Nature Friend Or Foe
Lord of the Flies, by William Golding, is a story of the devolution of a group of boys stranded on a tropical island which offers many insights into human nature and loss of innocence. Golding continuously employs nature in manners that either instill or intensify fear in the characters by creating an atmosphere of unease. The outdoor setting achieves this atmosphere by foreshadowing, demonstrating how nature works against man, and showing how it parallels man’s emotional states, thereby causing panic among the boys.
Golding’s use of foreshadowing in nature is the cause of much tension and agitation, both for the reader and among the boys. Parallels to paradise are evident and lead several characters to increasingly fear their situation. To describe the island, Ralph makes reference to an Eden-like setting in stating, “Here at last was the imagined but never fully realized place leaping into real life” (Golding 14). Initially the island seems perfect, which creates some trepidation among the more perceptive characters (Ralph, Simon, and Piggy) as they realize the ramifications they might incur should they ruin their paradise and ultimately be cast out of it, like Adam and Eve were from Eden. Nature is also compared to war at many times throughout the novel, foretelling the fearsome brutality to come. Nature is linked to war when it is stated that, “High up among the bulging clouds thunder went off like a gun” (126). While the boys are clearly frightened by the approaching storm, the use of such violent language is also deeply significant in contributing to their panic. The boys are trapped on the island after escaping the war-plagued England, and yet they are now being subjected to an aggressive environment which can only make them recall the intense terror that they faced in their home country. Ralph’s fear of Jack’s final forest fire is the partial product of foreshadowing. Describing the accidental forest fire of their first days on the island, the narrator states, “Beneath the dark canopy of leaves and smoke the fire laid hold on the forest and began to gnaw” (40). Fire is established not only as an element crucial to their rescue, but also as something dangerous and unpredictable. Fire has a mysterious hold over the more civilized part of camp, just as hunting has control of Jack’s tribe. Because the child with the birthmark was killed during the first forest fire, the terror Ralph is feeling when the island is set on fire for the second time is intensified. Foreshadowing is used both in the narration and the events that occur, which, although not often stated or acknowledged, serves to increase the tribe’s apprehension concerning their situation.
Nature often predicts the eventual outcome of the novel, but it also works against man in ways which allow unease to brew in the children. The fact that the novel is set on an uninhabited island, where tendencies toward civility are more easily ignored, greatly hinders the boys’ chances of survival. It is this notion that begins to terrorize the boys early on. When the old rules no longer apply and the fear is mounting, it is quite easy for the boys to forget themselves and become their own worst enemies. To demonstrate this transformation, the narrator says, “Piggy and Ralph, under the threat of the sky, found themselves eager to take part in this demented but partly secure society” (152). After they have lived on the island for an extended period of time, the boys realize that it has progressively deteriorated from being an exciting oasis to a terrifying, hellish prison. “‘We may stay here till we die.’ With that word the heat seemed to increase till it became a threatening weight and the lagoon attacked them with a blinding effulgence” (14). Many descriptions compare the island to hell, among them the blistering heat, the beast, and their inescapable surroundings. The concept of the island morphing from heaven to hell before their eyes is what instigates the main build-up of panic, as some characters become aware that their fear is brought on by themselves. The contrast between the darkness and the light is yet another source of dread. “‘He says the beastie came in the dark” (33). The beast is the one tangible cause for fear on the island, and it is born from the darkness. In the novel, light symbolizes rationality. The beast only comes into existence at night, hinting that the beast lives only while irrationality reigns. Thus, the fear of the beast is a direct display of the frightening effect nature has on the boys. Although nature works against man in many small ways, its more significant effects occur through the state of mind that is forced upon the boys by the island.
Another less noticeable origin of fear is the use of nature to parallel the emotional states of the boys. The way the island appears to them is the way they see themselves, which frightens Ralph and Piggy as they realize what they are becoming. Upon arriving, the narrator states, “A kind of glamour was spread over them and the scene and they were conscious of the glamour and made happy by it” (25). When they first arrive, excited by the prospect of adventure, the island is lush and beautiful. The beauty of the island parallels the children’s anticipation, but as the boys grow less and less fond of the island, it becomes more and more menacing. During Simon’s murder, a storm is raging. “Then the clouds opened and let down the rain like a waterfall” (139). This statement occurs as the children descend on Simon, beating him to death. While the boys are in a violent frenzy, so is nature. The island is often likened to a person, which frightens Ralph because it signifies that the effects sustained by the island are parallel to those sustained by the boys. After the death of Simon, the narrator states, “…already the blood was staining the sand” (139). The island will be permanently affected by Simon’s brutal murder and the other horrendous events that occurred, as will the boys. The link between the boys’ emotions and nature is something that is deeply troubling to the children and enhances the uneasy atmosphere in the novel.
From somewhat alarming to completely horrendous, the effects of nature on the children are clear. Fear is induced by nature in the three main ways discussed: predicting the outcome of the novel, providing something against which the boys must struggle, and assuming the emotional conditions of the boys. Ultimately, nature encourages the characters’ fear not only of their situation, but also of themselves and of the terror that is entirely self-inflicted.
Golding, William. Lord of the Flies. London: Faber and Faber Books. 1954.