It has often been said that opposite forces are complementary. Be it through light and dark, loving relationships, the attraction of magnets, or even the ancient Chinese philosophical symbol Yin and Yang, seemingly antithetical parts create the concept of dualism. This is especially evident in literature, where the theme of “Good versus Evil” is ubiquitous, juxtaposing morally righteous characters with someone antithetical who is ethically flawed, usually after undergoing a turning point in their life. From the perspective of a reader, a story isn’t entertaining if merely one force dominates the entire time, whether good or evil. Instead, literature reflects the combination of these two platforms, through the complements of protagonists and antagonists, rising action and falling action, and the figure of speech of oxymoron. William Golding’s literary work, Lord of the Flies, is the epitome of the theme of “Good versus Evil”: Golding elucidates through Jack how a once innocent character is transformed into evil because of his surroundings.
Golding’s Lord of the Flies reveals Jack’s transition from morally correct to incorrect (or good to evil), due to his environment. This selection illustrates the survival of a group of boys who are stranded on an island with no adult supervision. In chapter one of the book, Ralph, Jack, and Simon venture into the depths of the island to learn more about their location. As they are about to head back, they hear an animal squeaking – an innocent piglet. Having a large appetite, the boys try to capture and kill the animal. “He raised his arm in the air. There came a pause, a hiatus, the pig continued to scream and the creepers to jerk, and the blade continued to flash… Then the piglet tore loose… Jack’s face was white under the freckles,” (Golding 31).
The only thing preventing Jack from slaughtering the pig is his attachment to civilization, but more importantly, the sliver of morality that he retains. Just as Jack is about to strike, he realizes that he is a civilized boy from England. Killing the pig would mean that he has lost his decency, turning him into a savage. Jack’s behavior here illustrates the nurturing aspect that humans possess and how it can contain our savage instincts. His actions reflect that humans are equipped with a capacity to understand morality, as well as the knowledge to distinguish between righteousness and grim actions. Jack and the other boys are all hungry, and Jack is in the perfect position to make the kill, but his nurturing disposition is what prevents him from following through. This supports the idea that, at first, Jack is able to differentiate between good (not killing the harmless piglet) and evil (slaughtering the pig). However, his ability to recognize these two parallels of justice diminishes as the novel progresses, resulting in the emergence of his wickedness.
Jack’s evil persona is shown after he and Roger, another violent boy, brutally slaughter a pig, and Jack’s group of boys imitate this hunt while joining his eerie chant: “Then Maurice pretended to be the pig and ran squealing into the center, and the hunters, circling still, pretended to be the pig and ran squealing into the center, and the hunters, circling still, pretended to beat him. As they danced, they sang. ‘Kill the pig. Cut her throat. Bash her in,’” (Golding 75).
Not only has Jack lost his innocence and transformed into a savage, but he has also influenced his peers to follow similarly, showing that the boys have lost all their decency and no longer retain their civilized manners. The primary reason for Jack’s change is most likely to prove to the other boys that he can kill the pig, as he was taunted for not killing the pig the first time. In addition, being in a stressful environment may have affected Jack and his nurturing instincts have now been clouded by his survival affinities, turning him into a savage. These savage inclinations have most likely grown due to his desire to be accepted by others, supporting that the physical and social environment play a role in one’s ethics.
Golding continues to develop Jack — the antagonist and opposing power of Ralph — into a brute to portray that humans, despite being born with a civilized instinct, may resort to violence solely because of their desire to survive. Jack and his band excitingly reveal their killing to the rest of the group: “We spread round. I crept, on hands and knees. The spears fell out because they hadn’t barbs on. The pig ran away and made an awful noise…It turned back and ran into the circle, bleeding” (Golding 105).
Jack’s conspicuous transformation into viciousness shows his desire to survive which is accomplished by obtaining an unconventional food source – a pig. The fear of death impels the boys to find any food, no matter how disgusting it may seem, showing that the boys have lost all their decency and no longer retain their civility. Being in a stressful environment where one is forced to survive affects Jack, and his survival instincts prevail over his civilized impulses. He has turned into a savage that is willing to do anything – even brutally stab a pig – to escape starvation and essentially, death. Consequently, the basis of evil may sometimes be a motive to survive.
Jack and his band symbolize evil, whereas Ralph and his squad represent good. This separation is conspicuous because of the savagery and irrationality that distinguishes the two. Most evidently, the driving factor behind Jack’s transition into ignobility is that his life is on the line due to him being stranded on a wild island, with no aspects of civility present. After all, the boys now hunt for food, build their own shelter, and relieve themselves on a beach, instead of having access to the luxuries which are available at home. The perspective of the “Good vs. Evil” theme in this story is that by stripping away all remnants of society, Golding demonstrates through Jack’s group, how humans can quickly transform from innocent to savage (good to evil).
Golding’s Lord of the Flies illuminates how the lack of amenities can result in evil through Jack which supports the theme of “Good versus Evil.” Even in today’s society, humanity tends to forget that the world cannot exist without either “good” or “evil” people. Simply having just one or another is impossible since the spectrum of being morally righteous is subjective. The same can be compared to the concept of light and darkness. Without light, darkness cannot exist. Yet without darkness, light cannot exist. This situation exists solely because the two qualities are mediums of comparison and subjectivity, not definitive measures. Thus, “Good versus Evil” in a literary sense serves as a didactic for mankind to scrutinize not only their potential wrongdoings, but more importantly, how they can be ameliorated.
Tanay Subramanian is a senior at Dougherty Valley High School, where he competes in Varsity Extemporaneous Speaking, and Varsity Congressional Debate with a nationally-ranked team. He is an avid jazz saxophonist and teaches dozens of students across the nation as part of Tanay’s Music Foundation (tanaysmusicfoundation.org), donating the proceeds to charitable organizations. In his past time, he enjoys performing jazz at public events, in addition to conducting medical and social justice research. When he is not volunteering at John Muir Hospital or shadowing a cardiologist, he can be seen leading his Boy Scout troop as an Eagle Scout.
Golding, William. Lord of the Flies. Penguin Books, 2003.