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Freud and the Flies Essay

In the years preceding 1939, Sigmund Freud, who is considered the “father of psychoanalysis” (Morgan 2), prepared a summarized version of his theories of psychoanalysis in An Outline of Psychoanalysis. Freud’s theory breaks the psyche (mental life) of an individual into three portions: the id, the ego, and the superego, each with its own distinct function (Freud 13). In William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, the main characters have distinct personalities that clash with each other, much like the id and the superego. With some thought and interpretation, these characters can be applied to Freud’s theories.

The id is the oldest of the sections involved in psychoanalysis (Freud 14). It relies upon instincts to make decisions, and everything in the id is genetically inherited at birth (Freud 14). Golding’s Jack in Lord of the Flies is most representative of the id, as he primarily relies upon hunting as a means of gathering food, and bands his followers together in a tribe which utilizes little communication and acts primarily upon impulse. “He [Jack] tried to convey the compulsion to track down and kill that was swallowing him up (Golding 51).” Jack posses all the characteristics of the id: he is violent, he resorts to primordial instincts in many cases, and he fails to utilize language effectively to voice his concerns and opinions.

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The ego is the intermediary between the id, and the superego. The id’s primary function is to create a balance between the two extremes, with that balance being the most favorable for both pleasure and survival. “…in relation to the id…[the ego decides] whether they are allowed satisfaction, by postponing that satisfaction to times and circumstances favorable in the external world or by suppressing their excitations entirely (Freud 14-15).” Ralph most definitely represents the ego, especially with his regulation of the fire, allowing the boys to play (allowing satisfaction) when appropriate, but also to man the fire when it is necessary to do so. Ralph makes decisions that balance out the needs of all the boys: both the need for pleasure and the need to survive, fulfilling the role of the ego in the boys’ contained society.

The superego is the third and final division of the mind of psychoanalysis. The superego is based upon experiences learned from adults and other authoritative figures while one is growing up (Freud 15). These include doing “what is right,” “what is supposed to be done,” and, of course, following the rules. While there are no adults on the island, adults in general represent civil and orderly society. Piggy, hindered by his disabilities, clings on to whatever remains of civil society throughout the duration of the novel.

He is clearly disadvantaged when compared to the other boys – he cannot participate in strenuous physical activity due to his asthma, he is overweight and moves slowly, and without his glasses he is effectively blind. Due to this Piggy can be successful only when the other boys obey the conventional rules of civilized society. Piggy loves the conch and the order it represents – he is almost the adult of the island, coming up with ideas to build huts, make fires, gather food, count boys, and explore the island, in order to insure peace and safety.

When either the id (Jack) or the ego (Piggy) comes up with an idea (for example, say Piggy decides that the construction of huts is necessary) it is presented to the ego (Ralph). The ego weighs the idea against the instinctual demands of the id, and then determines whether or not the idea should proceed. “The stage is set for a conflict between the various elements of the psychical apparatus and reality, a conflict that, if not managed properly, gives rise to neuroses and ultimately psychosis. (Morgan 5)” However, if one or both forces put too much demand on the ego, it will cease to function properly, allowing the id to take control and the mind to descend into neurosis.

Such was the case when Jack split from the group to form his own tribe. Ralph – the ego – lost control of the id – its strength was too much for him to bear and it took control of a good portion of the other boys. The superego, however, remained intact for a short while, until it too perished (in Piggy’s death). With the demise of the superego, the entire mind collapsed and society ceased to function altogether. Golding makes specific note of this with his vivid imagery: “…his head opened and stuff came out and turned red.” His splattered cranium represents the triumph of the id on the island. After Piggy is killed, the boys are akin to animals; they are no longer governed by rational thought or moral standards. They burn the island in an attempt to kill Ralph, failing to realize that without rescue they themselves would die of starvation on barren, ashen ground.

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