What Does Lord of the Flies Say About Human Nature?

Categories: Allegory

In "Lord of the Flies," William Golding crafts a compelling narrative that serves as a profound commentary on the inherent evil within human nature, unveiled in the absence of societal norms and structures. Through his intricate use of metaphors, symbolism, and a variety of literary devices, Golding not only narrates the story of English schoolboys descending into savagery on a deserted island but also delves deep into the dark recesses of human nature. This exploration is built upon the premise that without the civilizing influence of society, humans revert to their primal instincts, leading to chaos and moral degradation.

Golding's narrative, rich in allegorical significance, establishes a hidden message throughout the novel: the thin veneer of civilization is all that separates orderly existence from barbaric desolation.

Innate Evil in the Absence of Civilization

The descent into savagery by the boys on the island serves as a powerful illustration of Golding's central thesis — that human beings harbor an intrinsic evil, unleashed in environments devoid of societal constraints.

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This transformation is vividly depicted through several key events and characters in the novel.

The brutal killing of Simon, one of the most poignant and symbolic moments in the novel, reveals the raw and terrifying aspects of human nature. Unlike the other boys, Simon embodies purity and natural goodness, often wandering alone in the serene landscape of the island, which contrasts sharply with the chaotic and violent acts of his peers. His murder by the frenzied boys during a ritualistic dance is a critical turning point, signifying the irrevocable loss of innocence.

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It underscores the idea that in the absence of societal order, the primal instinct for violence can emerge from even the most innocent of children. Simon's death, thus, serves as a stark metaphor for the extinguishment of light and reason in the face of overwhelming darkness and irrationality.

The transformation of Jack from a choirboy to the tyrannical leader of a savage tribe exemplifies the seductive allure of power and the ease with which civilization can be discarded. Jack's leadership, characterized by fear-mongering and violence, starkly contrasts with Ralph's attempts to maintain order and democracy. This divergence highlights the novel's exploration of power dynamics and governance, demonstrating how quickly democratic ideals can be forsaken for authoritarian rule when society's structures collapse. Jack's painted face and the tribe's rituals symbolize the complete abandonment of their previous identities and the embrace of a new, primal identity centered around hunting, violence, and the worship of the beastie.

The deliberate and cruel murder of Piggy by Roger, under Jack's tacit approval, marks the culmination of the group's descent into barbarism. Piggy, the voice of reason and intellect on the island, is systematically marginalized and ultimately silenced, symbolizing the defeat of rational thought and civilized values. His glasses, a symbol of clarity and the ability to make fire (representing technology and progress), are stolen and broken, further emphasizing the rejection of civilization's tools and the embrace of savagery. Piggy's death signifies not only the physical elimination of a character but the obliteration of logic, scientific understanding, and moral compass from the community of boys.

Symbols of Civilization and Savagery

Golding's "Lord of the Flies" is replete with symbols that contrast the thin line between civilization and savagery, further enriching the narrative's exploration of human nature.

Representing order, authority, and communication, the conch stands as a powerful symbol of civilization and governance. From the onset, it is used to call meetings and establish a semblance of democratic order among the boys. Its ultimate destruction at the hands of Roger, coinciding with Piggy's death, signals the complete disintegration of social order on the island. The shattering of the conch symbolizes the end of rational discourse and the final triumph of chaos over structure, highlighting the fragility of the norms that maintain societal harmony.

The glasses, essential for creating fire, symbolize the power of science and intellectual endeavor. The theft and eventual damage of the glasses represent the degradation of logic and progressive thought in the absence of civilization. This act not only underscores the boys' descent into savagery but also illustrates the diminishing influence of rationality and innovation when societal structures collapse. The inability to make fire without the glasses metaphorically signifies the loss of hope and the diminishing prospects of rescue, further entrenching the boys in primitive existence.

The imagined beastie, feared by all the boys, embodies their primal fears and the human tendency to externalize evil. The beastie's significance evolves throughout the novel, from an unfounded terror to a symbol of the boys' inner demons and capacity for violence. This external manifestation of fear and evil serves as a scapegoat, diverting attention from the boys' own actions and the real source of their savagery — themselves. The ritualistic sacrifices to the beastie and the transformation of fear into a tool for manipulation by Jack further emphasize the theme that the greatest dangers lie within, not without.

The Role of Leadership and Power Dynamics

The contrasting leadership styles of Jack and Ralph provide a critical lens through which Golding examines the dynamics of power and governance in the absence of societal norms.

At the heart of the novel is the conflict between Jack's authoritarian rule and Ralph's democratic leadership. Ralph, elected as the leader for his charismatic appeal and possession of the conch, initially symbolizes order, civilization, and the hope for rescue. In contrast, Jack represents the antithesis of these values — the desire for power, the allure of savagery, and the rejection of communal goals in favor of personal gratification. This conflict underscores the novel's exploration of human nature and the conditions under which democratic ideals are upheld or abandoned. Jack's ascension to power, marked by coercion, fear, and the promise of protection from the beastie, reflects the ease with which tyrannical regimes can supplant democratic institutions when fear and uncertainty prevail.

The dynamics between Jack and Ralph not only mirror the broader themes of civilization versus savagery but also raise questions about the inherent nature of power and leadership. Golding suggests that without the checks and balances provided by society, the baser instincts of power and domination can easily override communal and ethical considerations, leading to the erosion of collective moral compasses.

Human Nature and Societal Influence

William Golding's philosophical stance on the duality of human nature forms the cornerstone of "Lord of the Flies." Through the allegorical narrative, Golding posits that human beings possess an intrinsic capacity for evil that is restrained by the constructs of civilization. This perspective is not only reflected in the overt actions of the boys on the island but also in the subtler psychological transformations they undergo.

Golding argues that the flaws of society can be traced back to the imperfections inherent in human nature. The novel serves as a microcosm for this theory, stripping away the layers of societal conditioning to reveal the primal instincts lying dormant within. The boys' regression into savagery is not merely a result of their environment but a manifestation of their intrinsic nature, untempered by the civilizing influences of law, education, and morality. This exploration raises profound questions about the essence of humanity and the extent to which civilization can mold or suppress our baser instincts.

The idea that civilization merely masks, rather than eradicates, our darker tendencies suggests a pessimistic view of human progress. It challenges the reader to consider whether the boys' descent into violence and chaos is a product of their specific circumstances or a universal condition that could emerge under similar conditions. By tracing the boys' journey from civilized individuals to savages, Golding invites reflection on the fragile nature of social order and the thin line that separates us from our primal selves.


"Lord of the Flies" ultimately serves as a cautionary tale about the perils of losing sight of civilization's values and the ease with which we can regress to a state of savagery. Golding's narrative forces us to confront uncomfortable truths about the potential for evil within each of us and the constant need for societal structures to curb these instincts.

The novel leaves us pondering the fate of the boys upon their return to civilization. Will the experiences on the island have a lasting impact on their characters, or will the re-imposition of societal norms suppress the savagery they embraced? This ambiguity prompts us to consider the resilience of human morality and the possibility of redemption after a fall from grace. Golding's work suggests that while the darkness within can be unleashed, it can also be reined in by the forces of civilization, raising hope for the capacity of society to rehabilitate and guide its members towards a moral and orderly existence.

Through "Lord of the Flies," Golding presents a complex exploration of human nature, power, and civilization. By weaving a tale of innocence lost and the inherent darkness within, he invites us to reflect on the essential qualities that make us human and the delicate balance that maintains our societal structures. This novel remains a profound commentary on the human condition, challenging us to consider the depths of our nature and the foundations of our moral compass.

Updated: Feb 12, 2024
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What Does Lord of the Flies Say About Human Nature?. (2021, Jul 12). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/what-does-lord-of-the-flies-say-about-human-nature-essay

What Does Lord of the Flies Say About Human Nature? essay
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