by William Golding
“I’m frightened. Of us.”
A group of boys between the ages of 5 and 12 are stranded on a deserted, tropical island and have to learn to fend for themselves, completely unprepared to do so. The children band together and form a basic society, but it begins to fall apart as the warring aspects of human nature emerge and the boys devolve into savagery.
The book is a study of humanity on a microcosmic, easily identifiable scale. It’s the war of id versus ego, instinct versus rationalism. Ralph doesn’t have the intellectual capacity of Piggy but strives to understand and is more capable of leadership than most of the other boys, while Jack is more the monster within us, acting based on instant gratification and raging instinct. Piggy is capable of problem solving and may be seen as the last, gasping remains of civilization.
Perhaps more important than any of these main three characters is the conglomerate human animal embodied by the rest of the boys; they are what really make up the bulk of mankind. They, we, need our leaders to instruct us, to tell us what do. We will follow. The path of least resistance is one where we don’t have to make decisions for ourselves and can just float along instead.
Another important factor as the micro-civilization devolves is the idea we’re willing to place so much responsibility on a few shoulders without contributing ourselves, but ready to reap the benefits should anyone else’s work come to fruition, e.g. Ralph’s signal fire or Jack’s feast of boar. Ayn Rand wrote extensively about this in Atlas Shrugged, a book that is popularly demonized today but is a cutting look at society.
And then there’s this, right after a tragedy:
“Piggy, what’s wrong?”
Piggy looked at him in astonishment.
“Do you mean the–?”
“No, not it… I mean… what makes things break up like they do?”
Piggy rubbed his glasses slowly and thought. When he understood how far Ralph had gone toward accepting him he flushed pinkly with pride.
“I dunno, Ralph. I expect it’s him.”
Considering what Jack represents, the thing that has kept us alive, helped us survive the nights, evolve through the millennia, procreate and spread, harness the wills of men, become successful masters of the planet, all of it—that’s the problem with us. The thing that keeps us alive is the very thing that dooms us.
The philosophy presented here can be dealt with simply. All copies of this book can be gathered up and burned on a sacrificial pyre to appease the dark gods and give us a chance to beg for mercy, for within these pages is a fundamental, uncomfortable truth we shouldn’t be forced to face:
We can say to ourselves, “We are Ralph. We can hope, and we can lead. We are not Jack.” We can say, “We are Piggy, and we can think, and we can solve. We are not Jack.” But the truth is there in black and white, and we’ve known it all along. We are not Jack.
We are the savages.