Lord of the Flies Lord of the Flies question


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EVOLUTION, GOD and ARISTOCRACY in LOTF.
Monty J Heying Monty J (last edited Mar 13, 2013 06:04PM ) Mar 07, 2013 05:19PM
Survival of the Fittest is an implication raised prominently in Golding's novel. The animal nature of humanity represented in the boys is brought sharply into focus by their acts of savagery.

Questions emerge such as: If the ship hadn't rescued the boys, how bad would things have gotten? Human sacrifice to The Beast? Cannibalism? Would the boys have come to their senses? What would have turned things around? Their religious training? How many more lives would have been lost?

Again and again the novel asks: "Are we savages?" But the words "religion" and "god" are never mentioned and both are potential solutions to savagery. Reason alone is offered as salvation from savagery.

The topic of religion is raised by the conspicuous absence of any mention of God. It's the elephant in the room, forcing us to consider the vulnerability of the boys without guiding rational principles in service of the common good.

But had religion been allowed in, it would have opened a Pandora's Box, distracting from the book's overall impact. Which religion? Just the "big three" of Christianity, Judaism, Islam? What about the so-called Pagan religions? Golding omitted them all, leaving the boys to be governed by their sense of reason and the laws of physics and nature, part of which Darwin defined in his Theory of Evolution.

The Theory of Evolution is not an alternative to religion. Nor is it philosophy. It merely describes the key mechanisms of flora and fauna. Evolution provides an objective rational alternative to the subjective simplistic, and often fantastic, explanations on the functioning of nature offered by the various religions.


Evolution can be summarized into Darwin's four basic principles: Variation, Heritability, Competition and Differentiation/Natural Selection:

1. Variation: In every species there is variation. This variability is apparent even within related organisms. Even siblings will vary in color, height, weight, number of offspring and other characteristics. There are other characteristics that do not vary as often, such as number of limbs or eyes.

2. Heritability: Each species has traits that are strongly influenced by inheritance. Other characteristics are affected more strongly by environmental factors and are not considered inherited. Inherited traits are passed directly from parent to offspring in a consistent manner.

3. Competition: Most species produce more offspring each year than the environment can support. This high rate of growth results in competition among the local species for the limited natural resources available. The consequences of the struggle for resources is an increasing mortality rate within a species.

4. Differential Survival: Some individuals will survive the struggle for resources and will reproduce, adding their genes to the succeeding generations. The traits that helped these organisms to survive will be passed on to their offspring. This process is known as "natural selection."


The principle of Survival of the Fittest is a subset of #4, Differential Survival. Just before the navy arrives, the boys are engaged in mortal combat. From an Evolutionary view, it doesn't look good for the triumph of Reason.

But Ralph had not been defeated. He could have killed or severely injured Jack and that would have turned things around in favor of reason.

The character of Piggy also illustrates the evolutionary principle of Competition, which has a corollary that a species (or individual) will react to stress by getting stronger, as in bodybuilding.

Being an orphan, Piggy was forced to think independently and become more self-reliant. Even his physical handicaps forced him to rely more heavily on intellect and become sensitive to the needs of others. Piggy was the strongest boy, mentally, but was physically the most vulnerable, and he knew it.

What neuroscience has discovered about the savagery of man since Golding is that primal feelings like fear and rage are governed in a particular section of the brain called the medulla oblongata, the so-called "lizard brain." In times of mortal threat, it's the medulla that takes over. Conscious thought and reason, premeditation, are suppressed.

Toward the end of the book, Ralph's actions of aggression in self-defense are an understandable automatic response to being hunted. But Jack Merridew's savagery seems to come from a different place.

Jack has a warped, criminal mind, but we're given no background on him except the hint from his choir uniform and a medallion on the cap that perhaps he was from one of the most exclusive British boarding schools attended by descendants of an aristocracy with a history of savagery--the Boer genocide and ethnic cleansing, two millennia of slavery and other atrocities.

Golding taught in one of these schools, Bishop Wordsworth's, in Salisbury. It is widely believed that he based his characters on his students. Charles, Prince of Wales, was born in 1948. Jack Merridew could be based on one of the prince's playmates.



Well it's been a while since I actually read the book, but as I remember there was a lot of superstition involved in the boy's change in behaviour. I don't know if this was intended by the author but this is how I interpret it. It started out as just fear of the dark with the smaller kids and eventually evolved into a very primitive religious like behaviour. They couldn't explain the things they were experiencing and as a result of the growing paranoia that was only strengthened by the group mentality all their irrational fears that in a civilized setting would otherwise have not gone unchecked it spiralled into savagery. The so-called "Beast" eventually turns into this wrathful daemon/deity figure that drives Jack and his gang to start these cult like rituals to keep it appeased.

The kids who don't throw away their reason in the face of fear remain mostly civilized, but not without losses. Simon who realizes "The Beast" is actually a dead parachuter is killed by the mob in their ritual frenzy, Samanderik are tortured into joining Jacks gang, Piggy is killed and Raph barely makes it, which to me illustrates how superstition and beliefs can harm people other than the ones that hold said beliefs.

As for evolution in the story. Dawkins (and probably many people before him) said superstition and religious behaviour has evolutionary benefits. The savage kids almost won the battle, before the ship showed up on the beach. Then again, it's weird to discuss the concept in terms of a story seeing as evolution has everything to do with animal and human behaviour and there's really no such thing as evolutionary behaviour and non-evolutionary behaviour. Our ways of socializing changes as we figure out what we need from in a society to live happily. That's pretty much just evolution on a psychological level.


deleted member Mar 11, 2013 02:03AM   0 votes
Hi Religion isn t mentioned as a solution because Golding didn t regard it as one. The perpetrators of the atrocities carried out during WW2 were Christian. He believed, similar to original sin, that there was an inherent evil within each of us, "Man produces evil as a bee produces honey." This must be recognised to be overcome.Ralph recognises it when he cries for "the darkness in man s heart."


The island itself is a microcosm of society in general. The soldier being baffled that things had gotten that bad was ironic as WWIII was raging in the civilized world. Maybe it was a statement on the effectiveness of religious training in schools, but the children really didn't have a Christian foundation and instead created a religion around the beast. Had the children been older, you wouldn't have seen the religion/superstition aspect but I think the children would have still descended into chaos.

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Monty J Heying " I think the children would have still descended into chaos."

I have a much more optimistic view of children because I grew up in an orphanage in Texa
...more
Mar 11, 2013 11:26AM

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