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Essay on Lord of the Flies

September 1st, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

William Golding wrote his acclaimed novel, the Lord of the Flies as a religious allegory. This is made clear and evident by means of the numerous parallels to the New and Old Testaments of the Bible. The significance of Golding’s work is buried deep in his allegorical symbolism. The central focus of Golding’s allegory is the conflict between good and evil. Through his work, Golding attempts to define the nature of evil. He demonstrates the overwhelming presence of evil in every aspect of human life. He depicts evil in his story in many ways. Golding elaborates on the problems of moral choice as well as the inevitability of original sin and human fault. The blindness of self deception, as expressed by the boys, further aids in the development of Lord of the Flies as a religious allegory. During the time in which William Golding devised his allegory, the typical writing style of his contemporaries was centered about an uncertainty of human values. The writers of the 1950’s exhibited a fundamental doubt whether life has any importance whatsoever (Cox 49). Golding contrasted this typical point of view by describing friendship, guilt, pain, and horror with a full sense of how deeply meaningful these can be for the individual. Golding used young boys to show how religion and the teachings of the Bible remain present in every man’s life. Thus, Golding’s novel, Lord of the Flies, is a religious allegory with ties to both the new and Old Testament of the Bible.

The success of Golding’s work is credited largely to his Christianity. His religion provides and intricate and symbolic plotline to many of his novels. His religious sense does not provoke him to give up all hope for human kind; instead, it provides him with insight to the dignity and importance of human action. Literary critic, C.B. Cox notes that through his development of plot, descriptions of the island and sea, and treatment of character, he explores actual life to prove dramatically the authenticity of his own religious view point (Cox 48).

Golding has been known to have a preoccupation with evil and original sin. Original sin is the Christian idea that all people are born with an inherent sin because of the actions of Adam and Eve. Golding once told a reporter, “Evil can look after itself. Evil is the problem” (qtd. in Green 173). This attitude suggests the intellectual paradox underlying it. Golding wishes to scrape off the labels and destroy artificial patterns. He represents himself, theologically, as what used to be termed a Deist, yet the whole moral framework of his novels is conceived in terms of traditional Christian symbolism (Green 173).

In the Lord of the Flies, the character Simon is presented as a Christ figure. There are many different interpretations of what Simon actually represents, however, Golding intended this character to be interpreted as a Christ-figure. As proven by this novel, along with his subsequent literary works, Golding is not to be labeled easily. His characters serve many purposes symbolically and in plot development. Lord of the Flies’ moral framework is conceived in terms of traditional Christian symbolism; however Golding does not fail to include several twists to further obfuscate the reader attempting to label his work. Golding has included a Christ-figure in several of his works. Literary critic Arnold Johnston observes that this Christ figure is always someone actively engaged in interpreting the human condition: Tuami, the tribal artist in The Inheritors; Christopher, “Pincher” Martin, the actor in Pincher Martin; Sammy Mountjoy, the guilt-torn painter in Free Fall; Dean Jocelin and Roger Mason, the creative force behind and architect of The Spire; Oliver, the confused would-be musician in The Pyramid; and Malty Windrove, the na?ve prophet in Darkness Visible(Johnston 15). These characters provide a sense of insight to the influence religion has had on William Golding’s life. The fact that so many of his works include such Christ-figures exhibits the prominent influence of religion in Golding’s life.

Golding appears to be preoccupied with the problems that are the eternal questions of a religious man: the nature of good and evil, guilt and responsibility, the meaning of death and free will (Hynes, “Novels of a Religious Man” 70). His novels are preoccupied with these themes. The characters are challenged with the opportunity to do the right thing and the temptation to give in to the inherent evil within themselves. Golding’s strong intent to convey his message in made obvious in the way he communicates his central message. When Simon suggests that perhaps the beast is in only the boys themselves, it is very symbolic of this idea. This rather subtle interpretation of human nature from a small boy demonstrates further that Golding is so concentrated on his moral message that he will not hesitate to make the youngsters “dance to his tune” (Johnston 11). The fact that Golding will allow for his central message to be conveyed through the use of a young boy represented as the Christ-figure in the novel shows his intent and focus on religion as well as his concern for the human race.
The allegorical symbolism of the novel is presented even more boldly in the content of the story. Even the title itself contains allegorical significance. The name, “Lord of the Flies,” was the Philistine Beelzebub or Satan. The Jews transmuted his name to mean Lord of the Dung or Filth (Green 176). This name is tied into the sodomy and brutal killing of the sow. It is also connected to the flies surrounding, seemingly engulfing the impaled pig’s head. By the time of the New Testament, “Lord of the Flies was translated to Lord of the Devils, a generalized Satan (Green 176). It seems utterly too coincidental for this title to have such a deep rooted-religious meaning without the intention of the author. Golding has purposely chosen such a title to lay the groundwork for his religious allegory.
The title of the novel is not the only similarity between Golding’s work and the Old Testament. The approach of evil serves as another device to connect Golding’s work to the Bible. Literary critic E.M. Foster concurs with my observation about the approach of evil as an allegorical device. As in the Old Testament, when evil appears in the form of the “Lord of the Flies”, Beelzebub, he sends a messenger to prepare his way for him in another form. The name of his predecessor is Jack in the Old Testament (Foster 100). This is similar to the approach of evil in the Lord of the Flies. While some may interpret the odious Jack as the satanic figure, he can also be viewed as evil’s predecessor. His evil character and influence comes before the downfall of the island to the inherent evil of the boys. He is the first of all of the boys to have a bloodlust; Jack exhibits the first urge to hunt. Jack’s dictatorial character serves as a harbinger to the evil that will inhabit the island when it is unleashed in all the boys.

Yet another connection to the Old Testament is found in the treatment of pigs throughout the course of the novel. Literary critic Kirsten Olsen notes that in the Old Testament the pig is a non-kosher food. The swine serves as a symbol of filth and forbiddenness (Olsen 130). In the story, the incidents associated with pigs are intertwined with the darkest aspects of human behavior. The hunting of the pigs for food turns into a joyous hunt for blood. The hunt of the female sow shows the true evil of the boys as they sodomize and torment the pig (Golding 135). The joy derived from the killing of the pigs exposes the true evil that is present in the boys.

Furthermore, there is another strong association to the Old Testament found in the form of the murderous feast dance performed by the boys (Golding 135). Literary critic Kirsten Olsen observes that this ritualistic dance is strikingly similar to the dance of the Israelites depicted in the Old Testament. The boys dance ritualistically as they all fall victim to the mob mentality that surrounds them. The Israelites dance as they worship the golden calf: both ritualistic dances have an atmosphere of total abandon and revelry (Olsen 130).

The last relationship to the Old Testament is present in the Christ-figure of the novel, Simon. While, Golding himself has referred to Simon as a Christ-figure, many literary critics interpret Simon as a derivative of Moses. The similarity between Moses and Simon is evident in their actions. Both Simon and Moses bring wisdom down from the mountain only to discover barbarous ignorance from their people (Olsen 130).

The second portion of allegorical symbolism is connected with the New Testament. The first such symbolic intertwining is found in the setting of the island itself. The uninhabited island that serves as the setting for the Lord of the Flies is a mirror image of Eden when the boys first land there. The lush, remote island is full of fruit which hangs for the picking. As literary critic, Lawrence Friedman observes, the tropical climate prompts the boys to shed their clothes (Friedman 65). Literary critic L.L. Dickinson says the boys “accepted the pleasure of morning, the bright sun, the whelming sea and sweet air, as a time when play was good and life so full that hope was not necessary and therefore forgotten” (Dickinson 13). The boys are free to do what they wish, being restricted only by their own conscience. Just as Adam and Eve were at their own liberty do what they pleased, the boys unrestricted and free. They know however, that performing a morally wrong action will force them to suffer the consequences just as Adam and Eve.

The perfection of the setting is placed in the boys’ hands. Just as Adam and Eve had their destiny placed at their fingertips, the boys are tempted with the same decisions. Golding illustrates that mankind is just like Adam and Eve: we can only suppress our greed and savagery for a short amount of time before it inevitably surfaces. Thus, the halcyon, “Edenic” setting slowly turns into a hell. The setting that resembles paradise is only ephemeral strictly because of the savagery within the boys. The irony is that boys create their own hell just as Adam and Eve were by their own fault exiled from Eden.

The beginning of the transformation of the island is represented by the shattering of Piggy’s glasses (Friedman 68). Piggy represents reason in the microcosm of the island. Thus, when Jack strikes Piggy and consequently shatters one of his lenses, reason is symbolically half blind. Hence, without reason, the boys begin to express their inner savagery and slowly the island transforms. This incites the transformation of the innocuous little boys into cold hearted savages. The building of the first is a signal of resurgence of civilized values. However, the fire soon rages out of control. The boy with the birthmark is killed: the seed of fear has been planted (Friedman 68). Reason has failed to explain the darkness within and the island paradise begins its fatal transformation into hell.

Golding’s story reflects his opinion on original sin and human nature. Golding demonstrates how evil is dormant in human nature even when the world appears sunny. He depicts how the corruption of darkness can arise from man himself and cast shadows over the sunny, seemingly pleasant setting (Hodson 22). The central Christian message of the novel that Golding attempts to convey is that we are all born in sin or will lapse into it (Foster 100). The boys’ behavior is inevitable because of man’s original sin. The growth of savagery in the boys demonstrates the overwhelming power of original sin (Cox 47).

The boys are too evil to account for the evil within themselves. Thus, they project their irrational fears out into the outside world. The beast serves as the externalization of the inner darkness in the children’s nature and its ascendancy is inexorable, along with the path into savagery. This is symbolic of the evil instilled in man through original sin. Literary critic, Arnold Johnston, notes that this also depicts the challenge that the good or holy aspect of society must overcome (Johnston 10).
Perhaps the most significant part of Golding’s allegorical puzzle is his Christ-figure, Simon. As well as being compared to Christ, Simon has also been interpreted by the literary critic Samuel Hynes as a saint. He is compared to his supposed namesake, Simon, from the New Testament (72). Simon is one of Christ’s apostles. Other than the name, the other similarity that Simon shares with Simon from the Bible is, as Golding himself puts it he “voluntarily embraces his fate” (qtd. in Hynes, “Novels of a Religious Man” 72).

The first aspect in the development of Simon as the Christ-figure in the novel is his isolation. His lonely, voluntary quest for the beast is the symbolic core of the book. In his excursion away from the boys, Simon shows himself to be the one character who has an affinity with nature. His first act once the boys reach the island is to withdraw to a place of contemplation, a limpid, sunlit space in the midst of the forest (Hynes, William Golding’s Lord of the Flies19). There are strong religious overtones to the area that Simon finds which, with its candle-buds and serene stillness, resembles a place of worship. This withdrawal parallels Christ’s withdrawal to the temple as a young boy as described in the New Testament.

Golding creates the character Simon with intentions for him to be the embodiment of moral understanding. Golding describes Simon to be “a lover of mankind, a visionary, who reaches commonsense attitudes not by reason but by intuition” and to be “a Christ-figure in my fable” (qtd. in Hodson 27). The whole story moves towards Simon’s view of reality. Simon helps the “littluns’ reach a high branch of fruit, indicating his kindness and sympathy; many of the older boys would rather torment the “littluns” than help them. Simon also sits alone in the jungle clearing while marveling at the beauty of nature. This indicates his basic connection with the natural world. Simon takes the responsibility to help Ralph with the shelter while the other boys enjoy the island or join Jack in the hunt (Golding 53). Simon is the sole exponent of fundamental, natural good. Through Simon’s pure goodness, he is ostracized form the rest of the boys on the island.

Simon’s confrontation with the Lord of the Flies is the most complex of the whole novel. This scene is sublimated to its primary purpose: dramatizing the conflict between the civilizing and savage instincts in human beings. The scene also shows Simon’s innocence and sets the stage for the harsh contrast between him and the rest of the savage boys. While staring into the pig’s mouth he sees the infinite cynicism and evil of adult life. This scene serves to dramatize the clash between good and evil. Christ also has a confrontation with evil when he is tempted by Satan in the New Testament. The “Lord of the Flies” has invaded Simon’s forest sanctuary to preach an age old sermon: evil lies within man whose nature is inherently depraved. Simon cannot counter this lesson. He is engulfed by the spreading of the vast mouth, overwhelmed by Beelzebub’s power and thus he loses consciousness (Friedman 70). He later gathers the courage to face the evil; the inherent and inexorable evil that is in all the boys (Cox 53). He then climbs the hill to go spread the word to the rest of the boys and enlighten them.

Golding paints his most startling and powerful scene shortly after the confrontation between good and evil. This scene is the brutal murder of Simon when he descends from the mountain to share the truths of life with the rest of the boys and free them from their fears. They eliminate the hope of Christ’s sacrifice by repeating the pattern of his crucifixion. Lawrence S. Friedman concurs that Simon’s fate underlines the most awful truths about human nature: its blindness, its irritability, and its blood lust (Friedman 71). Piggy and Ralph’s participation in Simon’s heinous murder help to further expose the hopeless human condition. The boys later console themselves and say that Simon’s death was an accident. Piggy’s desperate rationalizations of his ignominious action point to the inability of human reason to cope with the dark reality of nature. As literary critic Lawrence Friedman states, Piggy’s excuses are frantic attempts to explain basest human instincts and actions (Friedman 72).

Another similarity between Simon and Christ is that both die for their society (Dickinson 24). Christ dies for the sins of the world; Simon dies as atonement for the evil in the boys. Simon’s dead corpse and the way it is carried out into the ocean is another way of tying him to Christ. He is seen in a holy light after his untimely death. The way Golding describes the corpse being carried out to sea suggests transcendence. “Softly surrounded by a fringe of inquisitive bright creatures, itself a silver shape beneath the steadfast constellations, Simon’s dead body moved out toward the open sea” (184).
The other characters in Lord of the Flies become allegorical agents through Golding’s intricate plot development. All of the boys are both good and bad. Even Ralph and Piggy participate in Simon’s murder: this demonstrates the complexities of human nature. Jack’s name is symbolic in its ties to the New Testament. Jack was a disciple of Christ (Dickinson 14). Thus, the miscreant, Jack, serves as an ironic twist of the religious connotations of his name.

Golding’s novel serves as a lesson for society. It teaches us that evil is inherent in all men due to original sin. The spiritual vacuum of Golding’s novel is completed within the tragedy of Lord of the Flies: the futility of Simon’s sacrificial death, the failure of adult morality, and the final absence of God. In this novel, God’s absence leads only to despair. Golding himself states that theme of his novel is “grief, sheer grief, grief, grief” (qtd. in Friedman 74). The novel is a meditation on the nature of human political society, dealing with such concerns as the development of political systems and the clash in human nature between savage and civilized behavior. Golding has composed a narrative that is essentially a myth or allegory. His elusive writing style has been the central focus of countless literary critics. This myth or allegory strikes through to the deepest roots of our existence- to fear, to hunger, and then to the will to survive. Because these roots are universal to men, he has managed to give fictional form to religious themes. For it is through myths and allegories that the substance of religious belief is most directly communicated.
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