WILLAM GOLDING was a Nobel Prize-winning author. His most famous work is Lord of the Flies, a novel which I studied for my GCE O-level Literature exams many years ago. The title is actually a reference to the Hebrew name Beelzebub (literally, “god of the fly”, “Lord of Flies”), a name sometimes used as a synonym for Satan.
The book is really quite fascinating. It is a study of the human psyche, and it stares straight into the face of evil inside us. I cannot do justice to the book’s rich complexity in one short blog post, but let me try anyway.
The plot goes like this. After a plane crash, a large group of schoolboys are stranded on a beautiful deserted island. None of them are hurt, and none of them are in danger. There is more than enough food, water and shelter on the island for them to survive indefinitely.
The boys quickly organise themselves. They appoint leaders, set rules for themselves and work together to build shelters and gather food. In effect, they become a microcosm of our larger human society. You look at the boys and you can see how human civilisation operates (and this is precisely what Golding intended, for his novel is allegorical).
What happens next? Well, the boys could have led a peaceful, harmonious existence on an island paradise. In fact, they initially do. However, things quickly break down. A power struggle breaks out between the two oldest boys – Ralph, who is strong and genuinely good-hearted, and Jack, who is just as strong, but utterly ruthless and power-hungry.
At first the boys elect Ralph as their leader. But Jack steadily gains power. Eventually, Jack takes complete control and under his leadership, the entire group of boys degenerate into barbaric savagery. Two boys are murdered and Ralph himself is hunted down like a wild pig to be slaughtered.
How did Jack do it? How did he seize power? Essentially he played on the boys’ fears. He told them that somewhere on the island, there lived a fearsome “beast”. According to Jack, this “beast” was ferocious, it was no ordinary animal, it was a kind of monster and it was hungry. It hated the boys and was out to hunt them down and kill them.
And the only way for the boys to escape the “beast” and survive was to accept Jack as their leader. For Jack was the strongest, the smartest, the best hunter. Jack would know what to do. If only the boys would obey Jack and pledge allegiance to him, then Jack would be able to defend them against their enemy.
Most of the boys were duped. In fact they obeyed Jack so unquestioningly that they would commit murder, upon his command. And that was how Jack gained power.
Of course, the truth was that there was no “beast”. It was merely a fiction, a myth, a frightening story that Jack steadily built up over time, by playing on the boys’ collective fear of the dark. In psychological terms, the “beast” was nothing more than an external projection of the boys’ irrational inner fears. It was through Jack’s skilful manipulations that the imaginary “beast” was magnified into huge proportions.
Why am I writing about the Lord of the Flies today? Two decades have passed since I first read that stunningly insightful book. Yet up to today, events in Singapore still periodically remind me of that novel. Most recently, we see media reports like these:
Do “they” really hate us? Is anyone really out to “do us in”? Is there really a “conspiracy” going on?
And if so ……. whose conspiracy is it? Ask yourself that.