Panopticon in Lord of the Flies
The Panopticon theory. Imagine there is a prison with no bars, no chains, no guards patrolling around, but there is a watchtower which can see into every cell. It has one-way glass so no one can see in, and only zigzag pathways to walk through. The prisoners can be watched at any time and don’t know whether they are or not. The theory is that in this prison, there will be no violence, rowdiness, or other such behavior. Instead, the prisoners police themselves in fear of being watched. This is seen in daily life when someone uses foul language around friends but as soon as they drive up to their house, the swearing stops. In William Golding’s, Lord of the Flies, a group of English boys survive a plane crash onto a deserted island with no adults surviving. While they were members of society, these kids were good citizens. After being on the island for a while, the boys become savages. When the boys first arrived at the island they were innocent and didn’t intend to hurt anyone. However, living with no real rules and no one to enforce them, the boys realized they could do whatever they wanted and not have any consequences. The boys had no fear of being watched so they lost their ability to police their actions. In William Golding’s, Lord of the Flies, the boys had no fear of being watched and no society to restrict their actions, the boys lost their ability to police their actions and did not police their savagery or avoid running around like the uncivilized while on the island. It is seen that on the island there is no civilization to keep the boys in check. Since there is no real civilization the boys lost the ability to police themselves. No civilization means no rules, and even though the boys made rules themselves there was no one on the island that could enforce them. The rules carried no real weight.
This is seen with most conch discussions. The first rule created is that one can only speak if they have the conch in these meetings. This law is first amended when Ralph decides he is chief, so he can speak whether he has the conch or not. If Ralph, the chief everyone looks up to, won’t abide by the rules who will? The rules are changed again when the others in the group, mainly Jack, decide that they won’t follow the conch rules either. The boys are all on the mountain after the first attempt to make a fire with Piggy’s specs. Jack becomes angry because he believes Piggy was useless during that attempt. Jack expresses his anger saying, “A fat lot you tried…you just sat” (Golding 42). After Simon defends him, Piggy wants to speak because he has the conch but, Jack changes the rules saying, “The conch doesn’t count on top of the mountain…so you shut up” (42). Jack has no real respect for the rules and this leads others to have the same view. The boys regularly break the rules made by the group and have no fear of consequences for their actions. This is illustrated in many instances and is clearly expressed when Jack lets the fire go out. Jack decides to go off and try to hunt a pig instead of tending to the fire and when a ship passed by the island, there was no smoke to alert them. Ralph had an argument with Jack about why he let the fire go out but all Ralph could say was, “All right. Light the fire” (72). Although Jack made a huge mistake and could have prevented all the savagery, there was not a real consequence for him.
Lastly on the island there was no real leader with real authority. There was a vote to elect a chief for the boys but when Ralph got elected he wielded no real power or authority. Ralph can’t give out consequences and people do not always follow what he says. Jack regularly challenges him and what he says. This can also be seen when he wants to build huts on the beach, at first all the boys worked together but eventually everyone left except for Ralph and Simon, who built the huts which would be beneficial for the whole group. Ralph expresses this to Jack saying, “I work all day with Simon…All the rest rushed off” (54). Since no one stayed to help but Simon it can be deduced that Ralph holds no real power. The boys on the island have no civilization, no rules, no consequences and no ability to police themselves. After living without civilization for a while, these boys become savages, kill people, and forget how British citizens behave. There are many instances where the boys lose their innocence in favor of savagery. Jack’s clan of hunters have already killed Piggy and Simon, and are preparing to hunt Ralph. Ralph was the strongest leader and opposed savagery, but when he was faced with death, even he lost his civilized mind when Ralph decided how he would attempt to survive his man-hunt, “He wondered if a pig would agree,” with him (197). Even Ralph couldn’t think like a regular human after being on the island for so long. After being deserted, the boys had no problem killing both Simon and Piggy and attempting to kill Ralph before the naval officer caught them. Furthermore, Jack and his tribe had no remorse when Piggy was slaughtered. Instead of feeling guilt Jack only says, “See? See? That’s what you’ll get! I meant that!” then, “Viciously, with full intention, he hurled his spear at Ralph,” (181). The boys lost sense of civility. They went from upstanding British children to being savages.
The beginning of this shift is when Jack paints his face and stalks pigs like a predator. The complete loss of civility comes when Roger is preparing to kill Ralph. He felt the need to kill Ralph and lost all morals when, “Roger sharpened a stick at both ends,” (190). This shows the final transformation where there is no going back. There are many points in the novel where it seems that the boys may still have civility however savagery still resides. Some believe that a panoptic idea is still present with the boys on the island but it was actually discarded. Others believe that Ralph was not corrupted by the society created on the island. Some suggest that there was still a shred of civility left in each of the boys. The idea of the Panopticon staying on the island with the boys is seen where Roger decided to bully Henry and gathered rocks to throw at him, “Roger gathered a handful of stones and began to throw them. Yet there was a space round Henry…into which he dare not throw,” (62). While this does show that early on Roger still does know what is right and wrong to do, but this is also the same Roger that later on will go on to push the rock on Piggy, “with a sense of delirious abandonment,” (180). The boys do seem to have a sense of right, wrong, and civility but these ideas are later replaced with savagery and hate. Ralph, however, seemed to be an incorruptible boy on the island. While this may seem true because he never gives into Jack and joins his clan. Ralph also never truly wants to hunt another. He is, however, corrupted with savagery at the end of the story when, “Ralph picked up his stick and prepared for battle,” (192). This is when Ralph gives in, realizing there is no more reason, no more civilization, and nothing to save him but his stick. Ralph knew that giving in to the savagery and fighting his way out was the only way to defend himself. This is the point savagery gets into his heart. It seems that somewhere deep down all the boys were still civilized and wanted to keep their civilization going. The thought is that no matter how bad the situation got the boys still had innocence in them. This is true early on but the last bit of civility on the island is lost when Piggy is killed. Not only was Piggy killed by the boulder but, “the conch exploded into a thousand white fragments and ceased to exist,” (181). The conch was the last sign of civilization left of the island. When the conch was destroyed civilization on the island ends.
In conclusion, William Golding’s Lord of the Flies portrayed a setting where a panoptic icon did not follow the boys from Britain to the deserted island, as a result the boys lost their ability to police themselves. Without a constant fear of being watched reminding people to do right, people can forget about civilization and live as savages. For this reason, some form of civilization is crucial for citizens to live in harmony. The boys in the novel serve as a microcosm of what life would be like if civilization collapsed. The world would fall apart just as it did on the deserted island. The loss of civilization lead to the loss of innocence within the boys. The loss of innocence also revealed the evil that was lying deep within them. Civilization is something humans can’t live without, it polices people while people police themselves. Without the constant watching eye that is civilization, the evil that lurks deep under the surface runs amuck. Lord of the Flies teaches the reader that no one can be trusted when stripped of their panoptic influence.
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