The boys are only partially attentive to the upkeep of their first responsibility, which was to light a fire that could be used to signal passing ships and attract them to the island for the boys’ rescue. While they were clever in starting the fire by using Piggy’s glasses, they do not tend the fire as they should. First, the fire burns down the entire forest, killing one of the boys and robbing the group of a precious resource that was a potential source of food and sheltering protection. Then, the fire goes out altogether and despite the effort that is required to revive it, the boys’ inattentiveness to this one act that could save them is a persistent motif in the novel. The fire, of course, is a symbol both of life and of destruction, providing light and warmth, two resources that are needed in society. Yet so often, as Golding in terms of the political structure in “Lord of the Flies” alludes, those functions that are most essential to the maintenance of a stable society, and which are also the most simple to tend, are those that are neglected and overlooked so easily by the very people who are dependent upon them. Their inability to perform this simple task foreshadows the crisis that is to follow.
The lapse of the fire is the event that precipitates the slow decline into chaos. Before they can even really begin to construct an ideal society, the boys have succeeded in converting their conditions into a dysfunctional and dystopic microcosm. Although Ralph acknowledges that trouble is brewing, and he tries to restore order by blowing the conch shell authoritatively and giving a speech, the group begins to splinter and fragment. As this thesis statement for “Lord of the Flies” suggests, this threat to their cohesiveness is the first sign of the divisiveness that frequently inhibits utopian society building endeavors. While the group may initially be brought together by circumstance and a common cause, their human characteristics and divergent needs and emotions impede their ability to function as a unit in the interest of the group. Instead, individual needs and interests begin to dominate the boys’ daily actions. Factions arise and paranoid ideations about the motives and actions of each group replace rational and logical thinking, resulting in behaviors that harm individuals and the group at large. The boys become increasingly cruel to one another, and violence ensues. By expressing their base humanity, the boys make it impossible to rescue the utopian dream and wrest it from the grasp of reality. At this point, help from the outside does arrive, but the ambiguous ending of the novel does not provide the reader with a neat resolution or the restoration of order.
In George Orwell’s Animal Farm similar dynamics are at play, but the author utilizes animal characters to represent human figures. By distancing and decentering people from the text, George Orwell effectively, if paradoxically, renders a powerful and scathing commentary about the inevitable failure that the utopian society building project in Animal Farm is doomed to encounter. As was the case with the young boys in Golding’s Lord of the Flies, the animals at Manor Farm are brought together through the conditions of their circumstances, which are so horrendously abusive that they feel compelled to challenge the farm owner and, in doing so, create their own society. Their initial efforts are successful, and they are organized and earnest as they begin the tasks that are required to form a stable foundation for a society. Leaders are identified, roles and responsibilities are delineated, and the animals formulate and articulate a credo of beliefs that is to guide their collective work. These Seven Commandments, as they are known, were drafted by three pigs and were agreed upon by the rest of the animal community, and were intended to serve as, which is stated in one of the important quotes from Animal Farm by George Orwell, “an unalterable law by which all the animals on Animal Farm must live for ever after" (Orwell 42). The commandments dictate who is a member of their society and who is a foe of it; they further establish that the animals cannot appropriate the habits or characteristics of the foe, such as wearing clothes and drinking alcohol, and they conclude with the seventh commandment, which is “All animals are equal" (Orwell 43). All of the animals are duly impressed, and the “cleverer ones at once began to learn the Commandments by heart" (Orwell 43).
For a time, much like human society itself, Animal Farm functions relatively smoothly and peacefully. The animals are enthusiastic about their society building project, and almost all of them apply themselves with great energy and effort to the utopic project. This is particularly true of Boxer, one of the cart-horses, who is unwavering in his commitment. Ultimately, it is he who will be most betrayed by the utopian effort, being sold off by Napoleon to a glue factory. Nonetheless, this peace and persistence are temporary. Although everything is functioning well, there are those animals, the three pigs, who see that they can personally benefit from the society building project, and they immediately begin to take advantage of the situation by subverting the work that has been done so far and funneling all benefits directly to themselves. As thisthesis statement for Animal Farm by George Orwell suggests, the greed, the lack of conscience and concern for others, and the betrayal of the commandments upsets the delicate balance of order that had been established.
In Animal Farm by George Orwell, the pigs are so disruptive, utilizing the techniques of propaganda, threats, and coercion, that Animal Farm begins to collapse entirely. Napoleon then betrays one of his comrade pigs, and lets loose the nine puppies he had trained upon Snowball, chasing him from the farm. At this point, Animal Farm is fully within Napoleon’s control and the animals suddenly discover that they are no longer living in an egalitarian society. Instead, the conditions that they worked so hard to challenge and the society they strived so diligently to build has literally been dismantled overnight by a selfish dictator.
As a dictator, Napoleon is ruthless. Gone is his identification with the friends in the Animal Farm community. Instead, Napoleon insists upon unilateral leadership and he demonstrates that he is willing and able to deal with anyone who challenges him by purging that animal from society altogether. The animals are worse off than they have ever been, oppressed by someone who had struggled with them, who had believed in the process and promise of revolution, and who had committed himself to building a perfect society. Yet the temptation of power was far too great, as it so often is for human leaders. With the first glimmer of the possibility of personal gain, Napoleon is all to willing to abandon the society building project and strive only for himself, at the expense of all others. In doing so, he aligns himself with the enemy, takes on his characteristics, and reverts even the name of the farm back to the days of old, the final symbol that Animal Farm has been destroyed.
At the novel’s end, the animals look through the window of the farmhouse where Napoleon is dining with the farmer Mr. Pilkington, with whom he hopes to forge a coalition against the animals, and they conclude that they can no longer distinguish who is who; it is impossible to identify “which is which" (Orwell 115). Here, the novel ends. The camaraderie of the revolution has disappeared, and the ambiguity of this novel’s conclusion, as is also true with Lord of the Flies, does not suggest that the oppressed animals have the will or interest in staging another revolution. They seem to know that a utopian project is impossible.
Given that both Golding and Orwell were writing their novels at crucial and decisive moments in American history that were characterized by profound conflict, it hardly seems to be coincidental that both novels serve as searing commentaries on the nature of human beings and how they both facilitate and thwart the construction of an egalitarian society. There is an enormous discrepancy, they suggest, between the dream of an ideal society and the ability to see it into being. Even when a group of people can nurture an ideal society into its founding stages, enjoying some successes and social cohesion and equality, such a society is incredibly vulnerable and it is impossible for the society to persist over a long period of time. The reason for the failures of the social projects depicted in Lord of the Flies and Animal Farm is that individualism and base human characteristics interfered and threatened the stability of these societies. While it may be difficult to accept that power, privilege, and greed are as compelling and gripping as they are, there are innumerable examples throughout the entire history of humankind which prove that the allegorical collapse of these fictional societies is by no means an anomaly.
Given this conclusion, the reader must accept that building an ideal society is impossible. Although the idea is highly attractive in theory, and it may even impel members of society to band together in an effort to construct such the perfect society, what Golding and Orwell assert is the knowledge that we already know: human beings are imperfect creatures. Our fallibility precludes us from being able to construct something that is itself infallible, particularly when that thing is a society, which is, after all, only a collective unit of imperfect beings. This observation should not be a cause for despair. Rather, the conclusions offered by Golding and Orwell in Lord of the Flies and Animal Farm should support the lessons of history and point us toward living and working with the realities that characterize who we are. We cannot build perfect societies, perhaps, but nor are we condemned to live in a dysfunctional, dystopic world. Instead, we must live in a realistic world, recognizing the extent of our capabilities, as well as our limitations, and in doing so, simply strive to be as good as we can.
Golding, William. Lord of the Flies. New York: Penguin, 1999.