The fragility of democracy in Lord of the Flies

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Up until the 1950s, the mold for the Island adventure genre had already been set. With classics such as Treasure Island by Robert Stevenson and Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe, promising a fun, lighthearted, and thrilling reading experience, many novels of the same genre followed in their footsteps. However, a novel that stands out from the rest by undermining the mold set for the genre is none other than William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. A novel following the story and descent into insanity of a few English boys stranded on an island after a plane crash. At first, their democratically elected leader, Ralph, tries to establish rules and a to-do list for the other boys in order to survive and keep their sanity. However, this attempt at a society quickly falters and breaks into total anarchy because of the selfishness of Jack, the leader of the hunting group, and his blind followers succumbing to bloodlust, the unpredictability and uncontrollability of the “little ‘uns” and the constant loss of hope as a result.

When all of the survivors of the plane crash gathered for a meeting at the beach, summoned by the sound of the conch shell Ralph blew in with Piggy, they decided that the best course of action would be for them to democratically elect a leader. The two candidates were Ralph and Jack- the leader of the choir. As the kids didn’t know any2better, they appointed Ralph to be their leader, given he’s the one who blew into the conch and got them all together in the first place. Jack takes a petty victory by being responsible for the choir, who are after dubbed “The hunting group” when Ralph divides the tasks and labor among the boys. It is worth noting that Jack insisted on his group being the hunting group, most likely to have an outlet for his repressed violence. “Jack’s in charge of the choir. They can be – what do you want them to be?” [Ralph asked Jack]“Hunters.” [Jack answered]. (Golding 16)This division of labor occurs after Ralph, Jack and Simon explore the whole island and get a general sense of the idea of what they are working with. They devise a plan on how to get rescued and not suffer any losses in the meantime. The plan consisted of 3 main tasks: building a shelter, hunting and gathering for food, and most importantly keeping the fire they lit on the mountain alive to generate smoke for a ship to detect them and rescue them. When the turn for Jack to maintain the fire comes, he opts to go hunting instead, and needing his whole group to hunt down a pig, he leaves no one in his stead to maintain the fire. The hunt was a success, however at a devastating cost. While Jack and his group were hunting, a ship had passed by, unable to detect them due to the fire running out and generating no smoke because no one had maintained it. Coming back from the hunt, Jack was feeling ecstatic. Full of euphoria, he was trying to explain the beauty of cornering a helpless animal and gutting it, its blood splattering on his face with each violent stab with his dagger to a very acrimonious Ralph, desperately trying to tell him that his selfishness and need for violence made the ship passed them and leave them stranded for more time. Feeling guilty and at fault, being stared in disappointment3even by his own group, Jack resorted to violence. Jack hit Piggy twice, the second time breaking his glasses which the boys used to make the fire. This in addition to letting the fire go out already, starts showing that Jack’s objective is deteriorating from the original one of getting rescued. Jack satiates his power struggle through violence both on the pig and on Piggy which in cause led them to stray further and further from society destroying the spectacles which symbolize enlightenment, intelligence, and society itself which in turn are also adjectives used to describe Piggy. The constant clashes for power between Jack and Ralph are always let out on Piggy; The way I interpret this is that in a democratic society if the power gained from leading is valued more than using it for the benefit of the people, society and the people in it will suffer. George Orwell explores this philosophy really well in his fictional political novel titled Nineteen eighty-four (1984).“The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power, pure power… They pretended, perhaps they even believed, that they had seized power unwillingly… The object of power is power. Now you begin to understand me.” (Orwell, Part 3, Chapter 3)This type of thinking could be compared with the thinking of the Nazi party and the Russian communist party. This same philosophy is also highly applicable to Jack as he does not want to be chief for the good of the boys, rather for his own feeling of power. Tensions between Jack and Ralph kept growing as their ideas and opinions on how to run the island and govern the boys differed. One night, Jack called a meeting demanding another vote. He accuses Ralph of cowardice, as on a previous occasion4where Jack, Ralph, and Roger, an older boy who at first kept to himself but as the novel progressed is revealed to be a very sadistic person, went out to seek the beast Ralphran, while Jack and Roger stayed behind. “Ralph is not a hunter. He’d never have got us meat. He isn’t a perfect and we don’t know anything about him. He just gives orders and expects people to obey for nothing. ”Jack puts emphasis on the fact that Ralph is not a hunter unlike him and that he cowers from the beast unlike himself who would hunt it down. Jack then asks who would vote for him for the position of leader and after being humiliated by all of the boys standing in silence, through tears Jack says: “I’m not going to play any longer. Not with you.” (Golding 127)Reinforcing the idea that being stranded on an island is perceived as a game by Jack .With that statement, Jack leaves and forms a separate group that is joined by everyone on the island apart from Simon, Piggy, and of course Ralph.It is important to note that no one voted for Jack, rather people were forced in a way to join him. This is an example that in many cases, dictators are not put in a position of power by the people voting, rather they get placed there by the virtue of circumstance. For example, the most infamous dictator to date, Adolf Hitler, took advantage of an economically declining Germany, the same way Jack took advantage of the declining mental health of the boys. After this schism any and all democracy and order that has been left until that point was gone. On one hand, with Simon and Piggy dying, their deaths symbolize the death of kindness and empathy for Simon and the death of reason and logic for Piggy. Ralph is left alone. On the other hand, Jack’s group falls into total dictatorship. With Jack in place5of chief all democracy is lost, his word is absolute and the choir is there to make sure of that. With him in power, there is no conch, there are no spectacles and the fire is used to cook meat rather than help them get rescued.

Jack’s irresponsibility, bloodlust, and selfishness were the reason why Ralph’s democratic way inherently failed, however, there were factors that led up to it that were detrimental to the order Ralph put in place as the leader ever since the first meeting. With every boy on the island having to have purpose, it becomes clear that a handful of six to eight-year-olds, otherwise known as “the little ‘uns”, are going to be very unhelpful with the tasks. Their low attention span prohibits them from committing to a task long enough for them to be considered useful. “’Meetings. Don’t we love meetings? Every day. Twice a day. We talk. I bet if I blew the conch this minute, they’d come running. Then we’d be, you know, very solemn, and someone would say we ought to build a jet, or a submarine, or a TV set. When the meeting was over they’d work for five minutes, then wander off or go hunting’” -Ralph(Golding 41)In addition, being little kids their imagination runs wild and naturally, at night they would get paranoid and because of it, a rumor of a beast was created. The other kids, being not much older could neither prove nor disprove of the existence of said beast. The thought that there might be a beast out there only added to the descent of sanity of the boys on the island. Moreover, it created another enemy besides the island itself they have to get rescued from, it created an enemy that, if it existed, only Jack and his group would be able to deal with. This was the argument that Jack used in order to persuade most of the boys to side with him. It is also worth noting that Ralph and his group6showed more empathy towards the little ‘uns. Unlike Jack, Ralph always puts the safety of everyone, especially the little ‘uns first. Furthermore, both Piggy and Simon spent a lot of his time taking care of the little ‘uns, trying to keep them calm and in check. Ironically, Simon died because of the rumor they started. Contrarily, Jack has shown little to zero care about the little ‘uns, often feeling as if they are dead weight.‘“ Let’s be moving,” said Jack relentlessly, “we’re wasting time. ”“No we’re not. What about the littluns?”“ Sucks to the littluns!”’“ Someone’s got to look after them. ”“Nobody has so far.”“ There was no need! Now there is. Piggy’ll look after them.” (Golding, 128

In addition to Jack’s devil-like behavior, offering the succumption to violence and insanity in the form of joining his tribe and the hindrance of the little ‘uns there is another factor that plays into the fall of the democratic way and as an extension the loss of civility on the island. That factor is the constant and exponential loss of hope among the boys with every passing day on the island. Being stranded on an island, continuously having to worry about your own safety because you are not protected by society anymore would take a toll on an adult's psyche, let alone a child’s one. Everyone on the island took this differently. The little ‘uns, still too young to comprehend the magnitude of the situation, took it as just another field trip. However, almost everyone, especially Ralph wanted to try and recreate a society of their own, they tried to bring order to a place where there was none. Rules and order gave a feeling of security and as long as that feeling persisted, order would persist, too. Unfortunately, that was not the case, with each passing day being stranded on the island the boys7started losing hope. Furthermore, the fear of a beast overcame them, and eventually, the feeling of security was gone. At that moment the other kind of boys took the lead. The boys who didn’t see society as a protective unit, rather as a chain that held them back from their primal desires, reigned amongst the others, enforcing their beliefs of survival of the fittest. People like Jack and Roger who realized that on this island there were no consequences such as the police or grown-ups for their actions succumbed to their barbaric and violent desires. And the others, no longer feeling protected by Ralph’s way of leading, turned to Jack in hopes of surviving. At that point, the boys’ hope, energy, and logical thinking had been gone. They no longer wished to be rescued, in fact, they completely forgot about it. Jack’s way of leading did never strive to get everyone rescued from the island. In other words, the rest of the boys became so deprived of the feeling of security that they became very exploitable and easily manipulated that they were not able to think clearly. That led to Jack promising them fake safety and them buying in, making Jack the chief.

In conclusion, many people interpret Lord of the Flies as a book about anarchy and while I do see where that interpretation of the novel is coming from and is completely valid, I read the book from a different perspective. From my personal perspective, Lord of the Flies is a novel about how a democratic society, through hardships, exploitation, unreliability and deteriorating mental state of its citizens can become a dictatorship. I mentioned Nazi Germany very briefly beforehand as an example, however, I can use many more models. Most relevant example from nowadays would be North Korea where a fresh from WW2 country was looking for security from Japanese imperialism.8Leading a campaign of promise to fight Japanese imperialism was Kim Il-sung who after gaining power abused it, committing many atrocities, and did not let it go. Now, seven decades later his grandson is still ruling over the country and its people. That want for power and the wicked ways of receiving it are very present in Lord of the Flies however that idea is explored to a great detail in George Orwell’s Nineteen-ninety-four as well. In many cases for a dictatorship to be dismantled an outside force needs to intervene which is what we see happens in the ending. Jack sets the whole island on fire and ironically because of the smoke Jack’s fire created, they attract a British Navy and they send an officer to the island to rescue not only Ralph but the rest of the boys as well, bringing them back to society. Knowing how gruesome and unhinged Lord of the Flies is, this most likely is not just a way for the novel to have a semi-happy ending, but another hidden message in this novel full of metaphors, analogies, and allegories

.BibliographyGolding, William, James R. Baker, and Arthur P. Ziegler. William Golding's Lord of the Flies. Penguin, 2016.Orwell, George. 1984. Propyläen-Verl., 1984.


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