In viewing the various aspects of the island society in Golding’s Lord of the Flies as a symbolic microcosm of society, a converse perspective must also be considered. Golding’s island of marooned youngsters then becomes a macrocosm, wherein the island represents the individual human and the various characters and symbols the elements of the human psyche. As such, Golding’s world of children’s morals and actions then becomes a survey of the human condition, both individually and collectively.
Almost textbook in their portrayal, the primary characters of Jack, Ralph and Piggy are then best interpreted as Freud’s very concepts of id, ego and superego, respectively. As the id of the island, Jack’s actions are the most blatantly driven by animalistically rapacious gratification needs. In discovering the thrill of the hunt, his pleasure drive is emphasized, purported by Freud to be the basic human need to be gratified.
In much the same way, Golding’s portrayal of a hunt as a rape, with the boys ravenously jumping atop the pig and brutalizing it, alludes to Freud’s basis of the pleasure drive in the libido, the term serving a double Lntendre in its psychodynamic and physically sensual sense. Jack’s unwillingness to acknowledge the conch as the source of centrality on the island and Ralph as the seat of power is consistent with the portrayal of his particular self-importance. Freud also linked the id to what he called the destructive drive, the aggressiveness of self-ruin.
Jack’s antithetical lack of compassion for nature, for others, and ultimately for himself is thoroughly evidenced in his needless hunting, his role in the brutal murders of Simon and Piggy, and finally in his burning of the entire island, even at the cost of his own life. In much the same way, Piggy’s demeanor and very character links him to the superego, the conscience factor in Freud’s model of the psyche. Golding marks Piggy with the distinction of being more intellectually mature than the others, branding him with a connection to a higher authority: the outside world.
It is because the superego is dependent on outside support that Piggy fares the worst out of the three major characters in the isolation of the island. Piggy is described as being more socially compatible with adults, and carries himself with a sense of rationale and purpose that often serves as Ralph’s moral compass in crisis; although Ralph initially uses the conch to call the others, it is Piggy who possesses the knowledge to blow it as a signal despite his inability to do so. Similarly, Piggy’s glasses are the only artifact of outside technology on the island, further indication of his correlation to greater moral forces.
In an almost gothic vein, these same glasses are the only source of fire on the island, not only necessary for the boys’ rescue, but responsible for their ultimate destruction. Thus does fire, and likewise Piggy’s glasses, become a source of power. Piggy’s ideals are those most in conflict with Jack’s overwhelming hunger for power and satiation. It is in between these representations of chaos and order that Ralph falls. Golding’s depiction of Ralph as leader is analogous to Freud’s placement of the ego at the center of the psyche.
Ralph performs as the island’s ego as he must offset the raw desires of the id with the environment using the superego as a balancing tool. This definition is consistent with Ralph’s actions, patronizing Jack’s wish to hunt with their collective need to be rescued, often turning to Piggy for advice. Initially, in the relative harmony of the island society’s early emergence, Ralph is able to balance the opposing id and superego influences in order to forge a purpose: rescue. It is only as the balance devolves that the fate of the island’s inhabitants is darkly determined.
Among Ralph, Piggy and Jack exists a constant struggle to assert their particular visions over the island. As the authority of leadership by default falls to Ralph, the conch then becomes symbolic of the consciousness. Its possession rotates between Ralph and Piggy in order to determine logical courses of action for the boys. Jack however, constantly eschews the authority of the conch, consistent with Freud’s model with the id by definition remaining subconscious, but fully able to exert influence over decision-making.
Conversely, the masks and face-paints that Jack’s group of hunters come to wear are very suggestive of Freud’s image of the subconscious. The hidden and secretive nature of the boys’ faces beneath their disguises gives them a camouflage blending them into the background of the island foliage, making them imperceptible to the awareness of the self. Their actions go generally unnoticed, but still have great impact on the island as they kill and destroy, eventually overhunting the pigs they so desperately covet.
The general assembly of the island, torn between the conch and the hunters also becomes symbologically valid, becoming a menagerie of the other major human faculties, some more important than others. In Samneric comes a sense of loyalty and fraternity in the lack of unique identity between the twins and their fidelity to Ralph, even when captured and brutalized by Jack’s hunters. In Roger’s single-minded devotion to the bloody, gory spirit of the hunt lies a ruthless viciousness that even Jack must rely on to achieve his dark agenda.
Simon’s loss of emotional coherence and his revelation give him a fragility coupled with a wisdom that make him an almost neurotic flaw in the cohesiveness of island society; he is ironically the strongest and the weakest link of the chain in his unique understanding of their situation. The older boys then are the dominant faculties of the psyche, variably giving fealty to each of the three major forces of the id, ego and superego. As the biggest, strongest and smartest on the island, they are the source of accomplishment and achievement, both constructive and destructive.
The emotions and human qualities manifested in the “littleuns” seem almost repressed in comparison, congruous with their relative ineffectuality. Their nightmares and uneasiness impress a sense of fear, weakness and anxiety, while allayed, still spread to even the most mature of the island to some extent. Among the masses of boys, Golding interpolates other images passingly suggestive of Freudian psychosexual theory. Ralph’s first call to come together by blowing the conch implies a reference to the neonatal oral state, during which Freud postulated was the first conflict between desire and self-control within a child.
Other references to problems in getting the younger children to adhere to toilet etiquette for health concerns allude to the anal stage, which psychodynamic theory hypothesized to be a period of increased awareness of bowel movement during the toilet-training period in toddlers. Golding notes that the younger boys call out for their mothers rather than their fathers, hinting at the Oedipus complex. If the abandoned boys are representative of the aspects of the human individual, then the lush, rich bounty of the island suggest the resources available to the individual.
The initially luxuriant images of abundant fruit and the tropical halcyon idyll give a sense of splendor suggestive of the innate seemingly limitless charity of nature, not only on the island, but in the human soul. The initial “scar” of the boys’ arrival on the island presents the first sign of damage to paradise, culminating in its ultimate incineration, almost suggestive of Gotterdamerhng, the burning of mythical Valhalla. As such, other analyses of the island as a whole must take into account the island in a greater context.
Piggy’s relative intellectual maturity and Ralph’s eventual rescue at the hands of British naval officers are thusly indicative of the role the seemingly absent adult world plays on the island. The preeminence of the adult world to the boys and its presumed virtuosity elevate it to a much higher level than the everyday world of the island. Despite a passing reference to nuclear war early on in the novel, the outside world is very much assumed to be superior in functioning by both the boys and the reader, making it an almost divine figure in the scale of the island as a macrocosm.
The outside world then becomes the ultimate macrocosm, the cosmic knowledge and wisdom of God. Ralph’s guilt at the British officer’s comment about the boys’ being British suggests a kind of tongue-in-cheek repentance, both solemn and at the same time satirizing alleged British moral superiority. Ralph and Piggy’s desire to be rescued then becomes a form of faith elevated to a connotation of spirituality. The signal fire then develops into a plea for divine salvation, communicating to the adult world a wish to be rescued spiritually.
It is Jack and his hunters that care not at all for the maintenance for the fire, despite the fact that it is their only means off the island. They contrast Piggy as the signal fire’s greatest proponent, who as superego maintains a more externalized sense of what must be done. In establishing the island as a macrocosm of the self, one must then examine the manner of Golding’s treatise on the human condition as related to the plot of the story.
The origin of the boys on the island gives birth to the individual, the “long scar smashed into the jungle” suggestive of some kind of inherent human weakness, perhaps a kind of Original Sin. Ralph’s call implies the first inkling of self-awareness as the boys come to understand their situation and the power structure of the island between Jack, Ralph and Piggy forms. The ensuing formative phase of the island society then indicates growth and development, not free from mistakes and flaws in the psychodynamic of the island, but progressing.
The true downward turn in the island/person then comes as Ralph loses control of Jack’s hunters and Piggy’s subsequent death. Golding’s reasons for pursuing this course of action in the collective sociology of the island is debatable. While it may be a mere exciting plot device, it is also very possible within the context of the macrocosm that Golding is in fact, portraying the island as a person in decay. Previous events including the crash and various untended wildfires indicate the island has suffered substantial trauma.
Golding’s choice to generate conflict between the id and the ego may well be symptomatic of a greater crisis for the island/person, where it is reduced to an internalized battle between its two fundamental psychological processes. As such, Golding’s climax plays much like a morality tale; out of control, the id destroys the individual due to its self-destructive nature, leaving only the ego to answer to a higher authority. As such, Golding’s judgment on humankind then takes on a very slantedly ambivalent tone; darkly pessimistic, only passingly redeeming in its sense of morality.
In his decidedly Gothic ending in this interpretation of the book, reminiscent of Poe, Golding comments sourly even on ostensibly virtuous human faculties such as righteousness and practicality. He portrays even the protagonists with a humanly flawed skew; Piggy is weak and whining, Ralph is ineffectual. In their flaws and Jack’s cursory attempts at virtue, Golding creates a balanced image of the person, where no faculty is fully good or fully evil, but capable of being used to commit acts of either or both.