must decide for themselves what is judicious. They start off confined by the rules of the society that they were accustomed to. “His sandy hair, considerably longer than it had been when they dropped in, was lighter now; and his bare back was a mass of dark freckles and peeling sunburn. A sharpened stick about five feet long trailed from his right hand, and except for a pair of tattered shorts held up by his knife-belt he was naked.” (p 66-67) Golding uses Jack’s changing appearance as a metaphor for his diminishing humanity. Already we can see how the island is affecting Jack and turning him into a savage creature. The lack of an authoritative figure to reprimand the boys creates a state of anarchy and more opportunities for tyranny because of the absence of consequence. “Roger stooped, picked up a stone, aimed, and threw it at Henry— threw is to miss… Yet there was a space round Henry, perhaps six yards in diameter, into which he dare not throw. Here, invisible yet strong, was the taboo of the old life.” (p 62) Roger at first throws the rocks without the intention to harm because he still living by the rules of his past life. Further on in the novel, Roger rolls a boulder off the top of a mountain onto Piggy, killing him instantly, showing that Roger has changed from being a civilised boy who knows the limits to which he is restricted to, to someone who resorts to violence and has inclinations to kill and to harm. The growth of a harmless pebble into a lethal boulder shows Roger’s character development from an innocent boy into a murderous savage. From this, we can see that without civilisation and authority, humans become corrupt and act without consequence or empathy.
The beast plays a strong role in the novel because it symbolises the darkness residing within the boys, and within human nature. The boys fear in the beast advances alongside with their savagery. “What would a beast eat?” / “Pig.” / “We eat pig.” / “Piggy!” (p 104) Golding uses this line and the repetition of the word ‘pig’ to foreshadow the boys killing Piggy. The beast is a metaphor for the boys’ primitive nature. The beast begins as only the construction of the younger boys, but starts to develop and grow into the evil within them. “’Unless we get frightened of people.’ / A sound, half-laugh, half-jeer, rose among the seated boys.” (p 105) Piggy was the first to suggest that maybe the beast was not tangible and instead a manifestation of their own sinfulness and savagery. The boys immediately reject this idea and laugh mockingly at him. They have already been convinced that the beast is real and find it harder to grasp the fact that the beast could be only a figment of their own imagination. “What I mean is… Maybe it’s only us.” (p 111) Simon also suggests the inexistence of the beast. Golding uses Simon as a character who is a symbol of humanity and compassion. Simon has a strong understanding of what the beast really is, especially after his encounter with “the Lord of the Flies.” It is ironic that the only two virtuous characters, Piggy and Simon, are the ones who get murdered showing the true power of the beast. The beast embodies primitive human behaviour in their most natural state.
Ultimately, Lord of the Flies shows that humans are innately evil. Golding suggests that the ‘fear of the unknown’ allow the boys to succumb to foolishness and irrationality. The absence of the rules of civilisation in Lord of the Flies causes chaos and disorder amongst the boys. Without the order of daily life, humans run wild. It reflects upon the darkness in human nature, which is apparent with the symbolism of the beast. Lord of the Flies presents an unnerving portrayal of the true darkness within man’s heart.