In the novel, Lord of the Flies, it is the “beast” which is the most important and symbolic. It remains, whether considered real or imaginary by the boys on the island, a significant ‘being’. William Golding has chosen to personify the evil that is inside human beings, in the beast.
The beginnings of the idea of the beast occur, when Ralph, having been chosen by the group of boys as their leader, is now taking on his role, with an increasing confidence. He is assuring the ‘littluns’ that they will ‘have a good time’ on the island. Ralph explains that the island has everything that they could possibly need. At this point, a six year-old boy, distinguished only by a mulberry-coloured birthmark on his face, allows the seeds of apprehension, on the subject of the beast, to be planted in the boys’ minds. The little boy, with the help of Piggy, who encourages him to speak and interprets what he is saying, tells the assembly of boys that he is scared of ‘a snake-thing’. He believes that the beast turns into one of the jungle creepers during the day but becomes a snake or ‘beastie’ at nightfall. Although he tries to comfort the boy, Ralph appears to feel that this is just another childish fear, like a fear of the dark. But towards the end of this scenario, he attempts to dismiss the idea, which will cause the boys, at such an early stage, to feel any anxiety on the island.
“But there isn’t a beastie!”
Nevertheless, Ralph’s efforts do not pay off:
‘There was no laughter at all now and more grave watching.’Unfortunately for Ralph, he has lost control, due to the fact that he is powerless to prevent the boys believing in the ‘creature’, though he himself does not firmly believe in the existence of the beast:
‘Ralph was annoyed and, for the moment, defeated.’
At the end of the chapter, as the fire is spreading through the forest, the boy with the mulberry birthmark is nowhere to be found. The boys feels guilt and shame at his possible fate. It is strange that the boy who causes the idea of the beast to arise is quickly blotted out from the story. This may be an attempt by Golding to represent man’s way of dealing with situations such as these – destroying the source of the trouble. The boy’s death coincides with the littluns shouting:
“Snakes! Snakes! Look at the snakes!”
It can be said that the death of the boy, marks the beginning of the beast’.
Later, Jack, the leader of the hunters, admits that he often feels as though he is ‘not hunting but – being hunted.’ This confirms his fear of the beast. Jack however tries to portray his fear to Ralph as though ‘there’s nothing in it.’
The next chapter where the beast is of significance is in ‘Beast from Water’. Here, Ralph opens a meeting. In a plain, ordered fashion he raises several issues which he feels are central to their survival and well-being. They are practical matters which cause little argument and Ralph as elected chief, insists that the new rules which he has laid down are obeyed. The next item on Ralph’s agenda however, is ‘the fear’ or ‘the beast’. It is the only matter which Ralph allows any discussion and, understandably, the only matter about which the majority of the boys are unable to express their feelings. Although the chapter suggests that the beast is a sea creature, in ‘deciding on the fear’, a number of explanations are put forward. These range from real wild creatures, like the giant squid, to human beings as the source of the fear:
“I know there isn’t no fear, either.”
“Unless we get frightened of people.”
This statement of Piggy’s is ironic as it proposes exactly what in the end not only causes the rest of the boys to become even more fearful (as Jack becomes more powerful and brutal than Ralph), but also causes his own downfall. Unreal phenomena are also considered – fear created by the imagination, fear of evil and fear of the supernatural in the form of ghosts. It is Simon, however, who actually questions whether there really are ghosts. Unfortunately, though he feels the need to speak, he has neither the language or the opportunity to express his notions of evil. Piggy’s attempt to discount the existence of ghosts is interrupted by Jack and then put to the vote by Ralph.. This illustrates the boys’ need to know that the beast is either a real and tangible creature or not. Although he has realised that it is only the littluns who are showing the effect that the beast has had on them , Ralph has failed to act on it. The series of events to follow allow the ‘beast’ to take on a form which Jack had originally discounted – a tangible thing which can therefore be hunted.
Ten miles above them a battle is being fought and a ‘sign … from the world of grown-ups, comes down in the form of a parachutist. It lands on the mountain, near the fire where Samneric lie asleep. When they wake, they hear the sounds of the canopy against the wind. Thinking they have encountered the beast, Samneric run down the mountain and report the sighting to Ralph. Their mention of the beast’s teeth and claws, its eyes and the way “it kind of sat up” leave the other boys in no doubt that the beast is now something to be feared.
Jack’s reaction to this is one of sheer excitement at the prospect of a hunt. Piggy who previously dismissed a fear of ghosts, admits to being frightened. It is clearly evident that everyone’s views on the beast have changed, since it was confirmed to be a real creature. Despite Jack’s audacity and Piggy’s theorising, neither of them show the courage of their convictions. At first Jack is keen to hunt the beast, but finally cannot do so (on the mountain near the beast, Jack shows his apprehension). Piggy is intellectually convinced that ghosts do not exist, but finally gives way to this fear. Only Ralph is able to overcome his fears of the beast. This action reflects what occurs later in the book, when Ralph is the only boy on the island whose fate is not to end his life there or become one of Jack’s hunters. The three boys Ralph, Roger and Jack who manage to catch a glimpse of the ‘great ape’ when they return to the mountain, are clearly shocked.
Simon is the next boy to have the same fate as the boy with the mulberry-coloured birthmark. Having formed his own group, separate from the conch group, Jack tells his hunters that they will forget about the beast. He does this by killing a pig and having a feast. Once this is over, Jack guts the pig and as ‘Chief’, instructs the boys to place the pig’s head on a stick as a gift for the beast. This act signifies the fact that Jack feels that the beast must be served and accommodated and so the Lord of the Flies (the pig’s head on a stick) becomes its shrine. There is a grudging acceptance of, and respect for the being which has been raised to the status of deity. It is almost as though there is a parallel between the way the boys defer to their ‘god’ – the Lord of the Flies – and the way that they idolise Jack. He is, in a sense, lord over them. Meanwhile, Simon has wondered off to find a place of his own. He stumbles across the pig’s head and he begins to communicate with it both verbally and with a silent understanding (though Simon could be hallucinating). His understanding, however, goes beyond that expressed in normal speech and thought.
When Simon encounters the flyblown body of the parachutist, he, unlike Samneric, knows that he has discovered the truth. He frees the dead airman, by disentangling the parachute lines and decides to return to the group of boys to give them the good news. However, as he emerges from the undergrowth with his discovery of the dead man on the hill, he is caught in the middle of the dance, which all the boys are fully engrossed in. They use him as their ‘pig’, and in the frenzy, he is killed. As the rain stops, the tied washes Simon’s body out to sea as well. It is definite that there is more than one factor that led to Simon’s death: firstly, the notion of the ‘beast’ and secondly, the boys’ change from organised and ordered to uncivilised and almost primitive. Like, the boy with the mulberry birthmark
Simon is destroyed, though this time it is because he has discovered the truth. The beast represents what Ralph calls ‘the darkness of man’s heart’. This is the ‘beast’ present in each of us – the capacity for evil and wrongdoing. The boys’ recognition of evil, is embodied in the sacrificed they make after each kill. The pig’s head symbolises all of this to Simon, and also the cynicism of adults and the superficiality of their world. It is Simon who sees the parachutist as personifying the capacity of adults for death and destruction. The beast was a creation of the boys’ own imaginations. Many people do not want to look inside themselves and do not want to acknowledge this aspect of their nature, look for something external to be its cause.