Loss of Individuality in the Presence of a Quasi-Tyrannical Leader
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In literature, as in life, people are sometimes left alone, to fend for themselves, without guidance from more experienced individuals. In these cases, the idea of the individual is destroyed, and one leader takes an absolute control over the groups actions and thoughts, as is the case in both The Lord of the Flies by William Golding, and The Destructors by Graham Greene. Although the idea of individualism is deeply ingrained into society, the natural tendency of most humans is nevertheless to become subservient to the more powerful leader, and therefore lose any sense of independent thought. This trait manifests itself in the forms of lesser leaders submitting to greater leaders, seemingly faithful followers joining opposing tyrannical leaders, and an unquestioned authority of a leader.
In The Destructors, by Graham Greene, the former leader of the gang, Blackie, submits to Trevor, or T., without any argument once it become apparent that T. has taken charge:
It was the end of [Blackie’s] leadership…. Beyond, paying no more attention to his than to a stranger, the gang had gathered around T.; Blackie was dimly aware of the fickleness of favour…. Driven by the pure, simple, and altruistic ambition of fame for the gang, Blackie came back to where T. stood in the shadow of Misery’s wall (583).
Later, Blackie even helps T. get out of a situation where his leadership is in danger. Summers says at one point, “‘Run along home, Trevor, ‘” using the “fatal name” (585). But Blackie interjects, before the gang could laugh at the use of Trevor’s upper-class name, and asks, “‘What’s your plan, T.? ‘” (585). Blackie has all but forgotten his former leadership, and has become just another member of the gang under T.
Similarly, in Lord of the Flies, by William Golding, faithful followers betray one leader to submit to a more powerful one. For example, the twins Sam and Eric, or Samneric, betray Ralph and join Jack, because instinctively they know that Ralph was on the losing side. When Ralph pleads for help from the twins, Eric says, “‘Listen, Ralph. Never mind what’s sense, that’s gone-‘” (188). Although they want to help Ralph escape alive, their loyalty already lays with Jack. Soon, Ralph comes to realize that he is alone, and that even Samneric are fully in support of Jack’s side. “Samneric were somewhere in that line, and hating it. Or were they?” (196). Pushed by fear of pain and death, Samneric not only betray Ralph, but eventually come to fully support Jack’s cause in finding Ralph and killing him. Somehow, Ralph knows that no matter what, they are not loyal to him anymore. They have already faded into Jack’s savage mob, and do not think for themselves anymore.
The loss of independent thought also leads to an unquestioned authority of a leader. For example, in Lord of the Flies, Jack’s mob has no real reason to hate Ralph, but they do so anyways, because Jack has a prejudice against Ralph. When Ralph addressed the issue, Jack’s gang does not know how to respond, because they do not actually have a reason to hate Ralph: “‘Why do you hate me?’ The boys stirred uneasily, as if something indecent had been said.
The silence lengthened” (118). Jack’s unfounded hatred of Ralph is their only reason to dislike Ralph. Similarly, in The Destructors, when the boys unite under T., all question of motive disappears. “The question of leadership no longer concerned the gang. With nails, chisels, screwdrivers, anything that was sharp and penetrating they moved around the inner walls worrying at the mortar between the bricks” (587). Even though at first, T.’s idea of destroying the house without looting anything was questioned, by the end of their project the gang was a mindless machine, working to destroy to house from the inside out. None of them hated Mr. Thomas, or Old Misery, not even T. himself. The only reason for the gang to destroy the house had been a whim on T.’s side, and when he had established himself as leader, the gang blindly, unquestioningly followed him.
In conclusion, the arrival of a powerful leader will cause even former leaders to submit to him; he will bring out unfaithfulness in people and make them faithful to him; and he will destroy the idea of independent thought in the collective. Although some people, such as Ralph, manage to maintain their individuality, most people will quail under an oppressive leader and fit in with the mob mentality, lacking independent thought and following the leader mindlessly.