Roger sharpened a stick at both ends.“Cry of the Hunters,” Lord of the Flies, William Golding
Oh, boy. A stick sharpened at both ends. You know what that means, right? One end for the head, the other to stick in the ground. And who are the boys hunting in this final chapter?
A stick sharpened at both ends.
Ralph lies in a covert (like a pig), knowing that if he’s found, he will be stabbed to death.
How did things get to this point? How did the boys go from building shelters, getting water, building sandcastles, and swimming . . . to this?
Humans have done (and are doing) some horrific things to each other, and I do find myself asking How did things get to this point?
And we think of ourselves, here, and just know that we’d never do something so bad as take the life of another human. We’re good, honest people after all.
I think the point of this chapter is to show that even “good” humans can get to an unrecognizably evil point.
In the Hidden Brain podcast “Everybody Lies, And That’s Not Always A Bad Thing,” guest Dan Ariely talks about how it’s not about humans being good or evil, honest or dishonest — it’s about opportunity. He gives an example of cyclist Joe Papp who ended up becoming a drug user and a drug dealer. The compelling part of the story is that it all began with Papp simply filling a prescription for EPO (a drug that increases red blood cells — i.e., energy) that his doctor ordered and that insurance covered. Something seemingly mundane and completely justifiable. But something that would lead him down the path to eventually become someone who imports EPO from China for himself and others. He becomes a drug user and a drug dealer. But Ariely assures us that even though Papp ended up doing things that are deemed “bad,” that there’s so much good in humans — more good than bad, actually. So Ariely might agree with Ralph when Ralph, thinking back to the murder of Simon and Piggy, says, “No. They’re not as bad as that. It was an accident.” Ariely might just say “opportunity” instead.
So the boys on the island are hunting Ralph, and have realized that the best way to catch him is to smoke him out. They light a fire. I should rephrase that. They light the island on fire.
And then out of nowhere, we have God from the machine — deus ex machina — AKA, a uniformed naval officer who appears and saves all the boys, especially Ralph, just in the nick of time. How lovely! Ralph was about to be murdered and beheaded, and the boys were literally burning down their home, the island (conveniently, this is what alerts the officer to the island — you know, an entire island in flames and smoking). Before the officer appeared, things were looking grim for the boys.
The officer asks the boys if anyone’s been killed (they say two, forgetting the boy with the mulberry birthmark) and how many of them are there (they don’t know — remember, Piggy tried to get a list but everyone scattered to build that very first fire). The officer seems surprised (“I would have thought that a pack of British boys … would have put up a better show than that…”). It’s all about the “show” to the officer, and he’s disappointed that the boys haven’t put up a better one.
But is that what it’s about? Putting on a good show? This diction is alarming. It makes you think that maybe this naval officer believes killing humans is just part of a good “war show,” full of heroes overcoming the evil villains. And if we think of war in that way, it’s palatable. It becomes a movie, a show, about the good guys winning.
And it’s justifiable.
But it gets tricky when throughout our human history we have had to justify murdering people. Something just doesn’t seem right about it.
Golding ponders in Notes on Lord of the Flies that even though the officer rescues the boys in the midst of a manhunt, “who will rescue the adult and his cruiser?” In other words, that’s nice that the manhunt got thwarted, but who’s going to thwart THE WAR?
Who will rescue the adult and his cruiser?
It’s the *big question* of the entire book, and the one that should resonate with you long after you finish reading.
And in the middle of them, with filthy body, matted hair, and unwiped nose, Ralph wept for the end of innocence, the darkness of man’s heart, and the fall through the air of the true, wise friend called Piggy.
And while Ralph weeps for the end of innocence and the darkness of man’s heart, I implore you to hold fast to what is good. As we end out on this series of posts, I’d like to leave you with some prayers from the book Prayer: Forty Days of Practice by Justin McRoberts and Scott Erickson:
May I have the courage
to expect good for my life
And resilience if and when
those expectations are disappointed.
May love and forgiveness for others
be less and less optional.
Even in conflict, may I see people
Instead of problematic.
May I have the eyes to see this
as a good world in need of
Rather than a bad world and
an obstacle to my personal peace