William Golding’s Lord of the Flies repeatedly contrasts with the morality-driven views of the controversial philosopher Frederick Nietzsche. Golding’s allegorical novel tells the story of a group of young boys who remain stranded on an island and left to their own instincts. Golding and Nietzsche would argue the issues the boys face are based on the morality and nature of man. Ralph, the protagonist, is delegated power by the other boys, while Jack, the antagonist, quickly becomes jealous of Ralph’s power.
In Lord of the Flies, the conch, the masks, and the “lord of the flies” represent civilization, freedom and evil respectively. Golding supports a Judeo-Christian order, in which society designs morality and evil inspires fear; Nietzsche in contrast argues that man should follow personal morals and that evil will grow out of an ongoing struggle for power. Nietzsche would point to the contrast between the tribes of Ralph and Jack to support his belief that yes-saying should prevail over no-saying; that is, personal ideals should take precedent over societal ideals. Golding’s interpretation of the conch, the masks and the lord of the flies contrasts with Nietzsche’s ideas of morality and the nature of man and of society.
Upon arriving on the island, Ralph discovers a conch that the boys use to call and control their assemblies. Golding uses the conch to represent the society and government which the boys construct. At the beginning of the book, the shell symbolizes their civility and order because they seem to follow and respect its powers. “Where the conch is, that’s a meeting…We’ve got to have rules and obey them. After all we’re not savages” (Golding 42). Unknown to the reader at the time, this quote is quite ironic as the boys will later lose control and become savages competing for food and survival. Golding believes that civilization provides structure for man just as the conch provides order for the boys. Without civilization, man would turn to his instincts, naturally leaving him fearful in the absence of the morality and standards which have guided him through life.
From fear, Golding argues, evil deeds are committed. Golding also believes that morality is a social construct and that without society morals cease to exist. These thoughts are seen in Lord of the Flies. When Ralph and Jack split up, separating their society and introducing Jack’s group to savagery, morality and order rupture and slowly fall apart. Jack and his “savages” become fixed on the bloodthirsty murder of pigs, constantly chanting, “Kill the beast! Cut his throat! Spill his blood!” (G 152), demonstrating they lack sanity and morality, while Ralph and the others that remain stay moral and “…worked….with great energy and cheerfulness…”
However, for Ralph’s tribe, “… as time crept by there was a suggestion of panic in the energy and hysteria in the cheerfulness” (G130). Although Ralph’s tribe tries to remain true to the conch, a sense of fear lingers as the need for survival increases. In a final meeting of the two tribes toward the end of the book, it’s clearly evident that society breaks down as Ralph and Jack end up in a brawl after the conch breaks. “Viciously, with full intention, he hurled the spear at Ralph. The point tore the skin and flesh over Ralph’s ribs….Ralph stumbled, feeling not pain, but panic” (G 181). Once the conch broke, so did all morality and order. Consequently, the boys fight to the death. Golding’s views on civilization that morality evolves from community manifest itself in the boys’ use of conch in his book, Lord of the Flies.
Nietzsche, directly contrasting Golding, believes that morality should be determined by individuals instead of society. “Every select man strives instinctively for a citadel and a privacy…where he may forget ‘men who are the rule”’ (WP 26). Nietzsche agrees that that society forms a sense of morality, but he dislikes this because he believes that one shouldn’t follow a “herd mentality.” Instead, he advocates setting and following one’s own morals. Nonetheless, he understands that this is tough, and most of society will follow the established aristocratic values. Nietzsche believes that, in this context, being a yes-sayer means following your own morals and not those set by society.
He also believes that all actions in society should result from the individual will to obtain power. This conflict between society and personal freedom plays out through Roger, one of Jack’s partners, who early on threw rocks for fun avoiding “a space round Henry, perhaps six yards in diameter…” that signified, “…the taboo of the old life” (G 62). Roger avoided Henry out of respect for the societal standards that he followed. But as the book progresses, Roger’s animalistic ways take over and “…with a sense of delirious abandonment…” (G 180) he murders Piggy, one of the other boys. Therefore, Nietzsche would approve of Roger, whose actions become based upon a will to power, as opposed to Golding who would argue that Roger acts out of fear.
In several scenes in the middle of the book, the boys don masks to cover their dirty faces, allowing themselves freedom from a herd mentality which Nietzsche would approve of this. When the boys put on the masks, they lose their individual identities. In essence, they free themselves from the weight of morality, and this allows them to commit otherwise unthinkable acts. “The mask was a thing of its own, behind which Jack hid, liberated from shame and self-consciousness” (G 64). Nietzsche would like that the masks allow the boys to follow their own ideas and create their own artistic path, something he strongly supports and says can be achieved “…through long practice and daily work at it” (WP 290). The masks take away the boys’ individual identity, allowing them to disobey civilization’s morals while avoiding shame. However, while Nietzsche would approve of their freedom, he would disapprove of the need to wear the masks. In his view, the boys need to embrace their true selves to be free rather than hiding behind the masks. Nietzsche believes that the boys should be yes-saying because they should be strong enough act freely according to their own instincts, without guilt or shame.
Golding believes that the use of the masks allows them to hide their shame and also enables them to become savages. Golding thinks that the boys are afraid of showing their shame so they repress it by wearing the masks to avoid the ostracism from society. The masks give the boys freedom, but Golding thinks this is dangerous because too much freedom gives way to instincts which ultimately lead to savagery. While wearing the masks the boys are “…not much better than uncaged beasts…” (Gen. 22. 13). Golding describes Jack, “…His sinewy body held up a mask that drew their eyes…He began to dance and his laughter became blood thirsty snarling” (G 64).
Golding attempts to show how the masks affect the boys as they lose touch with themselves. Golding would argue that the boys abandon the need to follow the rules when they wear the masks. Without the masks the boys compulsively feel the need to follow rules. The hierarchy of society keeps man accountable for his actions, as Jack let the fire run out Ralph angrily says to him, “There was a ship…you could have had everyone when the shelters were finished. But you had to hunt…there was the brilliant world of hunting, tactics, fierce exhilaration, skill; and there was the world of longing and baffled commonsense… Jack was powerless and raged without knowing why” (G 71-72). Ralph’s leadership over Jack and the others is evident here as angrily resets order, and the others quickly accept. Without their masks, Golding would argue that the boys’ freedom is limited by society; something that he believes is just.
The sow’s head, dubbed “lord of the flies”, symbolizes the evil that the boys commit on the island. “The head hung there, a little blood dribbling down the stick…the Lord of the Flies hung on his stick and grinned” (G 138). Golding tries to prove to the reader that evil exists in all of us. In the mind of Simon, the head comes alive and says to him, “I’m part of you…I’m the reason why it’s no go…you know perfectly well you’ll only meet me down there [too]” (G 143). This meeting between the lord of the flies and Simon shows the reader the pig’s evilness as he admits “I’m part of you” and it also underscores Golding’s point: he believes that evil is unavoidable; throughout the book, every character commits acts of evil.
Simon is the one exception, whose calm nature can be described as un-human, or god-like, and more mature than the other boys, his eyes “…Dim with the infinite cynicism of adult life” (G 137) proving his overbearing adult-like superiority. Many people argue that Simon is a direct parallel to Jesus, as the scene when he talks to the pig is similar to Jesus’ conversation with the devil. Simon is also used as a foil to all the other boys on the island to show their lack of humility and maturity. The boys place the pig’s head on the stick to ward off their fears, ultimately creating worry and fear of survival. The pig embodies the evil acts committed by the boys out fear.
Nietzsche counters these ideas with his belief that fear is weak and that yes-saying morality is key to avoiding evil. Nietzsche would agree and disagree with Golding on many points regarding fear and evil. First, he would argue that man shouldn’t allow fear to control one’s actions. Rather, men should become yes-sayers and avoid the fear that makes them weak. Man should be strong enough to take control of his life instead of letting fear control him. Nietzsche would agree with Golding that Simon represents a god-like being that isn’t affected by evil because he believes that someone needs to set standards, but one can follow his own path similar. Nietzsche alludes to this point by saying, “…just ask yourself who is actually ‘evil’ in the sense of morality of ressentiment” (Gen. 22.3), speaking of his dislike of the negatively driven morality that is created by many societies.
Golding’s novel Lord of the Flies uses powerful symbols to represent the key cultural characteristics of civilization, morality, freedom and evil. Golding uses the conch, the masks and the lord of flies to convey his Judeo-Christian beliefs, which stand in contrast to Frederick Nietzsche’s morality-driven views. Nietzsche would argue that one who is strong is someone that can follow their own artistic path instead of following society’s path, yes versus no saying. Golding represents these ideas through the conch which the boys use to govern their community and with the decay of the conch came the decay of order. The masks are used for the boys to hide their shame and commit barbarous acts, Golding would argue, while the lord of the flies is used to embody the evil that the boys commit on the island. Lord of the Flies is a powerful depiction of the best and worst of human nature that can exposed at all times.
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