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The concept of society can be interpreted from various standpoints. Traditionally, it is believed that this notion denotes a system of regulations, which makes the interactions between human beings more effective. Furthermore, its laws are supposed to create a harmonious personality, who will be willing to comply and adhere to the rules, established within a certain community. Nevertheless, many works of literature suggest that under some circumstances, society only adversely affects people; moreover, it can easily turn them into monsters.
Lord of the Flies
The novels, which we are going to discuss in this essay, explore the negative impacts of social system on the person. In particular, we may focus on such works as Lord of the Flies, written by William Golding, Mary Shelleys Frankenstein, and Dracula by Bram Stoker. Certainly, not all of them do it in an explicit manner, yet, the most recurrent motif in these novels is the negative influence of society.
As regards, Frankenstein and Lord of the Flies, we may mostly speak about the terrible metamorphosis or change, which a person may undergo just because of the social environment. In his turn, Bram Stoker shows that occasionally the rules and stereotypes, deep-rooted among people, make them more vulnerable against the forces of evil, which makes use of this weakness. Certainly, it is hardly permissible for us to say that these works should be analyzed only within sociological frameworks, but it seems that this approach gives room for discussion, and enables to compare and contrast the famous novels.
Lord of the Flies by William Golding has always been considered by many literary critics and sociologists as the work, which throws light on the most dangerous tendencies in human society, namely the propensity of people to make up enemies, who may not exist. The author shows that the development of any community involves violence. Although, he does not openly states, we can deduce it from the novel that propensity to violence is some inherent feature, or an inseparable part of our inner world. It stands to reason that people are trying to conceal it under the mask of civilization, but eventually, this inclination is almost bound to manifest itself. Apart from that, society can act as a contributing factor, which only urges us to reveal our worst qualities.
If we try to trace the behavior of the boys in Lord of the Flies, we should first mention that they come from very respectable families, besides; they are born in very respectable country, which is renowned for its culture, ethical principles, moral values, manners and so forth. The socialization of these boys has already begun; thus, we have to admit that initially, they are not savages at least in conventional meaning of this word. However, as the story progresses, Ralph, Jack, Piggy, Eric and others undergo dramatic change.
At the very beginning, they still attempt to cling to the norms of the civilization. It can be observed that they are familiar with some material values of their culture. For instance, having found the conch, Piggy estimates its cost, he says,” a conch; ever so expensive. I bet if you wanted to buy one, you’d have to pay pounds and pounds and pounds” (Golding, p 14).
It appears that Golding is slightly ironical about their behavior, because money is of no use on an isolated island. As time passing, other boys join Ralph and Piggy, and the writer immediately attracts our attention to the fact, that there is struggle for leadership among them, or probably it would be better to say that these characters are competing for power.
It is described in a very interesting way, Golding suggests that the lust for dominance always entails violence; these two notions are closely interwoven with one another. He portrays Ralph, who is blowing his horn, in this manner, “His face was dark with the violent pleasure of making this stupendous noise, and his heart was making the stretched shirt shake” (Golding, p 16). At first glance, it may seem that such portrayal is not appropriate for the boy, who is just in his teen years. But Golding is perfectly accurate in his treatment of this figure, who slightly reminds a primeval chieftain. In point of fact, the community, which the boys have formed, can be defined as a tribe, which is the most primitive form of human society, but its remnants are still very palpable in us.
In this respect, it is of paramount importance for us to mention the symbol of the beast, or some sort of threat. Overall, this is a multi-dimensional concept, which has several layers of meaning. On the one hand, we may say that this image represents the perceived enemy or danger. One should take into consideration the fact, that the group of hunters under Jacks command, offers protection from this beast that is actually, the corpse of the pilot.
Simon, who realizes that there is no beast, and wants to share this idea with others, is immediately slaughtered by the hunters, because such disclosure will deprive them of their control that they exercise over the boys. It is worth mentioning that a great number of tyrants and despots have employed this technique of threatening by inventing an enemy, who does not exist. Through Piggy, William Golding renders this idea, his words are probably the most important in the novel: Piggy says, “I know there isnt no beast…. and I know there isn’t no fear” (Golding, p 112). The author eloquently proves that fear is arguably the most popular means of control.
Nonetheless, this symbol has another interpretation, these overtly civilized boys gradually turn into the beasts, and their deceptive façade is broken. They begin to enjoy violence, actually the word beast is not applicable in this case, because such behavior is not typical of animals; it is essentially humane. The characters, presented by William Golding try to build a community on the island, certainly, they follow the principles and ideas, which they have already absorbed from their parents and other adults, but this attempt ends up in catastrophe.
The main message that Golding wants to convey is that some principles of human society are erroneous in their core, probably there is some folly. In the very upshot of the novel, the British officer, who arrives to rescue the survivors, sees the fighting, he stops it and reprimands them by saying that civilized boys must not behave in such manner. He is not aware that this fight is just the tip of the iceberg. Lord of the Flies suggests that the principles, according to which our society functions, may urge, or incite a person to violence, cruelty and even murder.
It is quite possible for us to draw parallels between this novel and Mary Shelleys Frankenstein, this famous Gothic story also explores this issue, but the famous writer takes a slightly different approach to this question. It should be borne in mind that the boys in Goldings novel, have already become socialized, whereas, the monster, created by Victor Frankenstein does not have any idea about the rules of human interactions.
To some extent, he is a tabula rasa or blank slate if we translate this expression from Latin. It means that this creature can become everyone; much depends upon the influence of other people, whom he encounters. We will not exaggerate by stating that he did not receive any assistance from other members of society, who turned him into an outcast and subsequently into outlaw. Probably, we should take a closer look at his transformation into a monster, who does not stop at anything.
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At first, the scientist, who has breathed life into him, does not feel responsible for his invention. On the contrary, he feels disgusted: Victor Frankenstein describes his first impression in the following way, “I had desired it with an ardour that far exceeded moderation; but now that I had finished the beauty of the dream vanished and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart” (Shelley, p 56).
He does not admit that this inanimate body has become a human being, who requires care and even love, although it is rather difficult to love him. It goes without saying that having met such reaction, this person is very likely to turn to evil. On the whole, while analyzing this Gothic novel, people usually feel sympathy for Victor Frankenstein, but not for the monster, although it is the scientist, who behaves in a very cruel, practically heartless way. This episode signifies the first stage of the metamorphosis. Yet, at this particular moment, this process is not complete.
In addition to that, we need to take into account that this monster does not have a name, and this fact is also very telling and symbolic, because according to traditional beliefs, any person is supposed to have one. The author deliberately does not name him, because she wants to emphasize the idea that society regards the main character as a thing, inanimate being, or nonentity.
In this regard, we should say that Victor never realizes all the cruelty of his behavior; he still refers to his creature as a fiend or demon, though, in part, it is he has given life to this demon, not only because he has assembled different parts of dead bodies and animated them, but because he has treated this animated being cruelly. The scientist has forgotten that cruelty or evil can beget only evil. Yet, this idea does not enter his mind; he is more concerned with himself and his own feelings.
Later, the monster compares himself to Adam, who “came forth from the hands of God as a perfect creature, happy and prosperous” (Shelley, p 1). This sentence can also be discussed from various points of view. First, it is a direct accusation of Victor Frankenstein, who attempted to play the role of the Almighty. Secondly, it is a reproach to the society, who should care about its members, irrespective of their lineage or physical appearance, but instead, it drives them to cruelty and atrocity.
Another very interesting moment in this novel is the impact, which the masterpieces of the world literature produced on Frankenstein. Initially, he believes that a human being is a flawless work of God, but after reading such books as Bible or Paradise Lost by Milton, he comes to the belief that man has rather paradoxical nature, “at once so powerful, so virtuous and magnificent, yet so vicious and base?” (Shelley, p 136). Having understood this irrefutable fact, Frankenstein does not feel any reverence for people.
Again, we need to stress the fact, that Frankenstein is not vile in his nature, for example he genuinely wants to help others, especially, if we are speaking about the De Laceys family, but his physical (not moral) appearance frightens them and Frankenstein is forced to leave. Probably, at this point, his transformation into a monster has completed.
Nonetheless, this process is not irreversible; the tragedy could have been easily averted. There is one indispensable condition: someone must be able to feel empathy for such creature. The main problem is that every person, whom Frankenstein meets, is spiritually blind and cannot see below the surface. As a result, Frankenstein convinces himself that he is a monster, and decides to act accordingly.
Both these novels have a common theme, the negative impact of society. In his work, Golding attempts to create a miniature form of community, created by boys, who have already come under the adverse influence of other people, while Mary Shelley creates a person who is free from prejudices and stereotypes, as it has been noted before, he is a tabula rasa, just a child. The author argues that instinctively every human being is inclined to emulate the environment or other people, Frankenstein bears striking resemblance to what he sees, but he is not to blame for this.
As far as Dracula is concerned one may rashly say that there is no use to discuss this novel from sociological perspective, because Bram Stoker does not focus on any concrete social issue or any urgent problem, which is vital now. This belief is based on common misconceptions. Naturally, the author is mostly famous for the creation of a very powerful character, the vampire, whose image still produces a very strong impression.
Yet, one should not forget that through him and other figures, Stoker shows the then Victorian society, its principles, follies and drawbacks. We may even call it Western society, because, the phenomenon, explored by the writer is much more complex and has wider implications. On the whole, we may mark out several aspects; first and foremost, we need to pay attention to on hypocrisy.
For instance, Lucy Westenra is considered by everyone as a paragon of virtue, innocence, modesty, spiritual beauty, etc. Bram Stoker intends to mislead the reader, who is supposed to believe that this character is just a victim of insidious villain, Dracula. It is necessary to pay attention to some subtle clues, which the writer gives to us, for example, when three men, John Seward, Quincy Morris, and Arthur Holmwood make offer to her, he regrets that existing legislation does not validate polygamy. Lucy says, “Why can’t they let a girl marry three men, or as many as want her, and save all this trouble?”(Stoker, p 92).
This regret is presented in the form of a joke but it already indicates that this girl is not as innocent as she seems to be. One may object to this statement by suggesting that she yields to the forces of Dracula because she is vulnerable and fragile. But this argument can be refuted, when Lucy becomes a vampire, her suppressed sexuality is much more conspicuous, even her bridegroom feels some repugnance to her. “The pointed teeth, the blood-stained voluptuous mouth” repulse him (Stoker, p 341). One can hardly presume that Draculas choice is accidental. How come that among so many girls, who lived in Exeter, the notorious Count preferred Lucy? Probably, he knew it well that she would yield to his power and he was not mistaken. In sharp contrast with her, Mina Harker was able to resist his temptation.
This example illustrates the idea that a person, who is compelled to suppress his inmost feelings and emotions, may eventually become a monster, who is not able to restrict oneself. The society often makes people assume a disguise of decency, but it cannot last forever. Provided that Lucy had not been coerced into such behavior, Draculas charm would not have been irresistible to her.
However, this is not the most significant social issue, which Bram Stoker explores; he mostly concentrates on stereotypical way of thinking. The opponent of count Dracula, Professor Van Helsing believes that occasionally, our opinion relies on certain “irrefutable” facts and we do not dare question them. While talking to Dr. Seward, he tells him, “You are a clever man, friend John. You reason well, and your wit is bold, but you are too prejudiced, you do not let your eyes see”(Stoker, p 44). In part, Van Helsing criticizes modern science and modern people, who want to explain every phenomenon in a logical way, and if they fail they are firmly convinced that it does not exist. Dracula knows about this weakness and makes full use of it. Additionally, everyone, who does not follow this rule, is often considered insane. Even Van Helsings friends and assistants occasionally think that the distinguished professor has lost his sanity, while in fact he is just able to go beyond the bounds of conventional logic and thinking.
Therefore, we may arrive at the conclusion that these three novels describe the adverse influence of society on a human being. In Lord of the Flies William Golding describes an attempt to construct a miniature community, which is governed mostly by fear and suppression. Civilized boys, who are isolated from the rest of the world, turn into savages, and they uncover all the follies of their society, such as for instance, lust for power. In her turn, Marry Shelley explores the metamorphosis of a human being into a monster, she believes that any person has become either a hero or a villain, in the majority of cases; the outcome is determined by the social environment or other people to be more exact. Finally, Bram Stoker shows the restrictions, which society imposes on our way of thinking, everyone, who decides to lift these restrictions, is looked down upon and even labeled as insane.
Bram Stoker (1989). “Dracula”. Plain Label Books.
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (2002). “Frankenstein: Or, The Modern Prometheus”. Plain Label Books.
William Golding, Edward Morgan Forster, E. L. Epstein, Ben Gibson(2003). “Lord of the Flies”. Perigee.