William Golding always believed that without the confines of civilization, man would revert to savagery. He used "British" schoolboys to confirm the idea as there is an expectation of decency. Even Jack - eager to assert himself as the ultimate hunter reminds the boys that "we're not savages.We're English."
This makes the ending all the more intense as the same boys whom the naval officer thinks are having "fun and games" are facing the fact that there is the potential for evil in ALL mankind. The boys are changed forever and Ralph , particularly, feels his isolation as he weeps.
Joseph Conrad uses his personal experience to relate his story and it also explores the depth and brutality within the human soul. The capacity for a person to treat another person so inhumanly is explored in both. The treatment of the Africans, enslaved by the British in Heart of Darkness compares to the boys' treatment of Simon - having no respect for human life. The fact that the boys in Lord of the Flies were so disconnected with reality to not realize that it was in fact Simon further compounds the issue as they are educated and supposedly "civilized" and , in the words of the naval officer, "...a pack of British boys...would have been able to put up a better show than that..." Similarly, in Heart of Darkness, surely more could be expected of the British than "a wanton smash-up."
In Heart of Darkness, Kurtz could be compared to "the Beast" in Lord of the Flies. Both are revered, their strength and capacity something of a myth. The are both somehow sacred, feared but fascinating and represent the unknown. There is a desire to find or meet them but also a problem because, once "found" the myth will be dispelled.
The savages that surround Kurtz are not unlike the boys as "savages appeared, painted out of recognition....They carried spears..."
The rescue of Kurtz removes his status as some sort of god but the story falls short of explaining to his fiancee that the life she thought he lived was not the reality. The reality for the boys escapes the naval officer who still thinks the boys have had some sort of adventure "Like Coral Island."
‘‘The horror! The horror!’’ sums up the situation in both novels as the ending really is just the beginning of something else. There is a sinister calm but "the lie" will be perpetuated. Both novels tell a a story and provide a warning but whether man is really listening is debatable as the "darkness" still exists.
Lord of the Flies Theme of Innocence
(Click the themes infographic to download.)
The boys of Lord of the Flies are stranded on the island at just the right age (between six and twelve, roughly) to drop the idealism of youth and face the real world. How convenient. And what better place to do so than an uninhabited island free of rules, restrictions, and adults? Their real world is less the soul-killing drudgery of a 9-5 job, property taxes, and a baby who won't sleep through the night than the savagery of untamed human nature—but it's a loss of innocence all the same, when we (and the kids) realize that there's nothing innocent about childhood, after all. The novel ends with its main character, Ralph, weeping for "the end of innocence, the darkness of man's heart."
Lord of the Flies Video >
Questions About Innocence
- At what point in the novel does Ralph start thinking that mankind is inherently evil? Do other characters come to the same conclusion?
- Are the terms "mankind" and "man's heart" used interchangeably in this novel? What might be the difference between the two terms?
- When Ralph talks about the "darkness of man's heart," is this a cop-out? Do you think it's easier for Ralph to think man is inherently evil than realize that all the boys, including Ralph, have chosen to be violent and hurtful?
- Is Golding suggesting that children aren't actually innocent?
Chew on This
Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.
In Lord of the Flies, Simon is the only truly innocent character—which is why he's mercilessly slaughtered.
The children become savage and animalistic over the course of the novel, but they're not actually evil. In fact, the more animalistic they become, the more innocent they are: like animals, they simply don't know better.