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Human nature as depicted in Lord of the Flies and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
2001 (English)Independent thesis Basic level (degree of Bachelor), 10 credits / 15 HE creditsStudent thesis
Abstract [en]

The question of whether man is inherently good or evil has been answered in divergent ways by different religions, philosophers, theorists and others. On the one hand there are individuals and schools of thought that believe that man is naturally good and that it is society which makes us evil. Yet, others argue that it is society which is good and needed to control our inherent and predetermined inhumanity. The purpose of this essay, therefore, is to analyse and discuss the portrayal of human nature and society in Lord of the Flies by William Golding and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. In order to make the analysis more comprehensible, the first chapter presents a philosophical background to the novels under discussion. It is very difficult, or perhaps impossible, to determine whether a person’s moral ground is based on social or psychological factors. However, these two literary tales try to make us reflect on the question of whether it is society which makes us moral, or whether we are moral by nature. William Golding’s claims that even the most suitable environmental conditions will not suffice to overcome man’s innate cruelty. To support his argument he puts a group of highly educated British schoolboys, the oldest of whom is 12 and the youngest 6, on a desert island. Almost immediately a battle for supremacy takes place among the boys. Violence and death follow. Although the boys begin by electing a leader, Ralph, and call frequent meetings, using a conch shell as a symbol of authority, their attempts at re- creating civilization quickly disintegrate. Their story begins with the innocent sound of the shell and ends with the evil cry of the hunters. The boys try to organize their lives on the island, but they fail. Their circle of rituals and traditions is broken, and therefore they are unable to control the development of their society. They are too immature to manipulate the different members of the group into a whole entity, and they do not have anything to limit their evil natures, such as laws and rules. They try to exercise control by allowing privileges to the person who holds the conch, but the conch eventually explodes into a thousand pieces, as does their society. Golding’s purpose is to show that evil in society arises out of man’s very nature, his instincts, and by using different symbolic characters the author is able to portray the forms of behaviour found in society. In contrast to Golding’s belief that people are evil by nature, Mark Twain supports the idea of the ‘Noble Savage’. He claims that the natural moral state of human beings is compassionate, and that our inhumanity is caused by civilization. Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn describes a young boy torn between what he feels his society expects of him and what his heart tells him is right. Society believes that slaves should be treated as property, but Huck, who has befriended a runaway slave, sees Jim as a person, not property. In the end, Huck decides that he would rather disobey society’s teachings about slavery, than betray his friend. Huck and Jim find a friendship that transcends race and cultural difference. They are opposing a society that is both heartless and ridiculous. Social conscience, represented in the book by the slaveholding society, is what pursues Huck. The division within his mind corresponds to the division of the novel’s moral ground into the areas represented by the raft on the one hand and society on the other. This essay sets out to explore if evil in Lord of the Flies and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is portrayed as innate or environmentally conditioned in man. This sort of question may never be answered: for the concept of an individual living totally separate from society is, in many respects, an unimaginable thing. However, Golding and Twain try to give an answer to this question. This essay presents evidence that supports both Golding’s and Twain’s arguments, therefore it can be difficult to give an answer that exclusively advocates one of the author’s viewpoints. Since the evidence proves both arguments correct, the basic decision about the origin of morality is an individual one. According to the evidence in the texts human beings are inclined to indulge in immoral actions regardless of whether they are living in a natural environment, such as the tropical island, or in a society such as the cities depicted along the Mississippi’s banks. Thus, the evidence indicates that Golding’s claim is indeed plausible. However, if Golding’s argument, which states that human beings are inherently evil, should be proven to be true, it would be to say that no human society is uncorruptable. Yet, the reality, which shows that there are differences in the degree of corruptability among societies, would indicate that factors other than evil in man play an important role. In fact, it can be seen that under the same circumstances, in an environment such as the deserted island, different individuals from the novel develop in divergent ways. Not all of them have so much evil hidden inside them as to become complete savages when released from the boundaries of society. In other words, goodness is perhaps something that is more than just socially determined.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2001.
Keyword [en]
Social Behaviour Law, Human Nature, Society, Fall of Man, Savages, Lord of the, Flies, William Golding, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain, English, literature, engelska, litteratur
Keyword [sv]
Samhälls-, beteendevetenskap, juridik
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:ltu:diva-49382ISRN: LTU-CUPP--01/47--SELocal ID: 6ba79130-bc54-4ce6-b93f-d18b7f7ff508OAI: oai:DiVA.org:ltu-49382DiVA: diva2:1022729
Subject / course
Student thesis, at least 15 credits
Educational program
English, bachelor's level
Examiners
Note
Validerat; 20101217 (root)Available from: 2016-10-04 Created: 2016-10-04Bibliographically approved

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