William Golding’s “Lord of the Flies” follows a party of British boys stranded on a paradise island and it follows their descent from civilisation to savagery and brutality. Golding’s experience of war has more than likely had an effect on the pessimistic way it has been presented. Using Jack, the novels antagonist, shows the pessimistic view of human nature, but when Simon, the novels Christ figure develops, it makes it hard to distinguish whether Golding’s view of the boys’ nature is optimistic or pessimistic.
Golding has made much of this novel pessimistic by using grotesque images like the dead parachutist as a metaphor for a puppet and the pigs head. The basis of an adventure story is lost early on and becomes secondary to the various themes of optimism and pessimism throughout the novel. At some points during the novel, slight optimism of human nature is seen like at such points as the democratic meeting that held. These are quite adult and civilised but the ratio of pessimism to optimism is very high.
In the very first paragraph, the crashing of the plane on the island is the first sign of pessimism in the novel and this will escalate to much worse things. When Ralph and Piggy meet up for the first time after the crash and see that the beach is empty it shows that pessimism has a much more influential role than optimism. The boys then find a large conch shell and this is the first optimistic part of the novel as the conch will come to be the object that symbolises democracy and order on the island. As Ralph blows the conch the other boys start to arrive and this is the first sign of how powerful the conch is an optimistic symbol. When the boys decide to elect a leader this shows optimism as it is a quite adult and civilised thing to do but when Jack loses, the nature of the boys could have turned quite pessimistic and evil had Ralph not offered Jack and his choir the opportunity to be the hunters. Towards the end of the first chapter, Jack is faced with killing a pig; he claims to be able to kill it but freezes when confronted with the task. This is showing that the nature of the boys is still good but Jack vows that next time he will not be so weak, “Next time – !” This shows that Golding will manipulate the boys so they are not so nice next time they come face-to-face with a pig they have to kill.
Throughout Chapter 2, optimism is shown quite heavily, Ralph again blows the conch shell, showing to the other boys the power that it holds over them and they decide to enforce laws which will protect them. Golding has made this part optimistic is it is still fairly early on in the book and he doesn’t want to make the boys seem like pessimistic savages too early on or the reader will begin to lose interest. Ralph, as the leader of the group decides for the boys to build a fire to aid in their rescue, another optimistic gesture on this island of pessimism. Pessimism is now brought back into the novel towards the end of this chapter when the boys are informed of a “beastie” by a younger member of the group. This puts a doubt in the mind of the group as they are unsure whether the little boy is speaking the truth or making it up. The pessimism in this part of the novel becomes greater when the boys light the fire but it goes out, they make a mad rush to rekindle it but in the hurry they set a bunch of trees on fire. This shows the boys acting very selfishly, not calmly or like adults. As a result of this the young boy that spoke of the “beastie” is killed. Golding is showing that the boys are beginning the descent into savagery and brutality, which is one the same evil line as pessimism. And what makes this event even worse is that all of the boys hide their feeling and emotions and carry on like nothing has happened.
Further on in the book, the pessimism begins to prevail over good, so much for good always wins! Ralph begins to get frustrated due to the disintegration of the boys efforts to improve their life on the island. The descent into savagery has quickened but fortunately for Ralph he still has some authority and the boys nature is not entirely pessimistic at this point as when Ralph blows the conch they still come to him. The group are still talking about the monster but Ralph, trying to be the authority of the group assures them that there is nothing to be afraid of; this is a mixed message, pessimistic because they think of the Beast but good because Ralph is acting like an adult and being very calm about it. The nature of the boys becomes fairly hostile at this point as they begin to argue over the laws that were laid down at the very start, some have been going to the toilet at different places, they are not building shelter and they are not collecting drinking water. Jack becomes very antagonistic towards Piggy and Golding really pushes the reality of the pessimistic outlook on us at this point.
From now one, the message Golding is giving becomes clear. Ralph becomes more worried about the boys becoming undisciplined which in a way is optimistic as he can see clearly and his vision has not been blurred like that of the other boys but Jack and his choir of hunters are becoming more savage by the minute and this is influencing everyone else on the island and Golding is portraying these boys in a much more negative way than Ralph, Simon and Piggy.
Near the end of Chapter 7, a couple of the boys find the dead parachutist on the side of the mountain, again Golding is almost scaring the reader with the grotesque image of the parachutist being a metaphor for a puppet, showing that pessimism is beginning to take over this novel.
Another event that will oppose the pessimism is when Simon realises that the parachutist is actually a human. He keeps calm and collected in the situation and acts like an adult even though he is right in the middle of all of this savagery and brutality which still leaves us doubting Golding’s ideas even though other actions have left the reader feeling a very pessimistic vibe coming from the author. This part of the book is also has a very conflicting message, one minute you think all is well and good but then something sour happens to turn the mood and tone on it’s head. As Simon makes for the beach to tell the others of what he has found, Jack and his hunters are performing a tribal dance and accidentally mistake Simon for the beast. This is the climax of the novel when they kill him in a most vicious and violent way as he tries to explain who he is and what he has seen on the mountain. The end of this part is very grim as the storm on the island becomes larger and fiercer and Simon’s body is washed out to sea and the body of the parachutist is blown into the lagoon so none of the other boys get to know what it was. This shows Golding’s technique of making the two ideas of pessimism and optimism clash during a main part of the story and causes it to be quite exciting and interesting.
Towards the end of the book all hell breaks lose on the island, Piggy’s glasses are stolen and many of the boys go and join Jack’s tribe. The fire has gone out on Ralph’s side of the island and they have almost lost all hope, a very different scene to when the boys first arrived on the island and introduced all of the laws which would later be broken. Ralph and Piggy go to collect fire from Jack, only to find hostile resistance when they arrive, Ralph takes the conch with him, hoping that they will listen to him but everyone is totally oblivious to it, a sure sign that all democracy has left the island and the optimism of being saved has closely followed it. They begin to fight and Piggy is killed by a falling rock, another sentimental moment in the novel and it is significant as Roger, the character that represents evil and torture on the island, is the one that threw the rock at him. All optimism has gone.
At the very end, when the naval officer arrives to rescue the boys, Golding has almost tried to confuse the reader with the final message. The boys are being rescued but into what? They have fought their own personal battles on the island and now they are being thrown into another war on a much larger scale. Is this fair for the boys? Would they have been better off left on the island?
Three boys have been killed on the island. In my view this is not a very optimistic statistic. I think that it is good that they have been rescued, but not that they have been rescued by a naval ship, an omen to what is going to become of the and the fact that many of the boys have become so primeval it would be hard to adjust them out of the pessimistic mind frame. Maybe they should have been left on the island. Even at this point though, Ralph is still trying to stand strong. He comes forward to talk to the officer, maybe an optimistic sign for Ralph? Maybe he hasn’t been blinded like a majority of the others have. Golding has certainly given the reader a rollercoaster of optimism and pessimism but I think the final cruel irony of being saved by a naval ship and thrown from one war into another shows that his vision of human nature is quite tormented and pessimistic. One of the last sentences, in my view, really sums up Ralph’s journey on the island for the time he has been there, “Ralph wept for the end of innocence, the darkness of man’s heart, and the fall through the air of the true, wise friend called Piggy.”