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Considering the topic of violence in literature, I would like to discuss ‘Lord of the Flies’ written by the British author, winner of the Nobel Prize, William Golding. The book is about a group of boys who find themselves mysteriously stranded on an island and how they try to govern themselves with no adult to influence them. Themes include the contrast between herd mentality and individuality, between animalistic instinct and rationality, and between morality and immorality.

The novel tragically ends with one of the young children, Ralph, sadly contemplating the inherent evil in each person’s soul, an evil he was innocently and blessedly ignorant of before becoming an unwilling witness to his friends’ moral degradation on the island. The boys discovered in them the subconscious instinct and need to dominate others, humiliate and frighten their weaker friends into compliance, or, more appropriately, complete submission. Unshackled by society’s rules, when the kids found themselves confronted with a choice between reason and animality, they kept choosing the latter, enjoying the freedom of engaging with their savage side.

This choice, although it is ubiquitous, all over the world, throughout history, carries much more weight due to the nature of our protagonists. By making the characters young schoolboys, Golding amplifies his readers’ feelings of outrage and disbelief. He proves to his readers that no matter who you are, how old you are, or where you’re from, you undoubtedly have this same seed of savagery residing in you, and you’re simply suppressing it because society demands you to. Just like Simon, the reader has the revelation that evil isn’t simply a component of human nature, but an active element that seeks expression.

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Modern society has gotten into the habit of providing ways and mechanisms for us to channel our aggressive impulses. Most sports, for example, are inherently violent in their expression, and they encourage competitiveness to such a high degree that it could be considered toxic. On the island, these aggressive impulses are at first used by Jack’s hunters. They manage to successfully provide meat for the group, and that is probably when they began to tap into their innate ability to commit violence. They kill animals to respond to the group’s need for food. It is a justified course of action, which results in praise and otherwise positive reaction. However, these positive reactions only serve to encourage the hunter’s power trip, and they start to enjoy killing the animals more and more. The line between justified acts of violence and savagery is a fine one, and Golding masterfully makes it very clear when the boys start to hunt more than they need to, more out of the joy of committing violence than the actual need for meat. The last vestige of civilized order is stripped from the island boys when Simon was murdered, at which point brutality reigns supreme over the group. The reader now sees no resemblance between the boys at the beginning of the book and the boys in Jack’s camp, who are nothing but inhuman savages, remorselessly enjoying violence against their own kind. Even Ralph and Piggy themselves join the ritual dance around Jack’s fire: “‘Kill the beast! Cut his throat! Spill his blood! Do him in!’. The sticks fell and the mouth of the new circle crunched and screamed. The beast was on its knees in the center, its arms folded over its face. It was crying out against the abominable noise something about a body on the hill. The beast struggled forward, broke the ring and fell over the steep edge of the rock to the sand by the water. At once the crowd surged after it, poured down the rock, leapt on to the beast, screamed, struck, bit, tore. There were no words, and no movements but the tearing of teeth and claws” (William Golding, p.219). The importance of the figure of the beast in the novel cannot be overstated because it becomes an icon for the children, a common enemy to fight against, an excuse for more violence, and a reason for Jack to threaten others into obedience. Simon’s death was actually unavoidable ever since his encounter with ‘Lord of the Flies’ in Chapter 8. His death is the prophetic conclusion of his own vision, which taught him that the beast exists in all humans. In fact, when the boys kill Simon, they are acting on the instinct pushed upon them by the beast and what it represents. Simon’s death is significant because it exemplifies the power of that mark of evil residing in every human being.

Arguably, the second most violent scene in ‘Lord of the Flies’ is Piggy’s death. He struggled to capture everyone’s attention and make himself heard over Ralph and Jack’s brawl, but as he tries to speak, Roger shoves a humongous rock down the mountainside. Ralph managed to dodge it, but the boulder strikes Piggy, killing him instantly, and breaks the shell conch as well in the process: “The rock struck Piggy a glancing blow from chin to knee; the conch exploded into a thousand white fragments and ceased to exist. Piggy, saying nothing, with no time for even a grunt, traveled through the air sideways from the rock, turning over as he went. The rock bounded twice and was lost in the forest. Piggy fell forty feet and landed on his back across the square red rock in the sea. His head opened and stuff came out and turned red. Piggy’s arms and legs twitched a bit, like a pig’s after it has been killed” (William Golding, p.260).

Violence in ‘Lord of the Flies’ is sparse as compared to other famous novels such as ‘A Clockwork Orange’ by Anthony Burgess or ‘American Psycho’ by Bret Easton Ellis, but it is all the more significant. With the characters being young children, the rampant aggression carries a stronger punch and plays into the author’s view of the world, how he believes every person, no matter how big or small, is capable of committing violent acts against other people. At its core, the novel represents humanity’s regression to its barest animalistic instincts, the corruption of purity and innocence. Golding chose his setting and his actors well, because reading through the more violent scenes was difficult, and it truly made an impression.

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