The Character of Piggy in William Golding's "Lord of the Flies": An Embodiment of the Qualities of a Civilized Society
G. Stolyarov II
Note from the Author: This essay was originally written in 2001 and published on Associated Content (subsequently, Yahoo! Voices) in 2007, where it received over 12,500 page views. To preserve a record of my writings following the shutdown of Yahoo! Voices in 2014, I have given this article a permanent presence on this page.
Piggy is indeed a moral person with clear visions of justice and good, to which he believes the entire world must adhere. He is the number one adherent of the "conch system" during Ralph's assemblies, which would theoretically permit all members of the boys' society to have a say in the future plans of the group. Unfortunately that policy is often neglected by more impulsive and less considerate boys, especially Jack Merridew. Repeatedly Jack attempts to infringe upon a just system, and Piggy on one occasion replies in the following manner: "I got the conch," said Piggy in a hurt voice. "I got a right to speak." That indeed demonstrates Piggy's attachment to a democratic system that emphasizes the freedoms of every individual to involve themselves in the decision-making process. His sense of justice fears a shift of this democracy toward a totalitarian state under such a leader as Jack, who, as Piggy had realized beforehand, would be apathetic toward long-term survival and a fanatic for destructive activity. "If Jack was chief he'd have all hunting and no fire. We'd be here till we died." This reasoning supports Piggy's desperate grasp on the remnants of civilization that slip away from the boys as they fall further under Jack's evil spell. He understands that the lust for "fun" implies death in this case, while work and coordination of effort would have an extremely high chance of ensuring the boys' safe return home. "What are we?" Piggy attempts to justify his stance to his peers, "Humans? Or animals? Or savages? What's grownups going to think? Going off hunting pigs-- letting fires out-- and now!" He warns the boys that they are sinking into barbarism but there is still hope for them to once again become humans and obtain what would have been the approval of adults had any been present on the island.
Piggy has enormous respect for adults and speaks of them as if they were his role models. "Grownups know things. They ain't afraid of the dark. They'd meet and have tea and discuss. Then things 'ud be all right." Here he alludes to the manner in which older people supposedly resolve their issues, clean, moral negotiations that cannot exist in the society of boys, for the impulsiveness of Jack and his followers on the island is the exact antithesis of Piggy's ideal. Commenting to himself, Piggy is disgusted with their behavior. "Like kids," he said scornfully, "Acting like a crowd of kids!" Those were his comments upon seeing the group's caprices put to work at Castle Rock when one, the search for the "beast" was cut short by the other, the desire to pointlessly hurl boulders down upon the unsuspecting forest below. He cannot comprehend the reasons for such behavior and in the midst of thinking of how people should act, he fails to acknowledge the reality of their actions, which are neither rational nor just. He cannot comprehend, therefore, that the darkness exists within every person and is waiting to be unleashed at the "advantageous" moment. That is why he cannot come to terms with the savage murder of Simon in which he, willingly or unwillingly, was a participant. "It was an accident," he attempts to furnish a rational explanation to fit within his framework of thought, "That's what it was. An accident. Coming in the dark-- he hadn't no business crawling like that out of the dark. He was batty. He asked for it."
In addition to justice and morality, Piggy also embodies the logic and rational forethought of civilization. Sequential reasoning is especially potent within him, and, having become acquainted with the circumstances, he is able to foreshadow a future and devise a course of action that would, if carried out, create desirable consequences for the group. He constantly attempts to express his plans in conversation, but his efforts are of no avail due to the ignorance of the boys. When Jack departs from the society, however, Piggy sees a chance to show his full potential now that there is no significant opposition to his activity. "We can do without Jack Merridew. There's others besides him on this island. But now we really got a beast, though I can't hardly believe it. We'll need to stay close to the platform; there'll be less need of him and his hunting so we can really decide on what's what."
Indeed, all logic would support such a statement. No Jack implies no manipulator to appeal to the boys' caprices, which implies a serious chance at survival and rescue. This Piggy was able to deduce from his optimistic civilization-oriented view of the world. However, he could not take into account the other boys' willingness to surrender to Jack and to their whims even if it meant leaving Ralph's society and the survival effort. Piggy, contrary to the boys, always retains a sense of future concern and does not allow his id to overtake him during all but one occasion. "What I mean is that I don't agree about this here fear. Of course there isn't nothing to be afraid of in the forest. Why-- I been there myself! You'll be talking about ghosts and such things next. We know what goes on, and if there's something wrong, there's someone to put it right." This is reminiscent of the opinion of a vast majority of citizens in a democratic society that values liberty and views fear and assumption with contempt. Piggy realized from early on that the beast was merely an invention of an immature little boy and was nothing due to which precautionary measures needed to be taken.
Unfortunately, where impulse and instinct reigned, the voice of fearless reason went unheeded. The next thing one knows, Piggy is forced to defend against the speculation that ghosts exist on the island, something that he had ridiculed several minutes earlier. "I didn't vote for no ghosts! Remember that, all of you!" He separates himself from the superstition that plagues any being without sufficient thought and manifests to the boys that he is the voice of logic. Already he has prepared himself for a situation in which the others would return to him, the herald of civilization, after they realize the error of their fears. In a civilized environment with adults present, that may have been the case. However, Jack's followers are ignorant to such an extent that they consider their assumptions to be infallible, and instead of acknowledging Piggy in the end, they destroy him. Why? Because Piggy dares to have a sense of cause and consequence and communicates it to those too low on the intellectual ladder to comprehend anything at all. With conch in hand and the weapons of reason and morality, he approaches metaphorically blind and deaf savages armed with rocks and spears. One rock is all that is needed to destroy Piggy, along with the conch to which he gave so much respect.
One may find it ironic that Piggy is destroyed because he attempts to utilize his unique aspects to act for prosperity and long-term survival of the group. Logical as he is, his foremost realization is that he must direct his full capacity toward rescue and return to the civilization that he so cherishes. Thus, he attempts to convince the other members of the society of boys, without which the rescue effort could not be successful, to work toward a common goal that would have in the end a common benefit. He pleads with them in vain that the fire is of crucial significance. Yet the only ones who truly give a fraction of their attention and understanding to Piggy are Ralph and, to a lesser degree, Simon. During a conversation with Ralph, Piggy's last thread which he held onto tightly to survive, he spoke the following words: "... but nobody else understands about the fire. If someone threw you a rope when you were drowning. If a doctor said take this because if you don't take it you'll die. You would, wouldn't you? I mean?" He understands that a rescue signal is essential and the only way that a ship would be able to spot a human presence on an island that would otherwise have been none of their concern. Ralph agrees with Piggy in that case, but even the chief is not enough to rally the boys toward fire maintenance.
Jack and his hunters forfeit their responsibility of guarding the fire and permit it to devastate a fraction of the forest. Always the signal is either overdone or undernourished due to the overgrown id within the boys. Yet when Jack departs from the society, Piggy decides to give the fire another chance. With insight that no other being on the island can equal, he declares "We can light it every morning. Nobody ain't goin to see smoke in the dark." Thus he discovers a solution to a significant problem, the lack of manpower to maintain the signal. Unfortunately, he again does not take into account the fact the Jack is not out of the picture yet. Had the evil Merridew and his hunters not intervened and stolen the entire fire along with the glasses required to light it, Piggy's plan would have ensured the boys' rescue. Everything that Piggy thinks is absolutely correct from the viewpoint of logic, justice, morality, and survival, yet all is ruined by an animal hatred of Jack for him. The destructive power of human emotions let loose is something that Piggy, softened and enhanced by civilization beyond subhuman mentalities, cannot grasp. That is what leads his good intentions astray and destroys him in the end, for he was far too advanced for his peers.
As can be seen, Piggy's efforts at justice, morality, reason, and survival, were the noblest of goals, beneficial to all who were on the island. Piggy himself is an ideal member of a civilized society and would have been greatly esteemed where there was sufficient authority to enforce justice. Unfortunately, through grave twists of circumstances, Piggy is unable to survive the perils of isolation from a democratic society and immoral hatreds aimed toward him. He succumbs in the end to death by forces of that same darkness within man that he fails to comprehend until his final breath is taken.
Gennady Stolyarov II (G. Stolyarov II) is an actuary, science-fiction novelist, independent philosophical essayist, poet, amateur mathematician, composer, and Editor-in-Chief of The Rational Argumentator, a magazine championing the principles of reason, rights, and progress.
In December 2013, Mr. Stolyarov published Death is Wrong, an ambitious children’s book on life extension illustrated by his wife Wendy. Death is Wrong can be found on Amazon in paperback and Kindle formats.
Mr. Stolyarov has contributed articles to the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies (IEET), The Wave Chronicle, Le Quebecois Libre, Brighter Brains Institute, Immortal Life, Enter Stage Right, Rebirth of Reason, The Liberal Institute, and the Ludwig von Mises Institute.
In an effort to assist the spread of rational ideas,
Mr. Stolyarov published his articles on Associated Content (subsequently
the Yahoo! Contributor Network and Yahoo! Voices) from 2007 until
Yahoo! closed this venue in 2014. Mr. Stolyarov held the highest Clout
Level (10) possible on the Yahoo! Contributor Network and was one of its
Page View Millionaires, with over 3,175,000 views. Mr. Stolyarov’s
selected writings from that era have been preserved on this page.
Mr. Stolyarov holds the professional insurance designations of Associate of the Society of Actuaries (ASA), Associate of the Casualty Actuarial Society (ACAS), Member of the American Academy of Actuaries (MAAA), Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter (CPCU), Associate in Reinsurance (ARe), Associate in Regulation and Compliance (ARC), Associate in Personal Insurance (API), Associate in Insurance Services (AIS), Accredited Insurance Examiner (AIE), and Associate in Insurance Accounting and Finance (AIAF).
Mr. Stolyarov has written a science fiction novel, Eden against the Colossus, a philosophical treatise, A Rational Cosmology, a play, Implied Consent, and a free self-help treatise, The Best Self-Help is Free. You can watch his YouTube Videos.Mr. Stolyarov can be contacted at email@example.com.Statement of Policy.
Learn about Mr. Stolyarov's novel, Eden against the Colossus, here.