Lord of the Flies Allegory
Did you know the Bible is the most widely read piece of literature in the Western Hemisphere? Authors, artists and film-makers, throughout years have been referencing it in order to better communicate their points to their audiences. Because of this, it’s really important we can see to understand theories outside of a book, in order to better understand what the author is trying to say inside of a book.
In this episode, we’re going to talk about how an understanding of World War II, Sigmund Freud, and the Bible will help us create a deeper understanding of the messages that William Golding is trying to communicate about human nature in Lord of the Flies.
The first lens that we’re going to look through, in order to better understand the events of Lord of the Flies, is through a historical lens. Looking at it through the events of World War II. So some important things that we want to note about World War II is, it took place from 1939 to 1945. Remember that Golding wrote this book as a direct reaction to his battle days in World War II. The war took place mostly in European theatre. IT really came down to a line drawn between the Axis powers and the allied powers, which ended up being almost specifically dictatorships versus democracies.
If we look really closely at the characters in the book, we can see that they really closely detail some of the actions of the countries in World War II. Let’s take a look first at Jack Merridew. We know that Jack really spends time dictating to the rest of the boys on the island. He wants them to pick him for chief. He forces them to do things. He controls them through fear. He threatens them with the knife that he has brought with him to the island. Even at the very end, if you remember Paul Wilfred, he gets tied up for no reason. Just basically, because it entertains Jack.
When we think about it, Jack has some really striking resemblances to Hitler in Nazi Germany. In fact, if we take a look at the book, when Jack is painting his face in the fourth chapter, which allows the savage to come out of him. The book describes him saying, 'he made one cheek and one eye- socket white, then he rubbed red over the other half of his face and slashed a black bar of charcoal across from right ear to left jaw'. So not only do Jack’s actions resemble things that took place in Nazi Germany, under Adolf Hitler, but his face is also a direct symbol of the colors of the Nazi flag.
The next character we’re going to take a look at is Ralph. As we know, Ralph is elected chief of the island by the boys. He really works hard to do what’s in the boys' best interest. He struggles between having fun, and being rescued. But ultimately, he decides that being rescued, though at sometimes is the harder thing to, is the most important.
The other important thing to note about Ralph is that, he ultimately takes responsibility for all the events on the island at the very end. Whether they were good, or bad. In fact when he’s described in the first chapter, it says; “There was a stillness about Ralph as he sat that marked him out: there was his size, his attractive appearance; and most obscurely, yet most powerfully, there was the conch.” Which stood for goodness and rules and democratic power on the island. So we see Ralph is really this idea of democracy. The strong force, and really the saving grace on the island. We can align him mostly with the actions of the USA in World War II.
Finally, we have Piggy. As we know, Piggy sadly doesn’t make it off the island. He is unable to resist some of the power that Jack has. Ultimately, he’s killed by the rock that Roger sends over the ledge on top of him. But what we do know about Piggy is, Piggy acts as the brains on the island. He’s the source of all reason. He has the ideas. He really keeps the boys focused on what they need to do in order to be rescued.
Even though he doesn’t make it off the island, his efforts are crucial. Without Piggy having been there, there’s no way that Ralph would have gotten the boys off the island. In fact, in the book it says that Ralph after Piggy was gone, “Ralph pushed back his tangled hair and wiped the sweat out of his best eye. He spoke aloud, ‘Think.’ What was the sensible thing to do? There was no Piggy to talk sense.” So we see again here, that Piggy is really this idea of reason and logic and sense. Without him Ralph feels a little bit lost. Clearly, Piggy’s actions align really well with Great Britain's. Even though they weren’t the most physically strong country in World War II, their effort was necessary in order for the Allied powers to gain victory.
So clearly by matching up the characters in Lord of the Flies, to some of the countries, and their actions during World War II, we start to see a deeper meaning here. This becomes more than just a story about how boys should govern themselves on a tropical island, when they’re stranded without adults. And more about Golding’s comments on different types of leadership, and government.
The next lens that we’re going to take a look at, to help us understand a little bit better the deeper meaning of Lord of the Flies, is a Freudian lens. Some of you may have heard of Sigmund Freud. He’s considered the father of psychoanalysis. One of his most famous theories is called the ‘Theory of the Unconscious Mind’. What Sigmund Freud believed in his theory of the unconscious mind is that, every single human mind had three parts; the Id, the Ego and the Superego.
What Freud believed about the Id is, it was the impulsive child-like portion of the mind, that only takes into account what it wants, and disregards all consequences. It’s characterized by the words “I want.” So this is the part of our minds that sometimes does things when we know we shouldn’t do it. Maybe we take something when we shouldn’t. I know in high school, I used to steal money out of my parents change jar for lunch money. Even though I knew it was wrong, I wanted to do it. I wanted to go out to lunch. So I took it. That as the Id part of my brain taking over.
The next part of our brain that Freud believed existed, was the superego. It was almost opposite of the Id. It was the moral component of the mind which takes into account no circumstances in which the morally right thing, is not the right thing to do. So it’s characterized by the words, 'I should.' So always focusing on the right thing to do, regardless of the real world circumstances.
The final part that he believed existed was the balance between it all. It was the ego. It’s the balance between the impractical pleasure of the Id, and the equally impractical morality of the super ego. It’s the part of the mind that functions most frequently in the real world. Characterized by the words, 'I am'.
Imagine you have a devil on one shoulder that represents your Id. You’ve got an angel on the other that represents super ego. The ego is kind of that brain in the middle that balances the two, and makes a decision that’s functional in the real world.
If we take a look again at our characters, we’ll see that they pretty closely match up to these parts of the mind that Freud suggested existed. So let’s take a look at Jack. What do we know about Jack?
Jack is a little bit demeaning at times. He quits the tribe when he doesn’t get his way. When he’s not elected, he decides to split off. He goes hunting when he wants to go hunting, regardless of the consequences that that suggests. He really doesn’t play by anybody’s rules. If you remember, Wilfred, again at the end, gets tied up, and beaten just for the pleasure of Jack. It’s just what he wants to do.
We see Jack really measuring up as the Id. One great example of this, is when Jack is supposed to be monitoring the fire, so that if the ship comes by, the boys can get rescued. They’ll see the smoke. Instead Jack chooses to go hunting, because that’s what’s fun. It gives him his rush. So when the ship actually goes by, Ralph realizes the fire has gone out, he screams at Jack and says, “There was a ship. Out there. You said you’d keep the fire going and you let it out.” Jack really sacrificed the good of the whole group of boys on the island, for his own personal pleasure, really showing that Id part of his brain coming out.
The superegos on the island. The first one we have is Simon. Simon we know is the most helpful character on the island. He sticks up for Piggy when Jack’s picking on him. He goes out into the forest and picks fruits for the little ones, when they can’t reach it. The most important thing that he does is that, he is the only character on the island to realize the truth about the beast on the top of the hill. When he does his best to share it with the boys, so that they won’t be scared anymore, they return that favor to him by killing him.
What Simon realizes when he discovers the beast is that “The beast was harmless and horrible; and the news must reach the others as soon as possible.” This is the point where Simon stumbles out of the forest into Jack’s fist is trying to tell the boys the truth, just so that they won’t be scared anymore, and ends up being ripped apart by their teeth, and by their nails, and killed.
The next superego on the island we have is Piggy. Piggy is a superego in a different kind of way. Piggy is really incredibly stubborn about what’s right, being what’s right. So we know he’s the logical one. We know that he believes in the way that things should function in the real world. He really uses those key words, “I should”, or "We should do this, and we should build a sundial," he suggests.
If we remember towards the end of the book, he suggests that he’s going to go over to Jack’s tribe after Jack has stolen his glasses from him. He’s going to demand those glasses back. He says that, “I don’t ask for my glasses back, not as a favor. I don’t ask you to be a sport, I’ll say, not because you’re strong, but because what’s right’s right.” So he’s got this kind of strong belief that everybody should play by the rules, when he should know that Jack’s never going to play by the rules. In fact, he matches over to tell Jack this, and what he gets in return is Roger dropping a boulder on him, and killing him.
The last character we’re going to take a look at is Ralph, who is a good representative of the ego. We know Ralph struggles to balance things in this book. He wants to have fun, and he wants to be rescued. He sees the pleasure of hunting when he goes out with the hunters. But he knows that he has to act in the best interest of the boys; helping to build shelters, and making sure things are organized on the island. He sees that it might be more fun just to be a follower, and not necessarily be the leader. But he really ends up making the best decisions in the book. He’s ultimately the one responsible for getting the boys off the island.
When at the end he’s trying to think about how’s the best way to communicate with Jack, to get everybody back together, in order to get rescued. He says, “I’m trying to think. Supposing we go, looking like we used to, washed and hair brushed-after all, we aren’t savages and being rescued isn’t a game.” So here we see him really kind of mulling over the struggle between acting like a savage, and being rescued, and trying to balance those two ideas to best suit the boys on the island.
Clearly, the boys on the island represent almost one whole brain. We’ve got Jack acting as the Id, doing things that he wants to do, when he wants to do them, for his own pleasure. We’ve got the superegos; Piggy, and Simon, always striving to do the right thing; keep the boys together, have them do the moral thing. But they also both share one similarity. These are the boys that don’t make it off the island. They’re both killed.
Finally, we have Ralph representing the ego. If we notice, Ralph is the one that takes responsibility at the end. He’s probably one that’s most successful if this book were to extend back into the real world. Jack is the one that backs off, is ashamed, and doesn’t take responsibility.
If we look closely at what Golding is trying to say through Freud’s theory, is that, we really do need to access this ego part of our brain a little bit more, and realize that the Id part, and the superego part just cannot function in the real world.
The final lens that we’re going to look through, in order to give as some more insight as to what Golding is trying to communicate to us through Lord of the Flies, is through a biblical lens. The thing we’re going to look at, is Simon, as the Christ figure. We’ve talked about Simon. He’s helpful, he sticks up for people when they need it. He often befriends the social pryers in the island. He’s the one that’s seeking to share the truth with the boys at the very end. He gets killed for trying to enlighten the masses.
Clearly Simon matches up as the Christ figure, even down to the fact that after he’s killed, his body is mysteriously whisked away to the Sea, so that when the boys wake up the next morning, there’s no trace of it. Just like when the Mary go to the tomb after Jesus' crucifixion, there’s no sign of the body.
One example of this is when he’s talking to the pigs head on the stick, the Lord of the Flies. The pig’s head says “This is ridiculous. You know perfectly well you’ll only meet me down there-so don’t try to escape...this has gone quite far enough. My poor, misguided child, do you think you know better than I do?” So again we see Simon is the one that’s confronted with this idea that evil exists in everybody on the island. That’s really the beast that they should be afraid of. That’s what he’s trying to share with the rest of the boys on the island. He’s ultimately sacrificed, because of his attempt to enlighten those boys.
The next story we can look at is Cain and Abel from the Bible. It’s kind of the age-old story of the brothers pitted against each other which seems to really mirror Jack and Ralph’s relationship. So if we note in the book, Jack and Ralph have a growing antagonism, where Jack becomes jealous of Ralph, because he’s elected leader, because the boys tend to like him, because he has control. Ralph doesn’t quite know how to react to that, only wondering why it is that Jack seems to hate him.
If you think back to the Biblical story of Cain and Abel, we see a mirrored circumstance. We see Abel make a sacrifice to God that’s accepted, and Cain’s is not for some reason. In return, Cain takes it out on Abel and kills him. Now because of Cain’s murder of Abel, God cast him out of the Garden of Eden.
Same thing happens to Jack there at the end. Because of his decision to go against Ralph, he’s cast out of the tribe of boys, and is forced to split his own. For instance, “Ralph sighed, sensing the rising antagonism; understanding that this was how Jack felt as soon as he ceased to lead...’why do you hate me?’” So we see Ralph really being on his heels here, feeling like Jack hates him for no reason. The observation that there is this growing antagonism between them, just like the antagonism that existed between Cain and Abel.
The next thing we’re going to look at, is the Lord of the Flies as the Devil. A couple of things we need to note about this. If you look at the word, or the term, the phrase; Lord of the Flies, if you translated tat into Hebrew, you would get the word Beelzebub, which is the Hebrew word for the devil. So clearly it’s important to know that before Golding even sat down to write this book, when he thought about having a pig’s head on the stick, or the boys being on the island, or titling that Lord of the Flies, he knew very well what he wanted that pig’s head to represent. He wanted it to represent the Devil.
We see that in the conversation that the pig's head on the stick has with Simon in the forest where he says, I am part of you. You can’t get away from me. You’ll just meet me down with the rest of the boys and you’ll see that I am the evil exist. I am the reason why things are a no-go. The head is described as remaining there "dim-eyed; grinning faintly, blood blackening, between the teeth.” So we get this gruesome, dark image, that communicates all these dark ideas to Simon.
Finally, we can look at the island as the Garden of Eden. Remember, in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve are so excited to be there. There’s fruit on the trees. They have everything that they need to survive, until they decide to eat of the one tree that God’s told them that they can’t eat of. That’s what brings everything down there.
The same could be said for the island. The boys are so excited when they get there. The fact that there’s no adults is thrilling to them. They can find food in the forest. They’re really excited. But then if we fast forward to the end of the book, we see that they’ve really taken it for granted, and the entire island is ablaze as the boys rush out to the beach to find the naval cruise, waiting there to rescue them. So again, we see really direct parallels between Garden of Eden and the Bible and the island there.
According to famous literary critic, E.L. Epstein, what is unique about the work of Golding is the way he’s combined and synthesized all of the characteristically 20th Century methods of analysis, to the human being, and human society. And uses unified knowledge to comment on a test situation. The book is in few others of the present time where findings of psychoanalysts of all schools, anthropologists, social psychologists, and philosophical historians, mobilized into an attack upon the central problem of modern thought. The nature of the human personality, and the reflection of personality on society.
Clearly, William Golding meant for us to have a deeper understanding of this book when we looked through different lenses. In this episode, we looked through three specific lenses. First, we we looked at that World War II lens, and how each of the characters matches up to a particular country, and their participation in World War II.
Then we also looked at the Freudian lens, and how Golding used his characters to represent the Id, the Ego, and the Superego; all parts of Freud’s theory of the unconscious mind. Clearly Golding was telling us that the ego is the part of the brain, and part of the mind that we all need to focus on.
Finally, we’re able to use the biblical lens to reveal a little bit of a deeper meaning as to what evil actually is, and where it actually exists. So as you read the book, continue to keep in mind some of those theories that E.L. Epstein says are in this book, and that will help reveal to you a deeper understanding.