Lord of the Flies Essay
Pre-AP English 9
14 March 2018
It seems like every society has some dictator here and there that wants absolute power. The Soviets had Stalin, China had Mao, and Germany had Hitler. Every single one of these successful dictators had one thing in common: revolutions. It takes several things to lead a revolution, but they mainly needed charisma, persuasiveness, communicative skills, and a personality. Whether people read what they wrote, or heard it, their people had to think of them. Their personality became a cult-like brand. When people interacted with them, they felt their power as they shook their hand. This idea has translated into literature in the form of many characters. In Lord of the Flies, by William Golding, a character by the name of Jack leads a revolution on an island run by children, by using his personality, propagandist abilities, charisma, and emotional appeal. Jack is a master manipulator who knew exactly what he was doing, and intentionally created conflict using fear and propaganda like an authoritarian totalitarian dictator. We can see this from how Jack uses the idea of the beast to keep the boys under his control by instilling fear in all of their minds, allowing him to spread lies against his enemies to bring out unwarranted hatred and rage against them, and has led to him torturing boys to set examples of what’ll happen if they step out of line.
When people are scared, they’re compelled to worship an authoritarian figure. Just like scared children want their parents, a scared populace want their leader. The fear of the beast comes up frequently in the novel, to the point where one may become enraged by just how much of the book is devoted to something so seemingly insignificant. However, on closer examination we can see that almost all of the conflict is connected to the fictional beast, and, most importantly, Jack. At the start of the novel, Jack is introduced as a well respected, imposing leader of the choir boys who were with the others who crash landed onto the island. The boys, now stranded, decided to vote for a new leader. Jack was quite disappointed about not being voted “Chief” of the island, but the elected Chief, Ralph, gave him leadership over the hunters, the other choir boys, to calm him down. This was the first mistake that led everyone down a dark path.
Later on, a random little kid told the boys at their regular meetings that he saw a snake shaped beast in the woods at night. This terrifies the other little boys and derails the meeting. The kids then call the beast a ghost, and then a squid. Later on in the meeting, Jack begins mocking and insulting the Chief, who suggested that the beast wasn’t real: “Who are you, anyway? Sitting there telling people what to do. You can’t hunt, you can’t sing— … Bollocks to the rules! We’re strong—we hunt! If there’s a beast, we’ll hunt it down! We’ll close in and beat and beat and beat—!” (91) This rant energized the boys, leading to much noise and excitement, just like how a dictator gets the crowd energized before he inevitably takes over. This open opposition against the established democratic government, an opposition fueled by fear of an outside force especially, is very reminiscent of how dictators first become popular with the public. The public is scared of something, and someone hungry for power tries to manipulate the situation to get others to listen to them, and to follow them in their goals. This is often a political technique used by the media, political parties, governments, and politicians to get relevancy in the minds of the people. Although not every case of using fear to gain power leads to a dictatorship, all dictators start out this way. Jack ends up using the fear as one of his key techniques up towards the end of the novel, by stating, “He came—disguised. He may come again even though we gave him the head of our kill to eat. So watch; and be careful” (160), and when questioned on if they had killed the beast the previous night Jack yells, “No! How could we–kill–it?” (160), which further solidifies how reliable and integral fear is to his dictatorship. If the beast dies, then his authority dies as he has nothing to “protect” them from anymore. A dictator cannot take over a nation in an instant, magically. Hitler’s rise was no mistake, and neither was Stalin’s. They had to build up from the very bottom, by using the same people they eventually hurt to lift them up onto their thrones.
This same idea is seen again. Instead of attempting to portray himself as the ender of the fear he himself created, Jack later goes even further to portray himself as an authority. An authoritarian figure like Jack is able to provide an enemy to hate; an other to blame, and everybody knows that when bad things happen, people want someone to blame. Ralph, the establishment, tells Jack, the new authority, that if the beast attacked even he would hide, and wouldn’t lead. This angers Jack so much, that he openly asks the crowd of boys to impeach Ralph. When they don’t, he storms off to the forest in a fit of rage after announcing that he was done with the tribe. Jack’s hunters and some older boys join him later on, following him on a hunt. Jack’s new tribe has a successful pig hunt, which he then uses to his advantage. He offers that any defectors from Ralph’s tribe can join his new one, in an attempt to entice them. Of course, many follow. He has the defectors wear paint and masks to make them hard to identify, which gives the boys a liberating effect. Their issues with Ralph magnify, and they begin to see Jack as their guide. Towards the end of the book, we can tell that the propagandist side of Jack has been working tirelessly. While Jack’s tribe was hunting Ralph down, Ralph managed to attack a savage. Another savage recited some of Jack’s revolutionist propaganda to the wounded savage: “See? I told you—he’s dangerous,” (194) indicating that Jack must’ve been manipulating his tribe by making Ralph’s image seem dangerous and evil–something that must be eliminated for their safety. This is a technique used by other totalitarian dictators to get into power. Hitler painted those he hated, such as those with disabilities, the LGBTI, and especially the Jewish people, as being an evil that had to be eliminated to “purify” the world. Stalin wished to rid the world of those who opposed him, so he had propagandists create “art” that created anti-capitalist sentiments in the country, something Chairman Mao did as well. Jack’s offerings of food and leadership give his followers a feeling that he is a strong, authoritarian leader that must be respected, and is worthy of that respect. Jack helped turn his followers into savages with a sort of anonymity, something that can be observed in social media, or in large political rallies, where people give into their inner desires when they know they won’t get caught as an individual.
Besides using propaganda, Jack went further to the point of beating his own people to assert his dominance. One of his victims was a boy named Wilfred. One of the only times Wilfred was ever mentioned was when Roger said, “He’s going to beat Wilfred,” (159) and when asked why he simply responded, “I don’t know. He didn’t say. He got angry and made us tie Wilfred up. He’s been … he’s been tied for hours, waiting—” (159), indicating that Jack probably beat him to set an example of a beating. His boys knew that if they were to go against him, they would end up like Wilfred. Furthermore, towards the end of the novel, Sam and Eric, the twins, helped out Jack by giving him food when he was hiding from Jack’s tribe. Roger, Jack’s right-hand man then took them and tortured them: “While he was eating, he heard fresh noises–cries of pain from Samneric, cries of panic, angry voices” (191), showing that Jack fully intends on harming those who don’t do as he says, something Stalin was notorious for doing. Stalin starved millions of rebellious farmers, and killed opposing government officials and had their identities destroyed from any official records. Kim Jong-un had his uncle executed and wiped from photos. This further ties Jack to the image of a totalitarian dictator. Fascist dictators are well known for their abuses of power, such as when Stalin starved seven million of Ukrainian farmers who opposed his tyranny, or when Mao’s revolution worked, starved, and beat 45 million Chinese to death. Dictators are obsessed with keeping their power, because if they let the opposition have any power, their power would crumble. If Jack had let Sam and Eric aid Ralph without consequences, and if he hadn’t beat Wilfred to send a message, his savages would easily turn on him and establish their own dictatorships that would topple and rise continuously. In order for him to keep his power, he had to show it.
Jack, throughout the novel, represented a fascist, authoritarian, totalitarian dictator. He used propaganda and fear to take power, used fear and violence to stay in power, and used violence against those who weren’t loyal to him. He used the fictional being, the beast, to take power and to rebel. Then he spread lies about Ralph to ensure he would fall, and to ensure that he would be the target of everyone on the island. Then he tortured Wilfred to show his immense power and control, which was later used on Sam and Eric for aiding Ralph, all to prevent rebellion against his regime. All of these techniques to take power and ensure one keeps it are the same ones used by almost all dictators, such as Stalin, Hitler, and Mao. They bring out the anger, rage, and distrust in people to cause a revolution which establishes a cult of personality around themselves, causing the animalistic parts of people that are incompatible with civilized society to spill out. Jack is one of the most textbook cases of a dictator, yet he is one of the hardest to recognize as all the key signs, as the dismantling of civil rights and the domination of a single political party can’t apply to the setting of an island with a bunch of children running around on it. Jack caused a revolution, instilled fear in the people and maintained it, used propaganda to paint the opposition as the absolute enemy, and used violence to prevent the dismantling of his power. When people interacted with him, they felt his power, his charisma, and his general aura for sure. Jack is one of the best executed fictional dictators in literature, which should provide an easily digestible base for authors to use to write their own excellent fictional dictators.