The True Human Nature is Depicted Precisely in '1984' and “Lord of the Flies”

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To answer the question; ‘what does it mean to be human?’, we look to literature. Authors use a range of literary techniques in order to communicate the human experience, offering the reader further insight into what it truly means to be human. George Orwell conveys the human experience in his book, ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’. He vastly explores the human experience, scrutinizing specific human experiences including: the nature of relationships, fear and its implications on our humanity, and power-lust and liberty. These human experiences are similarly found in William Golding’s novel; ‘Lord of the Flies’. Golding communicates these same human experiences [shown on video] in a contrasting context. Both authors, delve into these themes through intelligent use of literary techniques to answer the question: What does it mean to be human?

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Part of being human involves interactions with others. Human beings are social creatures. From birth we develop relationships; with our parents, and family, then as we become our own individual person, we create our own relationships with others we meet throughout life, like peers and love interests. Relationships shape us. Without these crucial relationships, we are deprived of the ability to understand and relate to others, the world we live in, and even ourselves. 1984 and Lord of the Flies both examine broken relationships and how this creates a dehumanized world. Throughout 1984, George Orwell explores the dehumanized world to emphasise the importance of relationships in regards to the human experience. This is through; the betrayal of the family bond, in such, people are more loyal towards Big Brother and the Party as opposed to their family, the fact that close relationships between citizens is prohibited, and that relationships between people who are romantically attracted to each other is prohibited. A consequence of this is captured in this quote; “He hated her because she was young pretty and sexless, because he wanted to go to bed with her, and knew he would never do so.” Winston’s sexual frustration is caused by the prohibition of having a relationship with someone you are romantically attracted to. This causes him to be morally devoid in regards to sexual desire. Love is a significant factor of what makes us human; in this foreshadowing of Winston’s and Julia’s romance, we see how powerful love is, “The girl with dark hair… ”. Winston romanticizes about Julia, as both an escape from the Party’s oppression and as an act of rebellion against Party rule. It is the first time he adheres do his natural desire – to love. In the second chapter of 1984, we are exposed to the confronting family life of this society, within the Parson’s household. This is quite an unusual scene, which allows the reader to reflect, and compare to their own family. This dehumanized society manipulates vulnerable children into becoming faithful devotees to the party. This is illustrated through this metaphor, “it was somehow slightly frightening, like the gamboling of tiger cubs which will soon grow up into man-eaters.” Comment by Jordan Williams: This is particular kind of connection – the physical / sexual connection and this is not necessarily connected to the points above. 

In “Lord of the Flies”, one of the effects of the boys’ descent into savagery is their increasing inability to recognise each other’s humanity. Throughout the novel, Golding implies that the boys are no longer able to distinguish themselves as fellow human beings. For example, Piggy’s name links him symbolically to the wild pigs on the island, the other boys refuse to call him anything but ‘Piggy”. Concerned only with their own base desires, the boys have become unable to see each other as anything more than objects subject to their individual wills. In Chapter 8, Jack and his hunters graphically murder a sow that is nursing her babies. ‘They corner the wounded pig, and when she falls they are on her. Roger is particularly cruel, driving in his spear slowly by leaning his weight upon it until the sow screams in agony. Then Jack cuts its throat.’ This graphic scene demonstrates the depths of their barbarism and is essentially the point of no return in regards to a hope of remaining civility on the island. The way in which they “rip a mother from her children” alludes to their own parentless situation. It symbolises the boys’ frustration with living ‘motherless’ on the island. The boys are deprived of an incredibly crucial relationship in their lives. The consequence is that the boys descended into savagery. Without their natural parental influence to guide them, they act upon their primitive instincts. 

On page 295, Orwell displays the true, corruptness of family relationships in this society when a man, doomed to be tortured, desperately exclaims, ‘I’ve got a wife and three children. The biggest of them isn’t six years old. You can take the whole lot of them and cut their throats in front of my eyes, and I’ll stand by and watch it. But not Room 101!’ – this confronting imagery depicts the true brokenness of this world, due to its corrupt relationships. This quote also alludes to our next human experience; fear. 

Fear drives our discernment, no matter our morality. Exploring this statement, we look at how literature, specifically George Orwell’s, 1984, and Golding’s, Lord of the Flies, explore this human experience. Fear is an innate, prehistoric human instinct. It gives us the ability to avoid possibly harmful situations. Human instinct is defined as: a natural or inherent aptitude, impulse, or a largely inheritable and unalterable tendency of a person to make a complex and specific response to environmental stimuli without involving reason. Behaviour is mediated by reactions below the conscious level. People are genetically hard-wired with behaviours that enhance our ability to cope with vital environmental contingencies. Orwell and Golding explore the way innate fear contributes to other instincts including; denial, revenge, tribal loyalty and conformity, and greed. Fear drives the characters’ behaviours, ability to love and hate, and their morality. George Orwell teaches us that Winston’s entire society is based on fear; the government has fear of losing its totalitarian power and the Prolls are terrified of committing thoughtcrime, thus being tortured and vaporized.

Orwell portrays Winston’s fear by examining the nature of his hatred; fear’s consequence. “It was even possible, at moments, to switch one’s hatred this way or that by a voluntary act. Suddenly, by the sort of violent effort with one wrenches one’s head away from the pillow in a nightmare”. Orwell also explores this human experience through The Party’s manipulation of its citizens’ natural emotions, forcing their fear into hatred and focusing that hatred on “the enemy”. “A hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness, a desire to kill, to torture, to smash faces in with a sledge-hammer, seemed to flow through the whole group of people like an electric current.” Here, we see that an ‘ecstasy of fear’ results in a brutal desire for violence. This use of visual, auditory & tactile imagery, and visceral response through confronting language communicates these frantic emotions of anger and hatred and the consequence of these emotions in an immoral dehumanized society; herd mentality.

In Lord of the Flies, fear devours the boys, causing them to descend into violence and savagery. The initial fear; being separated from their family and their home, puts them in a vulnerable place. The plane wreck that the boys arrived in is referred to it as “the scar”. It is something the boys won’t even look at because it symbolises their arrival, and the catalyst of their fear. Golding foreshadows violence in the scene where Rodger is throwing rocks at some other boys; “Here, invisible yet strong, was the taboo of the old life. Round the squatting child was the protection of parents and school and policemen and the law.” We see through this analogy, that these taboos will break down quickly, and soon their fear results in torture & violence. The boys fear of “the beast” throughout the novel is what drives the boys into complete madness. The way that fear controls us is analysed when Simon is murdered because the other children mistake him for ‘the beast’, a mythical inhuman creature that serves as an outlet for the children’s sadness and principally fear. Simon’s death occurs after a scene in which he hallucinates that the pig head tells him it is ‘the lord of the flies’. The pig head allegedly says to him, “fancy thinking the beast was something you could hunt and kill”, you knew, didn’t you?” I’m part of you!”. Golding effectively communicates through this allegory, that fear is something we cannot avoid, it is part of us. It’s clear that the “beast” is the evil loitering inside. The boys are afraid of themselves. The irony is that when Simon runs down to tell the boys that the beast doesn’t exist, the beast comes out in them. The boys’ ‘fight or flight’ instinct comes through, dismissing any of their morals. The boys are consumed by a frenzy, due to fear as they re-enact the hunt in a ritual dance whilst chanting, “kill the beast, slit his throat, spill his blood”. Golding’s exploration of this dark, and tragic outcome, really highlights the magnitude of the impact of fear.

Returning to, 1984, ‘Do it to Julia! Do it to Julia! Not me! Julia! I don’t care what you do to her. Tear her face off, strip her to the bones. Not me! Julia! Not me!’ When Winston wishes Julia receive the punishment in his place, his fear results in his betrayal to Julia – he loses his ability to love. He loses faith in his own humanity – he is psychologically broken. ‘And perhaps you might pretend afterwards, that it was only a trick and that you just said it to make them stop and didn’t really mean it. But that isn’t true. At the time when it happens you do mean it. You’re quite ready to save yourself that way. You want it to happen to the other person. You don’t give a damn what they suffer. All you care about is yourself’. This quote perfectly summarises the amount of power and control fear has over you. Fear drives our judgements, our actions. No matter how good a person you may be, when faced with your greatest fear, you are willing to betray your entire belief system, your love for a person, just to save yourself. This is an incredibly dark aspect of what it means to be human.

Human beings are flawed. The human experience involves complexities, and negative emotions. It’s how we cope and manage these flaws that makes us unique. In both, lord of the flies and 1984, we see a broken and corrupt society. These societies portray the nature of power-lust and the desire we possess to be in control. Lord of the flies is an allegory about the way that democratic societies give way to totalitarian societies, whereas, 1984 depicts this concept literally. Both novels explore liberty; [the state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one’s way of life, behaviour, or political views.] Humans are social creatures; we naturally form hierarchy systems. This is evident in almost every social aspect of humanity. Orwell and Golding delved into this theme; Orwell imagined what the world could look like in a dystopian totalitarian future, whereas Golding explores the other end of the spectrum; savagery, violence, selfishness, and chaos. Golding portrays the island the boys land on, as a microcosm that is emblematic of the ‘real world’ Lord of the flies is categories within the literary genre: Robinsonade; a castaway narrative. 

There are two contrasting philosophical beliefs involving this concept. 

  1. that humanity is at its best and most innocent in the state of nature and that the social order is a corrupting influence. 
  2. without social constraints, we would immediately fall into violence and aggression, and this is why we need society and good government to keep people in order. 

Golding obviously explores the concept that people will act viciously as long as we think we can get away with it, but that is just one possibility. Interestingly, Orwell strays away from the robinsonade genre, and instead looks towards the future and asks the question; what will society look like when a power-hungry leader discovers the key to maintaining power. He acknowledges this idea in the book referred to in his novel, it says, “But the problems of perpetuating a hierarchical society go deeper than this. There are four ways in which a ruling group can fall from power.” Four pages into 1984, we are introduced to “newspeak”. The asterisk interrupts the narrative flow, breaking any bond the reader may be forming with the story and its characters. It entices the reader toward the appendix; which explains that newspeak had been “devised to meet the ideological needs of INSOC” and that its vocabulary has been designed: “to make speech, and especially speech on any subject not ideologically neutral, as nearly as possible independent of consciousness.” Consciousness can be defined as, “our awareness of ourselves and our environment, it explains our ability to examine the experience life and the feeling of emotions” – newspeak is designed to narrow the range of thought. It makes it nearly impossible to express and even think revolutionary thoughts. This allows the reader to reflect with their own human experiences and support Winston, “the last man”, in his battle to ‘un-dehumanize’ this corrupt world, and let humanity blossom. In 1984’s society, the problem isn’t that citizens are told the opposite of what is true. The real issue is that their experiences have become so limited that they lack the perspective and the language to differentiate between major concepts. These two novels highlight the evil humanity is capable of; what can occur due to conformity and manipulation. An exploration of the bad within humanity can give us further insight to what it truly means to be human. 

1984 and Lord of the Flies, both explore a concept from a Greek tragedy, “The Bacchae”, which is about the foolishness of trying to impose order onto chaos. – Lord of the Flies quite clearly depicts this, however 1984 presents Winston and Julia’s struggles toward imposing order, or, human rights onto a destructive, relentless machine; the party. Golding uses “Deus ex machine” – a narrative device established from Greek tragedy. It means; once everything has come to a complete and utter mess. A God descends. In Lord of the Flies, the naval officer comes ashore, in his bright white uniform and his medals, he symbolises a God. However; he is carrying a revolver and there is a man with a machine gun behind him. This implies it is just a matured, socially approved version of the violence and bloodlust that the boys on the island have discovered. Golding later wrote that the officer who saves Ralph from the manhunt, “will presently be hunting his enemy in the same implacable way. And who will rescue the adult and his cruiser?” This rhetorical question depicts the result of power-lust; this cycle that society goes through. The cycle that Orwell contextually referrers to in ‘the book’. Although the goodness fails to withstand evil, in these two novels, this is just one perspective of the negative outcome of power-lust. Golding’s view; that authority and the social structures of ‘civilisation’ bind us together, is effectively established in the outcome of his novel; because without social structure, the boys on the island never really stood a chance; democracy doesn’t work when people crave power and control. As we can conclude power-lust is one of the great complexities of the human experience. Authors encompass commentary on these concepts to explore the possibilities in which people could react and behave in these anomalies. The way people cope and manage these flaws; is what makes us human.

As we’ve established, George Orwell and William Golding’s novels give the reader an insight to the human experience. So ‘What does it mean to be human?’: The unique way in which each of us as individuals, and as collectives relate to our environment, and respond to human emotions and complexities is what makes us human. 

29 April 2022

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