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Freudian Theory Id, Ego, and Superego and how Lord of the Flies Illustrates These

Updated on February 25, 2011

Lord of the Flies Pig Head

Lord of The Flies, and Id, Ego and Superego

People, in life, act differently at different times. You can see this all around you. People naturally switch their way of thinking, in different situations, whether they know it or not. Sigmund Freud believed their ways of thinking could be broken down into three categories called levels of consciousness. In William Golding’s novel Lord of the Flies these three levels of consciousness can be observed.

Freud said the first level of consciousness is the id level. It is categorized as the instinctual drive, the motivation from pleasure, and sometimes irrational thinking. A person operating at the id level may be motivated by hunger, jealousy, or the desire for something, based on instinct. His second level of consciousness is ego. Anyone operating at the ego level of consciousness may be motivated by punishment or reward. Let’s say a young child climbs up onto the counter, goes into the cabinet and eats five of his gummy Flinstones vitamins. His mother then grabs him off the counter and spanks him. The boy will probably not eat those vitamins again because of the fear that he may get spanked. On the other hand maybe a child uses the toilet correctly for the first time and his mother gives him a cookie and a “Swell job Jimmy.” The boy will then have learned that going on the toilet is good because his mother rewards him with a cookie, and praise, which he likes. By the time this boy is fifteen he has already known that going to the bathroom on the toilet is what you’re supposed to do. He does it because he believes it is right, not because he will be punished or rewarded. This is known as being at the superego level of consciousness. It is when you act based on your own beliefs or morals of what is right, and what you are supposed to do.

There plenty of examples of children in Lord of the Flies that function at the id level of consciousness. First we have Jack, a character that has come through the story to lead his group of hunters into the woods and find food. The kids savagely hunted the plentiful pigs on the island. “….the hunters hurled themselves at her [the pig]. This dreadful eruption from an unknown world made her frantic…Roger [who becomes the torturer and executioner for the tribe] ran around the heap, prodding with his spear whenever pig flesh appeared. Jack was on top of the sow, stabbing downward….” Here the kids kill a pig, brutally, only based on the natural instinct of hunger placed in all of us. Another example of id in the novel is the fact that the children in the beginning of the story excrete bodily wastes anywhere and everywhere on the island. This is instinctual and no thought is done beforehand.

The ego level isn’t seen as much as the other two levels of consciousness are seen on the island, simply because there are few on the island that will reward or punish themselves on the island. One of the only examples of ego in the story is when Jack’s group splits from Ralph (the original chief) and his followers. During this Sam n’ Eric, twins, seem to be obligated to go with Jack’s group because of the fear that they may make Jack angry. If the twins didn’t go with Jack, he might have hurt them or yelled at them, making this an example of the ego level of consciousness.

The third and final level of consciousness, superego is also present in the story. The first example of id in the story is in the beginning of the novel. They have a conch which Ralph originally found. This first was used to call everyone to a meeting on the beach, with it’s thunderous trumpeting sound. Here the boys set up a representative democracy. The boys pick a chief on the island, which turns out to be Ralph. The conch, which called the meeting together, ends up symbolizing the power to talk, and the idea that everyone must listen. Ralph, the newly elected leader of the boys, decides it is necessary that there are rules. “We ought to have more rules. Where the conch is, that’s a meeting. The same up here as down here….We’ve got to have rules and obey them. After all, we’re not savages.” Setting up a government had been initially put in their head before all of them came to the island therefore the boys were acting on preset morals, or the superego level of consciousness.

Since the boys in Lord of the Flies use all of there levels of consciousness; id, ego, and superego, what do you think happens by the end of the story? Well, with no enforcement, or further learning of the moral and acceptable behavior we should use, everything gets out of control. Piggy is killed by Roger. The conch is broken, symbolizing the fall of democracy, and Jack and his boys try to kill Ralph, the chief, by the end of the story. The whole story itself is a metaphor for what would happen to human civilization if there were no set rules, religions, morals, codes, or laws to live by.


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