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Evil in Lord of the Flies: Analysis & Quotes

Instructor: Susan Nagelsen

Susan has directed the writing program in undergraduate colleges, taught in the writing and English departments, and criminal justice departments.

In 'Lord of the Flies', by William Golding we are introduced to the evil that lies in all of us. He shows us what happens when humanity comes face to face with the urge for power and what happens when it wins out over reason.

Going Downhill Fast

What is humanity at its base? Left to our own devices, are we basically good or basically evil?

In Lord of the Flies by William Golding, we are introduced to English boys who have been stranded on an island because of a plane crash. They attempt to set up a system of governance, with rules and consequences, but it doesn't take long before savagery ensues.

The events in the novel imply a basic message: evil is in all of us and can be brought out under the right circumstances. The boys are not able to maintain a civilized society; it spirals out of control as the evil takes over all but a few of the boys.

Book cover
Lord of the Flies by William Golding

Savagery Begins

Roger

These civilized boys come from a society that has rules and expected behaviors. In the beginning we see them struggling to maintain the rules that have been ingrained in them from their earliest memories. The change from civilized to savage happens slowly.

We watch as Roger tests the boundaries of his expected civilized behavior when he starts bullying the little'uns: 'Roger gathered a handful of stones and began to throw them. Yet there was a space round Henry, perhaps six yards in diameter, into which he dare not throw. Here, invisible yet strong, was the taboo of the old life. Round the squatting child was the protection of parents and school and policemen and the law.'

Roger is coming very close to crossing the line and slipping into evil acts, but there is something holding him back. Just like we often hear our parents' voices in our heads, guiding us and keeping us on the right track, Roger is held back from actually hitting Henry because he can feel the eyes of society on him.

What makes this particularly important for the reader is the fact that we see Roger's desire to hurt Henry emerging, and while we see him fight to contain it, we know that he is most likely going to lose that battle.

Piggy

We also see signs of a collective capability for evil in the treatment of Piggy. Piggy is a vulnerable character who is ripe for ridicule. He is overweight, weak, and wide open for the others to attack. The evil emerges when they turn on Piggy and Ralph is the only one who comes to his aid, setting the tone for the interactions to come.

Piggy is trying to recount the names of the little'uns, when Jack says, 'Shut up Fatty.' Ralph stands up for Piggy, and this prompts all of the others to laugh, jeer, poke fun and diminish Piggy, and in doing so, they form a tighter group. The outcome of the interaction is a group of boys against a small minority. This separation of power is a recipe for disaster.

Jack

We can't help but shake our heads in disgust when Jack kills his first pig. The narrator describes it: 'His mind was crowded with memories; memories of the knowledge that had come to them when they closed in on the struggling pig, knowledge that they had outwitted a living thing, imposed their will upon it, taken away its life like a long satisfying drink.'

Jack is all powerful in this moment, and being a part of the 'kill' has brought out his most base desires. He enjoys the kill not because it will feed the boys, but because he enjoys it and feels powerful.

After Jack kills the pig, we see the savagery spreading as the boys in his group are exhilarated too. They begin chanting, 'Kill the pig. Cut her throat. Spill her blood.'

Simon and the Beast

After seeing a parachuting man drift into the trees on the island, the boys imagine that it is a beast come to harm them. They leave a severed pig's head as an offering. It is named 'Lord of the Flies,' likely referring to the Beast of Revelations from the Bible, and 'Beelzebub', which translates to 'lord of flies' or prince of demons.

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