Inherent Evil in Mankind

Essay by smalster10High School, 10th gradeB+, August 2008

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Evil lies within all human beings. People may seem good and kind-hearted, but under the right conditions the evil within them reveals itself. In those circumstances they take actions which violate their morals. As shown in Milgram's Study of Obedience and Golding's Lord of the Flies, all people are confronted with new situations, or figures of authority that force them into performing actions they can not control.

As a psychologist at Yale University, Stanley Milgram conducted a revealing experiment to show how obedience to a higher authority could defy personal conscience and expose the dark side all human beings have. In this experiment he tested the willingness of his subjects to obey authority figures who pushed them into performing acts that differed from their personal values. (Zimbardo) The end results were shocking. After taking polls from college students, psychiatrists and middle class adults, their predictions remained constant. They predicted that essentially all the subjects would refuse to continue to the end; but they were wrong.

Although the subjects knew that the 450 volt shock could do great damage, sixty percent of them obeyed the scientist's orders to continue all the way to the 450 shock.

How could they administer such high amounts of electricity while knowing the harmful effects it had? If an outside bystander watched this experiment, they could not comprehend how anyone in their right mind could do such a horrible thing. But it is all situational. Only under the right circumstances could something like this happen. The subjects applying the shocks are not at all evil, but merely normal human beings caught in the trap following orders of authority. The role the authority plays is essential in that they encourage the participants to "keep going" or guilt them by saying "you must continue on with the experiment". With out this key aspect, they would not have the drive to complete the task knowing how horrible the outcome could be. Even with screams of pain ringing in their ears and complaints that the shocks were too unbearable to keep going, they were encouraged to continue. More often then not, they proceeded with the shocks. These actions were not taken because they wanted to. The authority "forced" them to and they could not stand up against it. The results of Milgram's study showed that aspects of obedience can very well impact how people act. But it does not depict how they behave in normal situations in their everyday lives. Under those specific circumstances where their evil side is exposed, they act in ways that violate their personal conscience. This is shown over and over in Golding's Lord of the Flies when not long after landing on the island; they evolve from innocent young boys to savage beasts.

The theme of inherent evil in mankind is reflected throughout Golding's Lord of the Flies. He shows this by revealing symbols, themes and eventually the conflicts caused by the sinful nature of humankind. In some form, evil exists in everybody. The social surroundings of everyday life compress the need for savagery; but by removing all constraints of civilization, the evil surfaces and actions are taken that conflict with personal conscience. From the moment the boys landed on the island, it was recipe for disaster. When they first arrived, they still had some relation to civilization and their actions demonstrated they knew right from wrong. But later, as their plight became more desperate, their values, morals and sense of knowing right from wrong were tested. What then emerged was their evil nature. It showed as early as when the boys had their meeting to figure out rules and roles for the remainder of their time on the island. Ralph was elected leader of all the boys while Jack became the hunter. They made many peaceful attempts to try and keep order in the group, but as time passed they grew more and more uncivilized. This soon led them from refined young boys to savage beasts who loved to hunt and kill. From this point on their savagery and violence would only escalate and eventually lead to the deaths of Simon and Piggy.

When they first got to the island they thought it was going to be all fun and games. But little did they know that their games would turn into bloodthirsty mayhem. At one instance after returning from an exciting hunt for the sow, the boys reenacted the hunt but used Robert in place of the sow. "Kill him! Kill!" (Golding 114) the boys chanted. He nearly got killed because they were so caught up in the thrill that the hunt brought, that they forgot it ended. It never occurred to them that this was not the right thing to do. At this point their more primitive sides surfaced and caused them to completely change from pristine young children to heartless creatures. It only took a short amount of time on the island without any laws or guidelines for their behavior to regress to savagery. As their recollection of civilization was completely stripped away, there was an alteration in the boy's moral behavior. Golding shows that this aspect of evil is among all human beings. He demonstrates this by using children, who normally represent innocence and clarity in a concrete society. By using children, the reader finds that savagery and brutality exists within even the smallest form of mankind.

By reading Golding's Lord of the Flies and studying Milgram's obedience experiments, the reader learns that natural evil lies within everybody. No matter how normal, young, old or innocent a person may be they still have an innate evil soul that shows under the right circumstances. By acknowledging and understanding how these circumstances develop, one might be better prepared to confront the temptations of evil should they surface in real life. We must always try to remain true to our innate righteousness and decline conformity when confronted with misguided obedience.

Reference: Zimbardo William Golding's Lord of the Flies