Freudian Concepts in Golding’s Lord of the Flies



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Freudian Concepts in Golding’s Lord of the Flies
Doctor Sigmund Freud, founder of the psychoanalytic method, and one of the pioneers in the fields of psychology and psychiatry, proposed several famous theories and concepts that are very important for understanding the novel Lord of the Flies, which deals with children trying to survive on an island without adults. They are:
Instinct: For Freud, biological instinct determines all parts of human personality. Humans always seek pleasure and avoid pain. An instinct has four parts: 1), a source, or a bodily deficiency such as lack of food; 2), an aim, which is to remove that deficiency, 3), an object, anything that would reduce or remove that deficiency; 4), an impetus, determined by the intensity of the deficiency. So, a person experiencing the hunger instinct will need food (their need for food is the source), will want to eliminate that need (their desire to find food to eat is the aim), and will seek and eat food (food is the object). How hard they will work to get food (the impetus) will depend on how long they have gone without it, or in other words how hungry they are. Freud put instincts into two categories: life instincts, which he called eros or libido, (including the sex drive, hunger, thirst; anything related to preserving, extending, or creating life), and death instincts, which he called thanatos. The most significant aspect of the death wish (thanatos) is aggression. Freud claimed this was the need for self-destruction turned outward—so, suicide and homicide, cruelty, violence of any kind—all come from the thanatos, the death instinct.
The Id, Ego, and Super-Ego: Freud believed a mature adult mind can be divided into three basic parts: an id, an ego, and a super-ego. Infants’ minds are completely id. The id is instinctive energy and is totally unconscious. It cannot stand tension having to do with a bodily need and so demands immediate gratification to remove that tension. There are two ways to do this: one is a reflex action like a sneeze or a blink; the second is wish fulfillment where the id creates in the mind an image of what it wants to satisfy its needs. A mental picture that could satisfy the need is merely a hallucination and does little to reduce a need for very long. The ego is the thing that actually helps someone to fulfill his or her needs. The ego takes the wish of the id and matches that against the real world (called identification), finding suitable things to fulfill a need. So, if the id produces in the mind a wish for food to alleviate hunger, the ego would make that person explore the world for edible items. An infant putting different objects in its mouth would be one example of attempting to match real-world objects (toys, dirt, bugs, apple sauce) with the need, identifying what can be eaten and satisfy the id’s wish (for food). This process is called reality testing. Freud believed that the ego is both conscious and unconscious, and it is the go-between for the id and external reality, bridging the outer world with the inner world of mind and instinct. If humans only had an id and an ego as part of their minds, we would be the same as many other animal species, just seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. The superego is where morality comes into play. It develops mostly from the internalized pattern of reward and punishment that a child experiences. The behaviors for which the child experiences punishment become internalized as the conscience, so that if the child behaves in a way for which s/he has been punished in the past, s/he experiences guilt or remorse. The ego ideal is the part dealing with experiences for which the child has received praise and been rewarded. Engaging in those behaviors, or thinking of doing so, brings the child a sense of pride.
Anxiety: Reality anxiety is caused by things that are actually dangerous. To reduce this anxiety one must get rid of the source of danger or get away from it. Neurotic anxiety is the fear that the id (driven by sheer instinct, one’s ‘animal self’) will overwhelm the ego and make the person do something that will bring punishment. Moral anxiety is the fear the person will do something that goes against the superego and thus she or he will have to experience guilt.
Displacement and Sublimation: When a person has to substitute one need satisfier (object) for another (when someone eats instead of having sex, for example, because food’s available and sex isn’t), or re-direct an emotion, this is displacement, and when this displacement benefits civilization, it’s called sublimation. Freud said, “Sublimation of such instinct is an especially conspicuous feature of cultural development; it is what makes it possible for higher psychical activities, scientific, artistic or ideological, to play such an important part in civilized life.” Even death instinct impulses can be displaced: an aggressive impulse directed at a threatening person can be displaced to less threatening things, like booing sports teams.

Projection: This is when anxiety-provoking truths about one’s self are ‘projected’ on to other people; so what one would feel guilty about having one’s self (a forbidden desire, a fault, or a shortcoming) is projected outward on to others or the environment. So, a dark impulse of violence (the thanatos) may be projected on to others, causing paranoia (“They are out to get me—they want to hurt me!”), or a sexual impulse about which one feels guilty may be projected on to someone else, (“I don’t find her attractive, but I know she wants me”) and so on.
Dream Analysis: Freud believed we dream when the events of the day (or past several weeks) activate unacceptable impulses in the unconscious mind, causing them to seek conscious expression. The ego, however, knows that if the contents of the dream are too threatening the dreamer may wake up prematurely, so the ego censors them by camouflaging them with symbolism. Condensation is when several ideas are condensed into a single element, like one person representing several people in real life. Dream displacement is when an unacceptable dream-thought is replaced by a symbolic equivalent.
Freud’s View of Human Nature
The element of truth behind all this, which people are so ready to disavow, is that men are not gentle creatures who want to be loved, and who at the most can defend themselves if they are attacked; they are, on the contrary, creatures among whose instinctual endowments is to be reckoned a powerful share of aggressiveness. As a result, their neighbour is for them not only a potential helper or sexual object, but also someone who tempts them to satisfy their aggressiveness on him, to exploit his capacity for work without compensation, to use him sexually without his consent, to seize his possessions, to humiliate him, to cause him pain, to torture and to kill him. Homo homini lupus. [Man is wolf to man.] (Freud, 1930, quoted in Hergenhahn, 1994)
Freud did believe, however, we could live more rational lives, if we would only look inward inside of ourselves, and through understanding our psychology, learn to know ourselves and become more rational and moral beings.

Maslow’s Pyramid of Human Needs

Abraham Maslow, another personality theorist, proposed that human needs are hierarchical and must be met in a certain order. If your most basic needs are not being met, you don’t worry about the less important needs that are higher up on the pyramid. First (at the base of the pyramid) would be physiological needs: air, water, and food, in that order. This overlaps with Freud’s theories about instinctual needs, the id and ego. Next, just above that, comes the need for safety, which correlates with Freud’s theory of anxiety. Then comes the need for love and a sense of belonging, and then above that esteem needs, and finally self-actualization. Love needs include romantic love but also family and friendship needs. Esteem has to do with a need to feel acceptance, status, confidence, and prestige. Self-actualization has to do with finding one’s destiny or vocation. If you are starving (a basic survival need), you cannot really worry too much about whether or not you have the respect of your colleagues (an esteem need); it seems rather unimportant compared to getting food. If you are being shot at, finding your true vocation in life (a self-actualization-level need) seems a bit distant and trivial compared to the much more immediate (safety) need of getting away from whoever is shooting at you. Some people go so long without ever having a certain need met they lose the desire to progress beyond it, so for example if a person is starved for love, the person’s ability to give affection may be lost forever. People can also rise above their needs; an example would be a person in a death camp giving up the last share of his or her bread to someone else so that s/he might live. Here, although the person is clearly not safe, and is starving to death, s/he is able to demonstrate love and affection towards another by making the supreme self-sacrifice, rising above his/her own physiological/survival needs.


Paraphrased from the work of B.R. Hergenhahn, 1994.


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