Civility versus Savagery; a form of Good versus Evil and an occurring theme in story-telling.

     Frequently, authors write fictional stories to depict various themes based on good versus evil in which a villain of some sort attempts to outwit or destroy a hero or protagonist, whether his victim is one person or the entire world.  Often interpreting history and human behavior through real life characters who want nothing more than to gain power over mankind, ultimately destroying it or themselves in the process, writers bring life to the dark side within us.  Although evil comes in many forms we are often surprised to discover the place from which it really flows and the extent to which it might spread.

     In William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, for instance, readers observe how a group of young boys from six to twelve years old discover that place as they attempt to understand and acknowledge its existence and usefulness.  Recognizing that evil isn’t simply an element or consequence of human nature, but a dynamic constituent that seeks declaration in human behaviors, the author illustrates the ease to which evil might prevail.

     Good versus evil remains at the core of many- if not most tales in which characters fight amongst  and within themselves to suppress the innate seed of evil planted inside each of us.  Each made up story comprises mankind’s struggle to decide his own fate;  whether the character decides to foster his dark urges or conquer them.

     In Golding’s novel, we see a group of young boys who are stranded on a remote island discover within themselves the urge to inflict pain and the accompanying rush of power that comes with that. The characters learn that savagery has the potential to rise up in each one of them and that ultimately it is up to each individual as to whether he nurtures or resists that subconscious desire. Evil and savagery lie within the realm of emotion for all human beings, yet so does the ability to choose compassion, humility or civility instead. Golding’s message attempts to ensure that we never lose sight of that.   Although it is the mission of the writer to entertain his readers, often it is his hope to drive home his novel’s theme that pulses steadily within the backdrop of the story like blood pumping through arteries and veins- that empowers him.

     The reader learns that the behavior of Golding’s characters parallels the savage actions of the adults in the outside world- consumed with destroying the enemy;  in this case non-aryan civilians despised by Hitler and Germany’s fellow axis powers during WWII, as well as the allies’ who fight against them.  As world dictators act savagely toward the human beings they detest or oppose, Jack and his followers turn violent toward Ralph and the other boys marooned on the island with them after their plane crashed. 

     Additionally, Golding addresses the effects of fear on the individual as well as on the collective group as he  uses the boys’ fear of an imaginary beast to illustrate their presumption that evil emerges only from external forces. This ferocious beast first takes form within their imaginations as a snake-like animal that disguises itself as jungle vines- while later, the boys come to believe it could be a sea creature or an abstract ghost-like animal. To support this idea further, the author has the boys discover a dead paratrooper who landed on the mountain,  and mistakenly assume this is their proof that this wild beast does exist. 

     In fact, the boys are not wrong that an evil beast does indeed inhabit the island; it is just that the beast is not in the form the boys think.

     I believe Golding wanted to illustrate in this novel the wretched side of human nature and how each individual has this dark side within him. The boys in his story conceive that the source of  their dark impulses is a beast, some sort of physical creature roaming free about the island. Yet all along there is in actuality no external beast, but an internal monster who has the potential to roam free whenever or if ever it is let out.

     Within civilized society the beast will often express itself in different manifestations: such as through war, crime, selfishness, greed, sin, or just plain cruelty.  Or it may even be disguised within the choreography of politics and other less violent tactics and power struggles. In Lord of the Flies Golding demonstrates that evil is present in everyone and everywhere and further, that mankind’s task does not lie in the impossible charge to eliminate it but in the perpetual struggle to prevent it from becoming the controlling force in our lives.

     A writer will deliver his theme through different methods as well as within various genres.  For instance,  he  might express a theme through the feelings and actions of his protagonist, hero, or villain about the subject about which he has chosen to write or he may depict it through the thoughts and conversations of other characters.  Further, the experiences of the protagonist or main character- in the course of a story might convey to us an idea about the story’s theme or perhaps the actions and events that take place in the narrative might be significant in determining the author’s meaning or message.  Regardless of the manner in which the author decides to develop the theme, it is the extent to which the reader is affected that makes the difference.

     A theme is a flowing component of a tale that fastens together other essential elements of a narrative and a sort of truth that showcases universality, holding true for readers- or individuals- of all ages, genders and cultures. Further, the theme provides the reader with a better understanding of the protagonist’s goals, struggles, conflicts, experiences, discoveries and emotions. Through the story’s theme, the writer attempts to furnish his reader with an insight into how the world works or how he might view and deal with society and mankind in general, as well as with his own thoughts, beliefs and  behaviors.

     As I assist my high school son sort through the analysis and major themes of his summer reading book, Lord of the Flies, I think of Golding’s theme of savagery versus civilization and I wonder if Golding is right- that there truly is an innate evil lying dormant within each one of us, ready to flare up at the first chance we allow.  Or conversely, is it that human beings  are innately good, only vulnerable to evil depending on the environment into which they are thrown and the extent to which they allow themselves to become influenced or tempted to make the wrong choice.

     Within occurring themes of good versus evil (civility versus savagery) , as Golding employed in his classic tale of at first seemingly innocent children acting upon their own natural animal instincts reinforced by the behaviors of parents or society in general, the reader might recognize and understand his individual vulnerabilities, becoming careful to keep his own dark urges in check as he discovers the true place from which evil flows: not out there somewhere in the world hiding in some unknown external location, but lurking deep inside each one of us…. waiting. 

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