In most societies throughout history, children have been thought of as innocent and pure. Many religions believe that children who die young automatically go to heaven, since they could not have committed any sins yet. William Golding’s Lord of the Flies takes this popular conception of childhood and throws it right out the window.
In the book, a plane full of young English schoolboys crashes on a deserted island, killing the pilot. In the absence of adults, a few of the boys try to develop order through the creation of rules and traditions. However, many of the schoolboys decide to give in to their baser nature and live as savages, even going as far as hunting and killing their fellow classmates. Throughout the book, most of the boys believe an unknown beast is hunting them, represented by a pig’s severed head covered in flies. The boys eventually realize that there is no beast, only themselves.
Golding argues through the story that every person is born with the capacity to do despicable things. Even from a young age, without the civilizing presence of society, children will become corrupt and murder, steal, and lie. The idea of innocence is completely destroyed.
If you look at the events of real life, you can see how accurate Lord of the Flies is. According to available data for 1990, children under 16 made up nearly 10% of all murderers in the U.S. There are several famous cases of children as young as 10 killing other children or attacking police officers, and about 3% of all child murderers committed crimes severe enough to be sentenced to life in jail without the possibility of parole.
So what contributed to this false idea that children are innocent beings who lack the capacity to do evil things? It could be a variety of factors, from the fact that children are extremely dependent on adults in order to survive, to the fact that they are usually physically weak. However, this misconception about the innocence of children is dangerous and leads to around 1,000 murders by children under 16 each year.
Although Lord of the Flies seems to be just another book in the dystopian genre, it actually contains several important lessons that extend to real life. Children are no more naturally pure than adults are, the conventions of society help to deter crime and keep the peace, and no matter where they are or how old they are, people will always try to do whatever they can get away with.