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Lord of the Flies Essay on Savagery

By tiffanykuo801 Sep 12, 2012 1838 Words
A Dissipation of Rationality
Savagery, a word commonly used to describe the concept of human beings behaving like wild beasts, forces humans to succumb to their baser needs. Golding’s World War II era novel, Lord of the Flies uses savagery to describe the final stage the boys on the island achieve after any sense of organized civilization is eradicated from the island. O’ Brien’s short story, The Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong, depicts an innocent, American girl, Mary Anne, who submits to savagery during her stay in Vietnam. Mary Anne’s manifestation of savagery is derived from her personal experience while the boys on the island’s savagery originate from a dark human instinct. The initiation into savagery for both the boys in Lord of the Flies and Mary Anne is a gradual process, starting with subtle hints that eventually erupt into animalistic violence. Near the beginning of the novel, Roger, who was previously bullying the young children on the beach, “stooped, picked up a stone, aimed, and threw it at Henry- threw it to miss...yet, there was a space round Henry, perhaps six yards in diameter, into which he dare not throw. Here, invisible yet strong, was the taboo of the old life.”(62, Golding) As the boys have just arrived on the island, the prior rules and restrictions of society in Roger’s household still cling onto him and forbid him from attempting something so unacceptable. This conscience of wrongdoing gradually disappears as the events progress through the novel. Near the conclusion of the novel, the same boy, Roger, says “(Jack’s) going to beat Wilfred,” followed by “He got angry and made us tie Wilfred up. He’s been…he’s been tied up for hours, waiting.”(159, Golding) While Roger is saying this, he also giggles excitedly about the enthusiasm he feels for the violence against the young-uns. Roger, who previously has inhibitions about throwing pebbles at the young-uns, now sees doing things that are perceived as being taboo as enjoyable and finally immerses himself into a stage of absolute savagery. Similarly, the drastic transformation of Mary Anne into barbarity begins with vague suggestions of her future transition. Mary Anne arrives as “this cute blonde- just a kid, just barely out of high school,” (104, O’ Brien), but by the second week, she “wasn’t afraid to get her hands bloody. At times, in fact, she seemed fascinated by it. Not the gore so much, but the adrenaline buzz that went with the job.” (109, O’ Brien) Already, the reader perceives a shift in character: from a young, innocent girl unaware of the situation in Vietnam to a young woman who is working with the ugliest of cases and is fascinated by the atmosphere of wartime. The further dissolution of Mary Anne into savagery is even more blatant with her joining the Green Berets in their campsite. She appears with blackened human tongues hung around her neck, telling Mark Fossie that, “Sometimes I want to eat this place. Vietnam. I want to swallow the whole country –the dirt, the death- I just want to eat it and have it there inside me… I feel close feel close to myself. When I’m out there at night, I feel close to my own body…I know exactly who I am.”(121, O’ Brien) This change in Mary Anne’s attitude about being involved in the war shifts from the excitement of being with her boyfriend to fascination and interest in Vietnam and finally to a complete identification with Vietnam as a symbol of wildness. Golding and O’ Brien’s works both represent savagery as not an immediate change, but as a metamorphosis that starts with nearly unperceivable hints and ends with a complete shift in character and values. The boys on the island’s savagery derive from an inner human nature that manifests itself in an anarchic society while the savagery displayed by Mary Anne is a result of the environment of Vietnam and the war. At the beginning of the novel, the rules made by Ralph to produce a working environment guide the boys towards a civilized environment but does not completely dismantle the human nature that Maurice shows. After Maurice bullies the younger child by throwing sand in his eye, he “hurried away. In his other life Maurice had received chastisement for filling a younger eye with sand. Now, though there was no parent to let fall a heavy hand, Maurice still felt the unease of wrongdoing.” Because this scene is so early in the novel and the rules of civilization are still instigated, Maurice feels guilt for his actions but still attains pleasure from the act of harming another person. While the boys are guided by Ralph’s leadership and live according to certain dictums on the island, the pigs are hunted and killed for food. However, as the power over the tribe rotates to Jack, who epitomizes the human instinct for anarchy and discord, hunting the pigs is no longer done out of necessity but done out of pleasure. In one such scene, Jack and his hunters discover a multitude of pigs. Although there were many pigs to choose from, Jack chose to hunt a sow that was feeding her litter of young. This intention to select the pig that symbolizes helplessness and maternity suggests the absolute absence of compassion as replaced by the want of violence and destruction. In hunting down the sow, “Roger ran round the heap, prodding with his spear whenever pigflesh appeared. Jack found a lodgment for his point and began to push till he was leaning inch by inch and the terrified squealing became a high pitched scream.” (135, Golding) This description of the pig’s slaughter depicts the boys killing the sow in a superfluously violent manner, showing the reader that the boys acquire a sick sense of pleasure from killing an animal. In these events, Golding expresses the crueler, hidden side of human nature as the urge to kill, produce violence, and live a hedonistic lifestyle.  Similarly, savagery is the lack of such rules in civilization, and is commonly defined as a tendency to abandon all semblance of society and live in a manner that amplifies all of the most basic of instincts- to feed, kill, and live. Now, as the rules are abolished and forgotten, Jack and his tribe fully adopt this inner human nature and in turn, become savages. The Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong, however, contrasts Lord of the Flies in that it was the environment that forges the savagery displayed by Mary Anne. Because of the wartime environment the medics were camped in, Mary Anne “fell into the habits of the bush. No cosmetics, no fingernail filing. She stopped wearing jewelry, but her hair short and wrapped it in a dark green bandana. Hygiene became a matter of small consequence.” (109, O’ Brien) The atmosphere of the Vietnamese war forced her to espouse a way of living that was more masculine and contrasted with the pink sweater and culottes that she came to Vietnam in. Eventually, under the influence of the hostilities of war, she joins the Green Berets, a small vicious group of soldiers infamous amongst the medics for their suspicious behavior. Ralph and Piggy are able to maintain their rationality amongst the savage behavior displayed by the other boys because they counter their inner nature with ideas of rules and civilization; conversely, Mary Anne was the only character to exhibit such a deep level of savagery because her personal experience and personality contributed to the ultimate downfall of her humanity. While all of the other boys on the island are part of Jack’s tribe and mindlessly follow their instinct to kill, Piggy and Ralph are able to retain their civilized mindset. Piggy and Ralph are not exempt from the dark human nature that is very apparent in the other boys. While they came to Jack’s tribe to negotiate with Jack, they joined in on the dance and reenactment of the pig hunt, finding “themselves eager to take a place in this demented but partly secure society. They were glad to touch the brown backs of the fence that hemmed in the terror and made it governable.” (152, Golding) Piggy and Ralph, like all the other boys, find enjoyment in letting go of reasoning and giving into savagery. The group of boys then continues to behave in this wild manner and murder Simon, thinking that he is the beast. However, unlike the other boys who feel no remorse in killing Simon, Ralph feels guilt and fright, saying “that was murder,” and “didn’t you see what we- what they did?” Although Piggy is quick to defend their actions, proclaiming that “it was an accident… that’s what it was. An accident. Coming in the dark- he hadn’t no business crawling like that out of the dark. He was batty. He asked for it,” he also acknowledges the magnitude of the atrocity he took part in. Ralph and Piggy’s prominent understanding and retention of the rules present in their home country is what saves them from the savagery that took all the other boys. Unlike in Lord of the Flies, the only character to fully immerse their self into savagery is Mary Anne. Mary Anne, and not another character in the short story, was the one to become a savage because of her enthusiastic attitude about engaging herself into the war environment. “In her second week Eddie Diamond taught her how to disassemble an M-16, how the various parts worked, and from there it was a natural progression to learning how to use the weapon. For hours at a time she plunked away at C-ration cans, a bit unsure of herself…There was a new confidence in her voice, a new authority in the way she carried herself.” (109, O’ Brien) In becoming more associated with the weaponry used by the soldiers, she found herself interconnected with the war itself which prompted a change in personality from the bubbly, happy girl she was before. This easiness and trust she has with her surroundings leads her to be the only one to “(stop) for a swim in the Song Tra Bong,” (107, O’ Brien), which is the climactic metaphorical baptism that immerses Mary Anne into Vietnam. Further in the story, Mary Anne joins a group of soldiers referred to as the “Greenies”. The “Greenies” are perceived by the other soldiers as human savages, but the barbarism they show only display a form of controlled savagery, with them being aware of their actions. Mary Anne savagery appears to be more animalistic and wild, and “she stopped carrying a weapon. There were times, apparently, when she took crazy, death-wish chances- things even the Greenies balked at.” Mary Anne’s savagery is different in that she feels liberated by being a part of the land. Because Mary Anne’s situation resulted in the culmination of her environment, enthusiasm, and her “baptism”, none of the other soldiers followed the same path as Mary Anne.

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