The difference in the way humans perceive things is part of the complexity of mankind. What is thought of as evil to one person can be seen as good to another, and vice versa. The issue of good and evil is brought up in William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, when innocent boys are set on an island to bear the weight of society on their backs. What happens to them? How do past influences effect them? Are their actions good or evil? The actions of the boys were not a matter of being good or evil, but were actions for survival. A man’s environment does not influence him towards good or evil, nor is he born with it inside.
Man has instincts and inner drives that are not matters of good and evil, but of survival. Humans are always, by natural instinct, going to do what is best for them and their survival. Animals, much like men, kill when in need. For instance, when they feel they are backed into a corner, they will attack, and when they need food, they will kill to eat. In Lord of the Flies, Ralph was being hunted by Jack’s tribe, and in a desperate attempt in his defense, he thrust his spear through a crack at the inspecting savages. Ralph attacked someone of his own kind for his own survival.
It can be believed that man is the derivative of others animals, and as such, they have certain instincts that were instilled from birth. The boys on the island later began to resemble the behavior of animals. “At once the crowd surged after it, poured down the rock, leapt on to the beast, screamed, struck, bit, tore. There were no words, and no movements but the tearing of teeth and claws” (153). William Golding’s description of this scene leads a reader to believe that these boys took on animal like qualities. What kind of human tears with teeth and claws?
The boys mistake Simon for their beast and result in ruthlessly killing him. In their state of mind of savagery and hunting, they saw themselves in danger of this “beast” and their first instinct was to kill anything in sight that had the possibility of being it. Humans and animals have a natural instinct to protect themselves in the face of danger, like attacking when backed into a corner. Instincts are innate, but indefinite characteristics such as good or evil are not. The significance of moral values does not apply to actions in a situation for survival.
Instincts are not about being good or evil, because the issue of being good and evil is undefined. Whether an action or situation is good or evil depends on who it is and how it is being perceived. This makes this issue uncertain due to the way it is viewed from person to person. Since the way it is seen will differ, man cannot be exclusively evil or exclusively good. Consider the following example: A dog constantly jumps on the window of a door in an attempt to get the attention of the family inside. He is doing this in hopes to be let back inside the house.
Someone inside the house could view this as being evil, which would be different from the view of an animal lover. They would not consider this evil and would claim that the dog had not caused physical harm and just didn’t know any better. The dog doesn’t believe that it is evil because he is only obeying environmental stimuli. He’s been inside before and knows that it is much nicer than outside, and wants the attention that is inside. The dog has tried to jump on the door before, and had received the attention of someone who thus let him in.
This leads the dog to believe that what he is doing is the “right” thing to do. After all, he just wants in, right? So the dog is evil because someone inside says he is, but then he is not evil because he doesn’t think he is. The opinions on what is evil and what isn’t disagree with each other because of how it was perceived by each side. In Lord of the Flies there is a situation that deals with Piggy’s glasses, which is the key to fire on the island. The glasses are stolen in the middle of the night that leads to a brawl in the dark among the boys.
Of course the fact that the glasses were stolen, and that they were Piggy’s only seeing aid, can be seen as evil, but what about Jack’s side? Jack acts upon his need for fire to cook the pig he slaughtered with his tribe to fully enjoy their prize. Ralph and Samneric engage in a fight with whoever they can touch first, not even attempting to reason. Which is evil in this situation? Humans are simply complex animals that respond to complex stimuli, and their behaviors are influenced or are a product of everything that they learn starting from the day of their birth do the day of their death.
Society sets a mold for the “good” and “bad” conditions that humans are learning from day to day. The role of society in being good or evil is that it acts as this guideline for that long lived dream of acceptance. It’s where what’s good gets you in, and what’s evil is what will make you repulsive. The ideas of power and the abuse of that power are not learned from the environment. The environment is used as a resource to abuse that power. Jack manipulates the boys into joining his tribe and sets up his territory on the island.
He threatens people to join his tribe, and hunts those that refuse to. Jack’s tactics are an example of how he abuses power by using the environment and how he sets the society guidelines of acceptance. A society could not exist where people are brought up to know what they define as right or wrong, and could stick to that without problem. “We decide things. But they don’t get done”(79). On the island, the civilized rules of having drinking water, shelters, and having a spot for a lavatory are not followed.
The boys were brought up having rules like these, but they did not stick to them due to the problem that they didn’t have a strong enough authority figure to instill them. Society acts as this needed component to life, and if it’s not there then it needs to be made. The creation of society begins with people who have the power to set the rules of acceptance, and they are the ones who establish what is good and what is evil. Society may manipulate others into believing what is good and evil, but those that manipulate society create that belief.
It’s not that man is innately good or innately evil, it’s their natural instinct that drives them to do those evil or good deeds based upon what society leads them believe. Man can not be exclusively good or evil because the state of good and evil is undefined. People are born with an instinct that drives them to do what is necessary in extreme measures. This instinct over takes any other preceding thought and becomes the need for survival. In Lord of the Flies, it wasn’t whether or not the inhabitants were evil or good, it was their human reaction and instinct in the case of survival.
Courtney from Study Moose
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