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Born Evil or Made Evil?
The question regarding whether humans are naturally good or evil becomes a topic of discussion when people see something morally wrong happen in their lives and then start to wonder why some people do bad things. They begin to question: are humans naturally born evil it is an internal condition that is actually subjugated by the rules and norms of society? Or are humans in fact, instinctively good people and the evil that is encountered is an external condition that occupies our goodness? In the novel, Lord of the Flies, written by William Golding, a group of young private school boys become stranded on an island where their means of survival are limited. When they arrive, most of the boys were decent kids, however, after living on the island for just a few days, the reader is able to see how the change in the boys’ surroundings affects their attitude towards others and the situation as a whole. A new climate can impact how people think and act towards others. Therefore, humans are inherently and fundamentally good people until they are tempted by evil or exposed to a corrupt environment.
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There have been experiments done with babies to suggest this idea that every person is born inherently good. It also shows that babies can tell the difference between good and evil and when given the choice, they will choose good every time. In an article, “Do babies know good from evil,” they tested this idea on a ten-month-old, an eight-month-old, and a three-month-old. One baby would watch as a ball tried to climb up a hill. As ball is trying to go up, either a square would be blocking its way, or a triangle could try to help the ball. When asked to choose between the square or the triangle, the babies chose triangle every time. Within this article presented by the New York Post in 2013, the composer of the piece, Susannah Cahalan quotes psychologist and cognitive scientist at Yale University, Paul Bloom, who recites, “…babies have a general appreciation of good and bad behavior, one that spans a range of interactions, including those that the babies most likely have never seen before.” Essentially, people are born good but they don’t always stay that way. As children, we “have a general appreciation of good and bad behavior” and understand what is right and what is wrong. Even babies who don’t know how to talk yet know if something is immoral and unethical which means we today understand that, but our way of seeing things might be skewed based on past experiences. Obstacles people face will affect how we turn out and how we treat others.
This idea is shown in Lord of the Flies when the boys get stranded on the island and are forced to change their way of living. In the beginning of the novel, the boys on the island are young and innocent kids. One of the books main antagonist, Jack, has done multiple horrendous things throughout the novel, however, even Jack can be shown as a relatively sane person when they first arrive on the island. On page 31 in Chapter 1, the boys become aware of how hungry they are, so Jack goes out and tries to kill a pig for dinner. “Jack drew his knife again with a flourish… There came a pause, a hiatus… The pause was only long enough for them to understand what an enormity the downstroke would be.” Jack hesitating to kill the pig in the beginning of the novel, it shows that he still has some humanity left in him. When there “came a pause,” it demonstrates that the thought of killing the pig was too much for Jack to handle but then promises to finish next time because the shame of not following through is worse. Jack is still a normal person who understands the difference between what is right and what is wrong because he has only been on the island a few days. The longer he and the rest of the boys are there, the more their moral compass will collapse.
As the novel progresses though, Jack and the rest of the boys lose their humanity after coming to the realization that they are most likely not going to get off the island. This means they have to completely change their ways of living from how it was before. Once they recognize this predicament, they start to doubt one another and disregard all of the rules they had set in place. Their new mindset is that they don’t need order any more. Jack is one of the first boys to neglect the rules, causing the little guidelines left on the island, to disappear completely. He becomes malicious and does not care about anyone but himself, being controlled by his pursuit of individual happiness. This new environment that he and all the boys are forced to adapt to, forces their savagery instincts to come out. When Jack begins to talk about killing a pig, “The madness came into [Jack’s] eyes again. ‘I thought I might kill’” (57). Jack claims he needs to kill the pigs so all the boys can eat but when he talks about killing the pigs, “madness came into his eyes.” The boys, who had previously chosen Ralph as their leader, are now starting to lean towards Jack to take over since they can’t stand the hunger anymore. At that moment, they have given themselves over to the barbaric ways. Food is a necessity, so they have to get some, but it is how they get the food that is concerning. When the boys were killing the bore, “She blundered into a tree, forcing a spear still deeper; and after that any of the hunters could follow her easily by the drops of vivid blood” (135). The boys have gone from understandable food related slaughter to something totally different. The hunt is no longer about just having meat to eat, rather bathing in their power over a helpless animal. Being on the island has forced Jack and the rest of the hunters have become inhumane by performing these horrible acts to the pig like “forcing a spear” into her. They could just do what is reasonable and respectful by killing it quickly just to eat, but they instead, they terrorized and played with it like a toy. All of the boys have gone through a series of unfortunate circumstances and because of that, they decide that the only way they are going to survive is to have evil overpower them.
While there are many people who point to Ralph as resisting the temptation of evil, this, in fact, is not the case. Ralph is actually shown killing multiple people. When the boys began to recite their terrifying dance, Piggy and Ralph joined them, “Piggy and Ralph, under the threat of the sky, found themselves eager to take a place in this demented but partly secure society” (Golding 152). Ralph made it seem like he was staying away from the hunters, but as soon as the chant and the dance started, he joined in. Ralph found himself “eager” to join the dance, which shows how he has fallen into the peer pressure, resulting him to participate in the act of murdering Simon. At this point, Ralph turned more towards savagery than civility.
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Human beings are inherently good but when fronted by evil or exposed to a different way of living that is not suitable, they will turn to evil. People are corrupt by the internal pressure of violence and evil human nature. Although individuals are born with a good set of morals, depending on the environment, including who they choose to associate yourself with, they will begin to stray away from the good. The Lord of the Flies shows how being presented by the conflict of being on the island caused all of the boys to have heinous behavior. Essentially, there is evil in everyone, however, it is not necessary to express that emotion in a violent manner and we need to stay civilized in order to have a somewhat safe and secure life.
- Cahalan, Susannah. “Do Babies Know Good from Evil?” New York Post, New York Post, 26 Oct. 2013, nypost.com/2013/10/26/do-babies-know-good-from-evil/.
Golding, William G. Lord of the Flies. New York, Berkley Publishing Group, 1954.
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