Jack and His Discontents (1 of 2)

So far I have examined Lord of the Flies under the microscopic lenses of Plato, Hobbes, and Nietzsche. One form of literary theory, which is a favorite among many, which has been used on many pieces of writing, and which I will be using in this blog, is that of psychoanalysis, a branch of psychology developed by Sigmund Freud. A simple search containing both Lord of the Flies and psychoanalysis will easily generate several results, all of which are exactly the same, all of which are shallow in their depth, each of them focusing on the tripartite theory of the id, ego, and superego. What I seek to do in this blog, therefore, to distinguish my analysis from the others out there, is perform a case study on Lord of the Flies, a case study focused on one character in particular, a character central to the story, a character whose inner struggle is perfect for psychoanalyzing: Jack Merridew. By the end of this blog, I hope to prove that Jack suffers from neurotic sadism. A glossary can be found at the end to clarify any psychoanalytical terminology that I will be using.

images.jpegPsychoanalysis is the study of the unconscious and how it affects the conscious mind, initially conceived by Freud under the impression that all mental illnesses were caused by sexual tensions derived from a young age. This first stage of his thought, in which sexual energy, or libido, after being kept out of the conscious, caused mental illness, was later replaced by a later, finalized stage, characterized by a complete break away from the libidinal theory, where Freud turning instead to the life and death-instincts, the latter earning heavy criticism from his followers. These two instincts are the main forces behind human behavior, and each has a different motivation, the life-instinct, called Eros, seeking self-preservation and reproduction, and the death-instinct, usually referred to as Thanatos, seeking self-destruction, sometimes “[expressing] itself as an instinct of destruction directed against the external world and other living organisms.”[1] Freud thus created a dualism of impulses in man, a Manichaean tension caused by an internal war of life against death, of creation against destruction. Freud wrote that

Civilization has been built up, under the pressure of the struggle of existence, by sacrifices in gratification of the primitive impulses, and that to a great extent for ever being re-created, as each individual, successively joining the community, repents the sacrifice of his instinctive pleasures for the common good.[2]

According to Freud, the only reason society exists is because individuals give up their individual instincts. If each individual were to indulge their death-instinct, the very instinct of aggression, the very instinct present in everyone, then there would be constant warfare, reckless murder, and rife torture; but, by renouncing and rejecting our impulses, by stifling them, by keeping them out of our conscious, we are able to coexist, to live peacefully and without fear of our aggressive tendencies kicking in and dominating us. There will be no more destruction, either of ourselves or of others. Freud said that civilization represses its desires, by which he means that we force these unacceptable ideas and fantasies out of our minds and into the unconscious, where they are left to fester, unable to torment the conscious mind.

[T]he more a man checks his aggressive tendencies towards others the more tyrannical, that is aggressive, he becomes in his ego-ideal…. [T]he more a man controls his aggressiveness, the more intense become the aggressive tendencies of his ego-ideal against his ego.[3]

Unknown.jpegHere Freud is saying that, over time, the repressing of our instincts will only make the tension worse, as the longer they stay in the unconscious, the more persistent they become. The ego-ideal, synonymous with our conscience, will become stressed as a result, censuring us with a harsher tone, criticizing our lack of control, nagging on us, the voice of authority becoming stronger. As this happens, our reasoning diminishes, and we lose control of our conscious, letting us slowly but surely let our instincts out. However, civilization has not reached this point wholly, the reason being that we have redirected our instincts; Freud says that civilization thrives on sublimation, for it is the only productive way of combatting our desires. Because we all have within us aggression, a seething beast waiting to be released, we usually end up creating reaction-formations to fight back. Instead of letting all of our aggression out, we pretend as though we are happy and grateful, despite the terrifying reality happening below the surface. Little do we know that this pressure, this aggression, is bubbling in our depths.

Jack Merridew is an adolescent boy who was raised in England. In the beginning of the book, we immediately recognize him as a natural leader, a boy whose inherent nature is that of commanding, of gaining respect, of having his voice heard, of getting things done. For the most part, having grown up an English boy, under a Catholic household, as the head of his choir, he has good and proper morals. Jack’s whole life seems to be headed in a good direction, as he has excellent training in being a leader and in displaying Catholic morals. And like everyone else in society, he has been taught to sublimate his instincts, to hide them, to turn them into something productive. In a choir, Jack is able to reach deep into himself and take his inner aggression—with which he has not yet come to terms—and turn it into art, using his voice to express himself creatively, thereby redirecting his impulses into something acceptable. Further, as a devout Catholic, Jack has been Unknown-2.jpegdisciplined to act faithfully and morally. Indulging in his dark instincts would not be very Catholic of him, so he has been taught to repress his desires and act out of kindness and compassion; as we know, though, this is the opposite of what he truly is inside: proof of reaction-formation. When Simon talks to the Lord of the Flies, the pig takes on the guise of a schoolteacher who says, “This has gone on far enough. My poor, misguided child, do you think you know better than I do?” (Golding 141). Golding himself was influenced to write the book after he taught at a young boys’ Catholic school, so it is no surprise that he should put a reference here. One can easily imagine The Lord of the Flies like a concerned, patronizing schoolteacher shaking his head disapprovingly, mocking Simon, for he knows that there is a darkness in all the boys, yet Simon has not yet embraced it. Jack has already given up his Catholic values and given into his darkness, to the disappointment of the imaginary schoolteacher. The death-instinct still lurks unconsciously in Jack, however, and strongly, throughout the first half of the novel. When Jack tries to kill the first pig, he hesitates to drive the knife into the pig (Golding 25-6). There is a voice in Jack telling him that it is immoral, that the blood will be overwhelming, and that ultimately, it will haunt him forever. Later, when the boys create a fire, Jack and Ralph both hesitate to light the fire, because the warnings of their parents still echo in their heads: Do not play with fire! Despite being boys held back by the words of adults, there is still aggression inside of them, waiting to be acted upon.

The next stage of Jack’s neuroticism occurs with the whole pig incident, at which we just glanced. This stage is, perhaps, the most formidable, as it is the first sign we see of Jack’s aggressiveness being released. I like to think of Jack in this stage as regressing, not in the traditional sense, but in an evolutionary sense, insofar as he is almost reverting back to his ancestral roots in the hunter-gathering civilizations. There is a scene when Jack goes hunting, in which we see him get down on all fours, as though stalking; in which we see him sniffing the ground, going so far as to sniff droppings; in which he traverses the jungle, spear in hand, ready to slaughter the pig without mercy (Golding 43-4). Eric Fromm captures this mentality in the following quote:

He [the hunter] returns to his natural state, becomes one with the animal, and is freed from the burden of the existential split: to be part of nature and transcend it by virtue of his consciousness. In stalking the animal, he and the animal become equals, even though man shows his superiority by the use of his weapons.[4]

Jack is seen reverting to his natural state of being, as a predator, as a hunter, getting down on all fours, so as to become one with nature, with the animal, so he can kill it, get food, and feed himself. There is a return, then, to the primitive instincts. Freud declared that “it is easy,… for a barbarian to be healthy; for the civilized man the task is a hard one.”[5] The barbarian, or in this case the hunter, is able to freely act on his aggression, for in doing so he gets to kill and ends up with food and is therefore happy; modern man, contrarily, must keep his aggression in check, must restrain himself from hurting, and hence he is tormented. Jack, channeling his inner hunter, is able to engage his aggression naturally, for it is natural, allowing him to kill without fear of reproach. As a hunter, killing is not for pleasure; killing is now about survival. The question arises: Why the pig? We see that Jack becomes utterly obsessed with the pig, fixated even. Psychoanalytically, he does have a fixation. Thanatos, because it is pure energy, is expressed in a directed charge, similar to an electric current. Now that Jack can channel his death-instinct, he cathects it to the pig—that is, he directs his energy to an object: the pig. Consequently, Jack develops an object-cathexis, his instincts now fixated on the pig, the vulnerable animal now his prey. Evident of this fixation is the fact that Jack claims that he will kill the pig “Next time—!” Unknown-1.jpeg(Golding 26), not once, but thrice (Golding 28, 46). On three separate occasions Jack seems to take offense whenever someone asks him about the pig. It is safe to say that this is a sort of inferiority complex in Jack, a sort of rejection, of himself. When he tried to kill the pig, he hesitated, and now he feels rejected, as though everyone thinks him weak as a result. Jack develops the strange idea that he is being judged, that he is an incompetent hunter, since he is unable to complete such a simple task, causing frustration. This pressure creates a stronger cathexis in Jack’s mind, for his failure to kill the pig makes him want to kill it even more, as he feels doing so will prove himself as both worthy and competent. At this point, Jack is concerned with meat and meat alone, not rescue, not building huts, but getting meat. Food was of paramount importance in the hunter-gathering society, especially meat, for it was more difficult to acquire than berries or nuts. It is logical, then, that Jack should become so obsessed with this task. During the time that Jack is fixated on the pig, there still remains resistance in him, resistance to the idea of killing—indeed, a man’s first kill haunts him forever, so it is a frightening ordeal for Jack. Talking to Ralph, Jack tries “to convey the compulsion to track down and kill that was swallowing him up” (Golding 46). Reflecting on his two failed missions to hunt the pig, Jack is in disbelief, repeating dreadfully, “I thought I might kill” (Ibid.). In Jack’s voice, one can imagine a sense of surrealism, considering Jack nearly killed for the first time. After killing the pig, Jack describes the experience as follows:

His mind was crowded with memories; memories of the knowledge that had come to them when they closed in on the struggling pig, knowledge that they had outwitted a living thing, imposed their will upon it, taken away its life like a long satisfying drink. (Golding 65)

Notwithstanding his initial fear of killing, Jack is bestowed with great ecstasy. This disturbing imagery, that of killing being similar to “a long satisfying drink,” is not one of kindness and compassion, but sadism, pure and simple. In addition to these early signs of sadism latent in Jack, there also arises evidence of paranoia, suggestive further of neuroticism. “‘If you’re hunting sometimes you catch yourself feeling as if…. [y]ou’re not hunting, but—being hunted, as if something’s behind you all the time in the jungle,” confides Jack in Ralph (Golding 48). This comment reveals another insight into Jack, psychoanalytically, in that it reflects his projecting of his aggression. Because he has not come to terms with the aggression that lingers inside him, because he feels threatened by this new-found aggression, Jack feels it necessary to project his aggression onto the world instead of taking responsibility for it himself because it makes him feel safe, because it takes away the responsibility of having to deal with it.


(Retrieved from Stephen Glazier’s Word Menu)

Aggression- Hostile, destructive behavior towards others
Destructive, aggressive compulsion to achieve nonexistence
Concentration or buildup of mental energy and emotional significance in connection with an idea, activity, or object
Reality-oriented, structured component of personality that enables individual to function autonomously in the world
Ego-ideal- Aspect of personality involving conscience, guilt, imposition of moral standards, and introjected authoritative and ethical images
Fixation- Extreme attachment to object or ideas associated with earlier stage of psychic development; halting of stage of personality development
Frustration- Disturbed state occurring when individual cannot attain goal or relieve tension
Neuroticism- Emotional disorder involving basic repression of primary instinctual urge and reliance on defense mechanisms that results in symptoms or personality disturbance
Object- “[T]hat in or through which it [an instinct] can achieve its aim (Freud, Instincts and their Vicissitudes, p. 414b)
Obsession Persistent, pervasive, disturbing fixation on an emotion, idea, object, or person
Paranoia- Persistent delusions of persecution or suspicion of others
Projection- Defense mechanism involving attribution of one’s own unacceptable or unwanted qualities and motives to others
Reaction-formation- Defense mechanism involving denial of unacceptable unconscious urges by behavior contrary to one’s own feelings
Regression- Defense mechanism involving return to behavior expressive of earlier developmental stage, usu. due to trauma, fixation, anxiety, or frustration
Repression- Defense mechanism in which threatening or unacceptable ideas or urges are forgotten
Sadism- Condition in which pleasure, esp. sexual, is derived from inflicting pain on others
Sublimation- Defense mechanism involving substitution of socialized behavior for unacceptable acting out of primary urge


[1] Freud, The Ego and the Id, p. 709b*
[2] Freud, A General Introduction to Psychoanalysis, p. 27
[3] Freud, The Ego and the Id, p. 715a-b
[4] Fromm, The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness, p. 156
[5] Qtd. in Seldes, The Great Thoughts, p. 149


For further reading: 
A General Introduction to Psychoanalysis by Sigmund Freud (1975)
The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness
by Erich Fromm (1992)

Civilization and Its Discontents by Sigmund Freud (1929)
Instincts and Their Vicissitudes 
by Sigmund Freud (1915)
The Ego and the Id 
by Sigmund Freud (1923)
Lord of the Flies
by William Golding (2011)
by Sigmund Freud (1915)

*All notes are references to Great Books of the Western World Vol. 54 by Mortimer J. Adler (1990)



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