What keeps people from stealing, murdering, raping, and other actions that most people find disgusting? If asked this question, almost everyone would say they do not behave that way because it goes against their religious or moral code of ethics. In other words, they just consider this type of behavior innately wrong. But, is that the real reason? In a civilized world, these offenses are deemed crimes. The government says they're wrong, and makes it against the law to commit any of these acts. Members of society know that if they do something against the law, they will be punished. This prevailing concept is what keeps civilizations running smoothly. But, what if there were no laws or no government or ruling power to enforce laws? Would people still have moral integrity?
In the book, “Lord of the Flies,” by William Golding, a large group of boys no older than twelve years old crash land on an island and have to survive by themselves. Without having a ruling power to oversee their actions, they start to misbehave. When they first realize they are stranded on the island they state "We've got to have rules and obey them. After all, we're not savages…(42)” The boys are trying to create some form of society that they are familiar with. They even go as far as saying they're not savages, acknowledging that only savages live in a ruleless society. They realize the importance of laws and law enforcers and elect a leader to create a form of ruling power, or government, to determine what is right and wrong in the island society. The leader acts almost as an adult, keeping the kids under control, but not restricting them completely. The leadership quickly falls apart due to disagreements, which causes cracks in the leadership. Trouble begins from the start. When they were voting for a leader, Jack stated, "I ought to be chief," right before another one of the boys, Ralph, got voted to be chief of the island society. These cracks cause the leadership to fall apart, leading to a constant struggle for power among the other boys. The lack of leadership allows for bigger crimes to be committed without consequences. Because the boys do not have to accept responsibility for what they have done, their crimes become more frequent and more violent the longer they stay on the lawless island.
Throughout the book, the boys demonstrate less and less moral integrity and more insanity. This is because there is nothing stopping the boys from running away from their morals and not taking responsibility for their actions. Since the boys are losing connection with a society, they are also losing connection to the power society plays in forcing its members to adhere to a moral code. When Jack, one of the boys that crashed on the island, starts hunting for pigs, he starts turning into more of a savage. The first time he hunts, he is unable to kill the pig. The quote, “they knew very well why because the enormity of the knife descending and cutting into living flesh (31)…” describes that Jack, though eager to hunt, was unable to kill the pig. However, after a short time of living in a lawless society, Jack undergoes a drastic transformation. The book states, ¨The madness came into his eyes again,¨ before he proclaims, "I thought I might kill." This quote exemplifies that he has changed from the boy he was when he first arrived on the island. Jack starts off trying to be a productive member of society, providing food for himself and the other boys. The time Jack spends hunting causes, even more, separation between his previous life and his new life on the island. He has become more in contact with his natural survival instinct, something that is frowned upon in society.
Jack and the other boys’ descent into savagery isn’t just a fictional story William Golding made up. There have been documented cases of the same thing happening to people in real life. Pitcairn Island is a small island in the Atlantic Ocean. In 1970 a group of Polynesian people were stranded on the island after their boat sank while they were trying to escape an attack. While on the island they started a small civilization. Like the boys in the book, the society on Pitcairn Island quickly fell apart. The stranded people suffered a very similar fate to the boys in “Lord of the Flies.” They resorted to committing murder, thievery and rape. After the people were found, they were tried on 91 counts of murder, thievery and sexual assault. This clearly demonstrates that people lose what makes them civil when they are separated from society.
The men and women on this island and the boys in “Lord of The Flies” are one and the same. Both groups start as law-abiding members of society. Both groups get stranded on an island that quickly becomes ruleless. As the rules disappear, the stranded people become more savage. They start acting less like civilized people and more like animals, exhibiting a “kill or be killed” mentality. This is proof that, contrary to popular belief, it’s not a person’s internal moral code or an innate sense of what is right and wrong, that guides our behavior. It’s our society, and the laws that are enforced by our society, that keep us civilized. Without a society, we are no different than the animals we call savage beasts.
Golding,William. Lord of the Flies. New York: Penguin, 2006.
Holloway, April. "Real-Life Lord of the Flies: The Strange and Violent History of Pitcairn Island." Ancient Origins. Ancient Origins, 7 Aug. 2015. Web. 31 Mar. 2017.