That Which Stains the Snow
Pure white and shimmering, snow might be considered beauty incarnate. But “beauty” may not be a word suited to truly describe the icy substance. While visually attractive, snow’s appeal stems from its untainted nature. Snow possesses an innocence per se that reminds us of a long lost virtue. We reach out, instinctively almost, to touch the snow and slosh about in it with our persons. After retracting we find that the snow has become muddied and now exudes an aura of contamination.
Our human ugliness has ruined a once great treasure. But this concerns far more than simply snow. That innocence resides within all humans but dies as we are corrupted by the trials of life. Something inside ourselves, our very souls, stamps it out with vigor as our innocence is consumed by its darker brother: savagery. William Golding was quite privy to this concept and decided to forever immortalize the struggle with his novel Lord of the Flies.
The characters of Piggy, Ralph, Jack, Roger, and Simon all represent man’s struggle to retain his innocence while beating away the monster clawing at his heart. Golding employs a rich but dark symbolism to portray the intricate relationship between the forces swirling within our minds. Throughout Lord of the Flies Golding uses these symbols to show the death of innocence at the hands of savagery, the fine line between a beast and a man, and the inescapable truth that we are all forever bound by the chains of our instincts. All great things, terrible and brilliant alike, begin with a single spark. From that spark a fire will begin to grow, searing and engulfing all within its vicinity. When the boys from Golding’s novel crash land upon the island after being shot down, that spark ignites what will soon become a smoldering inferno.
The children are now free from the constraints of society, yet still struggle with the overwhelming mental prospect of absolute freedom. Within the first paragraph of the novel, Golding subtly foreshadows the beginning of the end for innocence. “All round him the long scar smashed into the jungle was a bath of heat. He was clambering heavily among the creepers and broken trunks when a bird, a vision of red and yellow, flashed upwards with a witch-like cry; and this cry was echoed by another” (Golding 7). The wreckage of the plane carrying them has left a barren scar across the island, marring the ground with felled trunks of trees and upturned soil.
Before the plane impacted upon the island, the land was pure and untainted by the impurities of man. Golding illustrates early on the conflict between good and evil and the toil of innocence to stay afloat amongst the tremulous waters of brutality. The scar symbolizes the coming stormy chaos and strife the boys will experience as their instincts are pitted against their morality. Golding does not intend for his readers to interpret the children themselves as symbols of innocence but rather as the harbingers of its demise. The earthy scar running across the island can be considered a primordial knife to the heart of sorts for both the innocence of the island and the boys themselves.
Because the scar has been borne from man, Golding implies that the spiraling descent of the boys’ innocence will come from no other source but the turmoil within their hearts. It is not the state of nature that brings out the savage in man but rather the conflict that arises when man must confront his instinct. Our civilizations and laws are developed over time, but our morality and instincts are far more primal and powerful. When the pillars supporting our governments fall, we are left with nothing more than the fundamentals of the human psyche: virtue and vice. Golding exposes the awful truth that our vices far outweigh our virtues.
There is no more potent scene to describe this tenant of philosophy than the death of Simon on pages 139 and 140. Simon had long represented the ability of man to choose to follow virtues over vice and the last semblance of morality upon the island. When he is murdered in the bloody frenzy stirred up by the hunt dance, the island loses its last traces of good. Simon’s death represents the symbolic death of innocence, not only on the island but also in the history of man itself. It is no secret that humans tend to destroy the purity of most things, including themselves.
Golding uses Simon’s untimely end as a testament to this fact. As Simon’s blood stains the silvery sand, it is finally realized that the boys have been completely devoured by the savage instincts that had once lain dormant within their souls. By showing this, Golding undertakes the task of becoming the muse of the saddest tale man has ever known: evil triumphs over good more often than not. Contrary to every fairytale ever written, the truth lives on that our instinct to destroy, just as we soil the snow, reigns over the desire to protect. Society exists to give reason and order to an otherwise frantic mass.
When humans are observed at the most basic of levels, we may or may not be surprised to find that the distinction between man and beast is far more gray than black or white. This revelation begs the question is man truly more than beast, or is he simply a wolf in sheep’s clothing? The answer lies in man’s response to his primal urges. A character such as Roger would certainly be easy to write off as more beast than man, while Simon would be just the opposite. Their actions define them along the spectrum from beast to man. Unfortunately, most of the boys fall closer to Roger’s end of the stick than Simon’s.
Roger obeyed the laws of society so long as he feared punishment, much like an animal who fears being beaten. But when the laws and subsequent punishments were removed, Roger’s true self came to light. The line separating man from beast became blurred and undefined, his brutal nature ruling over his moral obligations. Golding represented the symbolic moment when man completed the descent into beast with Piggy’s death and the breaking of the conch. “The rock struck Piggy a glancing blow from chin to knee; the conch exploded into a thousand white fragments and ceased to exist” (Golding 164).
Piggy falls to his death moments later, spilling out the contents of his brain upon the rocks below. With both Piggy and the conch gone, the boys no longer hold any traces of humanity. The death of Simon destroyed all innocence and virtue while Piggy’s death and the conch’s fracturing eliminated what little logic and reason remained. The transformation from man to beast was finally complete. In a sadistic twist of fate, animalistic brutes became more lawful in the eyes of the majority than the rules and regulations they had known their entire lives.
Golding finds it far more easy for man to embrace his inner beast than to retain his humanity. And a quick glance back through the pages of history only affirms the observation as we find countless malicious acts plaguing our past. But is it truly so effortless for man to relinquish his integrity? For most, the answer would be a grim yes but for a select few that is not the case. Simon was the purest and most righteous among the boys, but a less obvious example of the human effort to retain one’s rationality can be found in Ralph. From the beginning Ralph symbolizes the very essence of order. Ralph never truly succumbs in entirety to his inner demons as the other boys do, save Simon.
Even in the face of certain death, Ralph stands alone against the urge to abandon his humanity. Ralph’s greatest act of defiance against the gnawing shadow within comes when he topples the Lord of the Flies, the severed sow’s head that comes to represent man’s inner beast. “Fiercely he hit out at the filthy thing in front of him that bobbed like a toy and came back, still grinning into his face, so that he lashed and cried out in loathing. Then he was licking his bruised knuckles and looking at the bare stick, while the skull lay in two pieces, its grin now six feet across” (Golding 169). Ralph recognizes here that the sow’s head now represents all that he hates.
Freed of his fear of his own deterioration into beast, he strikes down the Lord of the Flies. Symbolically, Golding displays the choice all men possess when faced with either mastering or falling prey to their barbarism. Golding realized we all hold the power to save or destroy ourselves. Even if Ralph were to die at the hands of Jack, he has saved his soul by rejecting the evil inside himself. And therein lies the line between beast and man.
A beast acts upon his instinct alone, but man defines himself with the power of choice. Golding’s most critical point, his most astute observation, rests in the age old struggle between man’s civility and his despotism. No man is pure good or evil; he contains varying concentrations of both. Those concentrations are constantly warring with each other, each vying for the devotion of their host. As humans we are inherently flawed, able to see the virtue of morality but forever falling just short. No matter how small, there is always that trace of depravity that prevents us from ever achieving perfection.
That depravity is our chain of instinct and that which stains the snow. Innocence, goodness, morality; they are all only grasped for a moment before instinct’s chain restrains us from their warmth. Simon, the one who could hold on to those virtues the longest, was able to comprehend that the chains that bind us stem from our very being. When Simon comes upon the Lord of the Flies in the glade, it speaks to him in a personification of Simon’s own rejected intuition. “‘Fancy thinking the Beast was something you could hunt and kill!’ said the head. For a moment or two the forest and all the other dimly appreciated places echoed with the parody of laughter.
‘You knew didn’t you? I’m a part of you? Close, close, close! I’m the reason why it’s a no go? Why things are what they are?'” (Golding 130). Though the Lord of the Flies says it, Simon knew all along the horrible truth about man. Even within himself Simon saw the innate evil that lurks inside the heart. Try as we may, no man will ever be completely free of his instinct, the devils that haunt his soul. The Lord of the Flies became the physical manifestation of the evil that grows deep in the bowels of the soul. The Beast was never a thing any of the boys could touch, let alone kill.
The more they believed in the Beast, the closer they became to their own bestiality. The Beast resided within each of the boys, growing and feeding as they gradually forgot what it meant to be human. The boys became the titular “flies” in the name “Lord of the Flies”. They came to be governed not by Jack or Ralph but by the monsters within themselves. The Lord of the Flies is not a singular entity but rather a facet of the human mind that tempers every man, woman, and child a chain of sin that cannot be broken.
Ralph came to realize that solemn fact in the resolution of the novel. Kneeling before the naval officer come to rescue them, Ralph weeps as the horrifying truth seeps in. “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” (Golding 184). Ralph sobs not from the joy or relief of being rescued but rather for the revelation that man’s soul is forever bound to evil and shadow. The chains of instinct are something we are born with. They are not forged over time.
As Golding so aptly shows, even children are not exempt from the foulness of the human heart. The struggle between man and his instinct stretches across time immemorial. That fight, that bloody battle, will always characterize the history and future of man. We are tied to the sodden earth by the chains linked within our own smithy. Perfection can only be viewed from afar, as we are caged inside a prison of our own design.
William Golding’s Lord of the Flies gives an insight into the murky realm of the human conscience that many of us would prefer did not exist. These truths about ourselves that we so desire to deny but cannot will stalk us for eternity. We are all secretly aware of that which stains the snow. We know all too well that to exist is to be irrevocably flawed. Touching the snow will allow us to know what a perfect innocence feels like, but the moment we do all innocence is lost among the filth of the hand we extended.
It is an almost unbearable truth that humans are doomed to repeat a cycle of sin and death. But however drab Golding’s effigy of man, there lies a silver lining within his words. Among all evil, there thrives good. No matter how dark the night, a star shines somewhere in the sky. Golding, above all, wants those who decipher the pages of Lord of the Flies to understand there are two sides to every wall. Because we are not beasts at birth, we can choose the path we take.
We can decide to become a Roger or a Simon. Golding is not a pessimist but rather an optimist of the highest caliber. He writes a message to all that though the majority of man is evil, if we consider the good scattered in patches amongst the bad, man will thrive and prosper. Golding’s novel is not a prediction nor an accusation but rather a warning of the temptations life will present us. Man stains the snow more often than not, but it does not deserve to remain unmentioned that there are always gloves in which to hold the purest snow. WORK CITED Golding, William.
Lord of the Flies. Putnam Group, 1975. Print.