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Innate Evil in Lord of the Flies

written by: Terry Ligard • edited by: SForsyth • updated: 1/5/2012

William Golding’s Lord of the Flies demonstrates that evil is an inborn human nature, which leads to violence and a turn away from civilization. This is proven by hunting, the beast, and the desire for power.

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    To begin with, inner evil exists within the boys—as expressed through hunting— leading to hostility and inhumanity. Initially, the boys survive through the consumption of fruit. Evidently, meat is not a major concern for their survival. However, Jack holds to hunting as his top priority, with his constant excuse to Ralph that “[they] want meat." For instance, when he is in charge of keeping the fire going on the mountain, Jack decides to forego this duty and go hunting instead.

    His seemingly bloodthirsty desire to kill and indifference towards the prospect of rescue shows a contrast not present in him during the beginning of the novel, where he agrees to build a fire. A return to civilization, order, and structure apparently has no appeal to Jack. Therefore, he is revealing an inner evil within him that has been previously repressed under the inhibitions of civilized British society. As a result, an irreversible split forms between Ralph and Jack.

    Faced with blame for letting the ship pass by, his inherent evil takes its first violent form against a group member, as he lashes out in anger against Piggy—punching and smacking him—and damages his glasses. In addition, an inborn evil is evident in Ralph during a hunting ritual. While exploring the island and searching for the beast, the boys come upon a boar, who Ralph manages to wound. A mock hunting dance follows, in which Robert is the victim—he is jabbed at by Ralph.

    Strangely, a parallel is seen between Ralph and Jack. Although Ralph is an advocate of civilization, order, and rescue, he is attacking Robert with a ferocity that shows “[his] desire to squeeze and hurt [is] over-mastering." Ralph’s absence from civilization, and presence among savages, evokes a primordial instinct in him.

    Unquestionably, evil exists within Ralph too, and is clearly seen through his barbaric actions. Without the forces of civilization, the boys are allowing the natural evil within them to reign free.

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    The Beast

    Within them all, the beast is the evil that causes commonplace disorder. Before his complete reversion to savagery, Jack describes hunting “as if [one’s] not hunting, but—being hunted; as if something’s behind [one] all the time in the jungle." Since he says this after a hunt, a parallel is made between it and the beast.

    The act of killing, being unacceptable according to civilized standards, is associated with dire evil—only the cruelest resort to it. It portrays the innate evil within Jack, as he knows that killing would not be tolerated in civilized society. Therefore, it is evident that the beast is present when an individual is aware that they are committing an evil act. Although it does not manifest itself in an apparent form at first, it represents a guilty conscious that comes about when they allow their innate evil to surface. Undoubtedly, the presence of the beast and the fear that they have for it, is what turns them towards more violence.

    A reliance on weapons not only for hunting, but also to protect themselves, evokes their innate evil. The boys are entering a distant reality, in which the existence of a false beast, and their inability to perceive this, leads them to value violence over morality. Furthermore, the evil within the boys is also seen when the beast takes a physical form as the Lord of the Flies.

    Taking the form of the sow’s bloody head on a stick, it is a direct result of the boys’ fear of the beast and dominance of their inner evil. In fact, with its confrontation with Simon, it clearly states that it is a part of them—it is the barbaric instinct deep within them. Consequently, the Lord of the Flies is a direct symbol of the power of evil; a figure which evokes man’s inborn evil to take over.

    Since the hunters have gone so far as to present the beast with an offering, their belief in the beast, and therefore their innate evil, has solidified to an extent that turns them to violence. All moral and ethical concerns are pushed aside as Jack’s tribe ruthlessly murders Simon, who they mistake as the beast.

    The fact that Simon, the only one who knows the beast is an element of human temperament and can relieve their fears about the beast, is killed, illustrates that evil is an inescapable quality of their nature.

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    Desire for Power

    A desire for power provokes the inherent evil, allowing for a means of violence and further detachment from civilization to occur. As the novel progresses, a struggle for power between Ralph and Jack takes place.

    Eventually, Jack obtains the upper hand at Castle Rock. However, Jack still feels a threat to his dominance. For example, when Piggy holds the conch and speaks at Castle Rock, he challenges the tribe’s savagery. He points out the weaknesses of their society, and compares it to the logical reasoning of civilization. He asks them if it is better to have “law and rescue, or hunting and breaking things up." Piggy tries to repress the tribe’s innate evil with an intelligent perspective; however, the evil within them surfaces completely, and they no longer even regard the conch Piggy holds.

    Since the conch represents their previous attempts at democratic order, they see it as an obstacle to Jack’s absolute reign. Consequently, the consuming evil leads Roger to deadly violence. He sends a boulder down upon Piggy, which kills him and destroys the conch.

    Moreover, following Piggy’s death, Jack feels the need to have ultimate control. He wants Ralph dead. The ease Jack has in instigating a human’s death as compared to the difficulty he initially had in killing a pig shows that inherent evil is indeed natural and growing within him.

    In fact, his inner evil is what allows him to set fire to the island in an attempt to chase down and kill Ralph. This quality of exterminating the enemy is comparable to Hitler, whose desire for racial dominance of the Arian race caused him to eliminate “inferior" races. In addition, at the end of the novel, an inevitable chain of violence is evident.

    A naval officer comes to rescue the boys; however, a dark irony is made. The naval officer is surprised that two have died on the island, while at the same time, he is the cause of far more deaths in the war being fought. Certainly, an evil so profoundly dominating is obvious within him, since he does not even realize his own dark deeds, but only those of the boys. Unsurprisingly, he is able to shoot and kill enemies without revulsion, but for the dominance of his nation in the world.

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    Golding, William. Lord of the Flies. USA: Faber And Faber Ltd. 1958.