Shattered Psyche: Freudian Characters in Lord of t
he FliesSigmund Freud divided the human psyche into three parts: the ego, the superego and the id; balance between the three was deemed essential for mental health. Over the course of Lord of the Flies, Ralph, Piggy and Jack increasingly personify the attitudes, ideals and drives of the ego, superego and id, respectively. The interactions between the boys at the beginning of the novel are different from those of the middle and end; the loss of balance between the boys is an important theme in the novel, as it explains the descent of the boys into savagery and reflects on modern society in general.
The beginning of the book identifies the characters in their respective roles. Piggy, who finds little good with the conduct of the boys, is the superego or the internalization of standards of morality and propriety (Abrams 249-250). He helps to establish order by introducing the conch; he also scorns the boys for acting like a crowd of kids (Golding 42). Piggys nemesis comes in Jack, the large, rude leader of the choir. Jack is the id of the boys, incorporating libidinal and other primal desires (Abrams 249). He volunteers himself and his choir mates as huntersa decidedly primal job. The balance of the two boys is Ralph, who both laughs delightedly (Golding 11) at the prospects of the wild island, and thinks quickly to establish a signal fire. Ralph is the ego, which tries as best it can to negotiate the conflicts between the insatiable demands of the id and the impossibly stringent requirements of the superego (Abrams 250). He is well suited to the job, as he is chief: this allows him to both control and listen to the wills of the id and superego. All goes well with the tribe of boystheir psyche of Ralph, Piggy and Jack is reasonably balanceduntil Jack makes a fateful decision: he lets the fire go out when he abandons it to hunt; a ship passes by the island but, without a signal fire to alert it, does not rescue them. As the id, he has made a key move: he has bypassed the balancing effects of the ego and made a decision on his own, putting him closer to the primal, wild world he wishes to create.
Jacks actions distance him from Ralph; this creates an imbalance in the psyche of the boys: Ralph is forced to become increasingly rational. Jack feels ignored, as he is unable to explain the compulsion to track down and kill that is swallowing him up (Golding 55). Finally, Jack snaps, telling Ralph to shut up and to stop giving orders that dont make sense (Golding 100). Indeed, Ralphs increasingly rational orders (for example, keeping the fire lit) seem contrived and unnecessary to Jack: why shouldnt the boys hunt, kill, and have fun? Ralphs like Piggy. He says things like Piggy. He isnt a proper chief, (Golding 139) Jack tells the other boys. Unfortunately, the allure of wild freedom is too much for most of the boys; without civilization to stop them, many follow Jack to enjoy his uninhibited life of hunting and fun. With this seeming defeat, Ralph ponders ceding his power to Jack. This is a pivotal decision, as without the ego to control it, the id will run wild. Piggy, desperate for his own safety, asks Ralph, if you give up, whatud happen to me (Golding 102); he knows that in the world of the id, there is no room for propriety or restraint. The boys psyche is now broken in two, with each side vying for control.
Unfortunately, it is the id that wins; the wildness of the island, with its lack of laws or authority, makes it too easy to live life passionately, without restraint. Piggy, who predicted his own demise, is killed. Jack turns to Ralph and screams, there isnt a tribe for you anymore (Golding 200)there isnt, as now the savage id rules. Without balance or control, the boys are free, savage, and ruthless. Ralph runs, but he knows that there was that indefinable connection between himself and Jack; who therefore would never let him alone (Golding 203). This obsession is the last vestige of their connection in the psyche; Jacks needs to eliminate the only person that might be able to control him. It is only the convenient arrival of a naval officer that saves Ralph. When asked about the beginning of the boys stay on the island, Ralph can only say we were together then (222): perhaps a subtle hint at the original state of the boys psyche.
The darkness of mans heart (Golding 223) is a prominent theme throughout Lord of the Flies and in modern society today; it seems best explained by the savagery of the id. At first, it seems as if Jack, the id, is balanced: Ralphs control and Piggys rational thought keep his primal urges in check. But the boys are on a wild island, a setting conducive to primal urges: the sanctum of the id. From the island, Jack gains power and breaks away from the boys. Without the balance of Ralph and Piggy, Jack roams unchallenged. The boys grow savage and unthinking, free to explore the primal desires of the id, and free to lose all of what society defines as humanity.
Golding, William. Lord of the Flies. London: Faber and Faber Ltd., 1969.
Abrams, M.H. A Glossary of Literary Terms. 7th ed. Toronto: Harcourt Brace College Publishers, 1999.
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