Originally published on Page To Pixels in 2016.
Lord of the Flies & the Psychology of Politics
by SM CADMAN
“Maybe there is a beast… maybe it’s only us.”¹ Simon, Lord Of The Flies
William Golding wrote Lord of the Flies in the early 1950’s, almost five years after the end of World War II. First published in 1954 by the Penguin Group, it remains one of the best, most enduring allegories ever written about human nature, society and politics. It’s deliberately written to be a very pessimistic narrative; an explanation for readers to gain insight as to how and why such an atrocity as the Holocaust was ever permitted to occur.
Psychology: The Stanford Prison Experiment, Philip Zimbardo – BBC Documentary
Golding created an insular society of forlorn boys pushed into the depths of despair, fear and barbarity after surviving a plane crash. During the thick of war in England, in which the reader assumes parallels of WWII, the boys are evacuated from Britain. Their plane is shot down near a deserted, tropical island somewhere in the Pacific ocean. What emerges from this event, is a new society created by this group of boys aged 6 – 12 that mirrors all the horrors of World War II.
So why is this allegory with its archetypes and symbolism still pertinent in today’s world? Although a nihilistic story is presented to readers with Lord of the Flies, it also serves as a cautionary tale of our own human nature and history; a way to view ourselves from an outside perspective, away from the trauma of war and a deteriorating society. From this angle, we’re given the opportunity as readers to see each character and their contributions accurately, for better or worse. It’s also interesting to note that, “Golding was responding to another novel, The Coral Island, written by R.M. Ballantyne in 1857. In The Coral Island, some white, European boys end up on an island and use Christianity to ‘conquer’ the ‘heathen ways’ of the Polynesian natives.”2
In essence, Golding’s novel showed the complete opposite of what Ballantyne tried to remedy with colonization. Civility he reasoned was not dependent upon religious belief nor affiliation but rather social structure, with contributions from the individual. The conch in the novel is symbolic for this attribute. When one holds it and speaks, order, propriety and respect is differed to the speaker, or leader; in the same way as a president, prime minister or dictator is conferred such authority. As is this case when protagonist Ralph takes the conch and speaks, he is also leading by example. What is also certain from reading Lord of the Flies is that Golding was experiencing a post-WWII lack of faith in humanity and perhaps also in a higher power, or both, as many were at that time. Issues of groupthink are explored throughout the novel, wherein individuals defer authority to other individuals in favor of group cohesiveness. This results in dysfunctional and often irrational outcomes as they navigate their way through the complexity of human relationships. This ongoing theme offers readers the opportunity to revisit societal structures, politics and its failures from an anonymous third-person narrative perspective. By seeing it away from us, we can take time to consider what matters most and what we must do to stop these horrors from ever happening again.
Post WWII, counter measures emerged from Edward Bernays the nephew of Sigmund Freud. His uncle stated that he “…had discovered primitive sexual and aggressive forces hidden deep inside the minds of all human beings, forces which if not controlled, led individuals and societies to utter chaos and destruction.”3 Bernays based upon the theories of Freud, felt that manipulating the public was a necessary evil to control these urges and prevent future wars and the ultimate destruction of society.
The Century of the Self (Full Documentary)
Bernays, the father of public relations, was in charge of propaganda for the promotion of democratic values of peace in the US. He believed from Freud’s work, the populace could be controlled by providing them with outlets to occupy their time with, primarily consumerism, i.e. shopping. Acquiring stuff* was meant to nullify our violent and often sexually aggressive urges. He purposely equated purchasing and owning products, with our deepest emotions of fulfilment and satisfaction. Media in America and Western societies during the 1950’s began to portray idyllic images of what happiness meant: new cars, new homes, new clothing etc. All of these items were meant to be indicators of success and make us happy.
1950s/1960s Commercials (Part 1)
Pre-WWII, most people only bought things as they needed them, impulse and emotionally tied purchases were rarely ever made. Throughout most of the world, it was a necessity based economy that had ruled earth. Buying things on impulse, instant gratification or simply because one wanted them was a luxury confined mostly to the upper classes; those with greater wealth, more disposable income and purchasing power.
In Lord of Flies, we also see the archetypes that Freud described of the Superego, Ego and Id, or Freudian Trio in the three main characters. Piggy represents the Superego; Ralph the Ego; and Jack the Id. It’s presented as a way of understanding how politics and leadership works but it’s also detailing parts of ourselves. In today’s world, most especially in American politics, these archetypes still exist and play out—insightful, intelligent and wise Bernie Sanders is like bespectacled Piggy, the Superego; decisive, shrewd and realistic Hillary Clinton is much like Ralph, the Ego; and impulsive, brash and narcissistic Donald Trump is like a lot like antagonist Jack, the Id. Or so the narrative has been framed for the consuming public.
Simon another character in the novel, represents a religious, almost prophetic archetype, much like Jesus. He is the only one apparently bestowed with insight not evolved from traditional societal values. He’s described as being timid, wise and kindly but also mature for his age. Prone to epileptic fits that produce revelatory hallucinations, frail and unassuming he accurately posits the symbolism of the Beast, the Lord of the Flies, a term which Golding purposely used a literal translation of 2 Kings 1:2–3, 6, 16 for Beelzebub, the devil as representing the dark side of humanity in physical form. We often see these prophetic types pop up in times of political distress, with politicians such as Paul Ryan, Ted Cruz and Mitt Romney offering a spiritual compass not confined by physical bounds. They appear wary of knowledge and general science in contrast to Piggy with his glasses, a symbolism for reason. They tend to hold onto rigid views of humanity with an overly religious zeal. Whether or not they are truly like this, we are sold this image to see and understand them this way.
Throughout the novel various religious themes are portrayed and played out, often with disastrous consequences. Simon’s death is akin to Christ’s own crucifixion. The island itself could be interpreted as almost like the Garden of Eden/Paradise before the loss of innocence (death), bite of the proverbial apple. But it’s not a complete Christian allegory or narrative, or meant to be interpreted as such. Samneric (Sam and Eric) two twin boys, represent the general well-meaning, civilized public who play by the rules instead following the beat of their own drum. The littluns (younger boys) and Biguns (older boys) also represent society en masse, followers, or sheep along with Roger, who ultimately causes Piggy’s death. Maurice, Robert, Johnny and Henry also portray various facets of sheep, or the public too.
Collectivism and Individualism
What we can surmise from Golding’s book is what actions need to take place in our own lives and exactly what we must amend, change or fix in society. It illustrates both human frailty and the forces which govern our behavior. “As Freud points out in his theory of psychoanalysis, human behavior is determined by innate and immutable instincts that are largely unconscious.”4 And as Simon so eloquently understood and simply put : “Maybe there is a beast… maybe it’s only us.” We are indeed our own worst enemy.
Citations & References:
1Simon, character. “Lord of the Flies,” by William Golding. Chapter 5, pg. 80. For reference see: http://www.bookrags.com/notes/lof/part5.html#gsc.tab=0
2Shmoop Editorial Team, “Lord of the Flies,” Shmoop University, Inc., Last modified November 11, 2008, http://www.shmoop.com/lord-of-the-flies/.
3“The Century of the Self (Full Documentary).” YouTube, uploaded by David Lessig, Jul 9, 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eJ3RzGoQC4s
4Parivelan, K.M.. “Lord of the Flies: Psychological Insights.” Learning & Creativity, https://learningandcreativity.com/lord-of-the-flies/. Accessed 18 October 2016.
The Nobel Prize in Literature 1983 William Golding: http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1983/golding-bio.html
William Golding Biography: https://www.cliffsnotes.com/literature/l/lord-of-the-flies/william-golding-biography
William Golding: http://www.famousauthors.org/william-golding
Author William Golding tried to rape teenager, private papers show: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2009/aug/16/william-golding-attempted-rape
The Golding Rule: http://www.snopes.com/william-golding-on-women/
A Talent for Writing, and Falling Into Things: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/07/books/07book.html?_r=0
Lord of the Flies – Thug Notes Summary and Analysis: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bJp1ptX4F3M
Image credit/graphic by: SM CADMAN. Need A Book Cover, Graphic, Logo Or Web Design? https://smcadman.com/2016/07/28/need-a-novel-book-cover-or-graphic/