Hurricane Katrina left New Orleans a ghost town (August-September 2005) and for a few days law and order were absent from some parts of the city. In such cases the veneer of civilization that covered the darker aspects of human nature were peeled away. Such is the basic theme of William Golding’s 1954 novel The Lord of the Flies. Just as the British naval ship arrived to bring civilization back to the island on which a group of British children had descended into savagery,the National Guard restored order to New Orleans. Civilization once again triumphed over evil. Or so it might seem.
Remember the protagonists in The Lord of the Flies?Piggy and Jack—symbolize the opposite extremes of human behavior. Piggy demands adherence to the rules he grew up with: respect for others, hierarchy of responsibility and compassion. Jack represents the hedonistic side of human nature: If it’s fun, do it. The third character, Ralph, represents the dilemma of political leadership in a democracy. On the one hand, Ralph tries to satisfy the wishes of the other children on the island. On the other, he knows that certain rules of behavior and stewardship must prevail or anarchy and primitivism will triumph.
The darkness of the novel was undoubtedly a result of Golding’s experience of the tragedy of World War II, when the governments of Europe seemed powerless to avoid the disaster of war. Similarly, American government officials could not persuade all of the people of New Orleans to abandon the city for their own safety,
Humanity will continue to experience the chaos and violence so vividly portrayed in The Lord of the Flies until we can rewrite the story which provides the context for humanity’s future. Tragedy is built into the human narrative. We believe we are on a jungle island and only the fittest will survive. Get it while the getting is good and look out for number one. This scenario is not any more consistent with reality than Golding’s island was for those boys, but as long as we think that it is—it is. “Without adult supervision, they organize themselves into rival tribes, learn to hunt and kill, and eventually become murderous barbarians in the absence of a civilizing structure.”
There is no British ship-of-war coming to rescue humanity—we are it. We bring order to our global village or the growing anarchy we see around the world will continue to deliver suffering. Our story could have a happy ending—but so far we are opting for the dark conclusion.
References and notes are available for this article.
For a much more in-depth discussion on Simple Reality, read Simple Reality: The Key to Serenity and Survival, by Roy Charles Henry, published in 2011.