EXCERPTS FROM A SPEECH BY WILLIAM GOLDING
A Psychoanalytic View of Destructiveness.
Before the second world war I believed in the perfectibility of social men; that a correct structure of society would produce goodwill; and that therefore you could remove all social ills by a reorganization of society. It is possible that today I believe something of the same again but after the war I did not because I was unable to. I had discovered what one man could do to another. I am not talking about one man killing another with a gun, or dropping a bomb on him or blowing him up, or torpedoing him. I am thinking of the vileness beyond all words that went on, year after year, in the totalitarian states. It is bad enough to say that so many Jews were exterminated in this way and that, so many people liquidated—lovely, elegant word—but there were things done during that period from which I still have to avert my mind less I should be physically sick. They were not done by the headhunters of New Guinea, or by some primitive tribe in the Amazon. They were done skillfully, coldly, byeducated men, doctors, lawyers, by men with a tradition of civilization behind them, to men of their own kind. I do not want to elaborate this. I would like to pass on but I must say that anyone who moved through those years without understanding that man produces evil as a bee produces honey, must have been blind- or wrong in the head.
It seems to me that man’s capacity for greed, his innate cruelty and selfishness was being hidden. I believed then that man was sick—not exceptional man, but average man. I believed that the condition of man was to be a morally diseased creation and the best job I could do at the time, was to trace the connection between his diseased nature and the international mess he gets himself into.
Man is a fallen being. He is gripped by original sin. I looked around me for some convenient form in which this thesis might be worked out, and found it in the play of children. I was well situated for this since at the time I was teaching them. Moreover, I am a son, brother and father. I have lived for many years with small boys, and understand and know them with awful precision. I decided to take the literary convention of boys on an island, only make them real boys instead of paper cutouts with no life in them and try to show how the shape of the society they evolved would be conditioned by their diseased, theirfallen nature.
One of our faults is to believe that all evil is somewhere else and inherent in another nation. My book was to say: You think that now the war is over and an evil thing destroyed, you are safe because you are naturally kind and decent. But I know why the thing rose in Germany. I know it could happen in any country. It could happen here.
So the boys try to construct a civilization on the island- but it breaks down in blood and terror because the boys are suffering from the terrible disease of being human. The only enemy of man is inside himself.