Good and evil are two forces that have been at odds for the entirety of humankind. The fight between what is right and what is wrong is a recurring theme throughout all art forms. Good always seems to reign victorious while, on the other hand, evil often has some type of backstory that explains how a person’s truly good nature was manipulated. These stories, as well as the actions of humans, can be better understood when one takes into account true nature. Humans have proven themselves to be inherently benevolent through their cooperative qualities.
Humans are born to be benevolent. A study conducted of, “... 18-month-old toddlers show that they will almost always try to help an adult who is visibly struggling with a task, without being asked to do so” (Szalavitz). From the commencement of life, humans have a desire to help each other. Being of service is often viewed as an honorable trait. These babies are kind and caring for the world around them. They have no prior influences forcing them to act this way. It is natural for them to be good to others; it is an instinct.
Humans’ first instinct is to assist others around them. One study found that, “... more intuitive- decisions were associated with higher levels of cooperation, whereas slower-that is, more reflective- decisions were associated with higher levels of selfishness. These results suggest that our first impulse is to cooperate” (Ward). Though the selfless decision may not be the easiest one, it is still the first instinct humans have. Cooperation is a function ingrained into the human brain and is widely regarded as a caring quality. The positive effects of working together to solve a problem are seen in The Outsiders.
The Outsiders proves that man is inherently benevolent. The main character of this book, Ponyboy, grew up in the midst of a gang war. His environment taught him that violence is wrong and that fighting does not solve problems. He actively chooses not to participate in such acts. Because of his benevolent nature, Ponyboy ends up risking his life to save children who are trapped in a burning church. His friend Johnny sacrifices his own life to save him and the children.
I didn't pay any attention, although pieces of the old roof were crashing down too close for comfort. I snatched up another kid, hoping he didn't bite, and dropped him with- out waiting to see if he landed okay or not. I was coughing so hard I could hardly stand up, and I wished I had time to take off Dally's jacket. It was hot. We dropped the last of the kids out as the front of the church started to crumble. Johnny shoved me toward the window. “Get out!”. (Hinton 79)
These boys went completely against their reputation. They are not expected to be caring for others. Yet, they saved multiple lives. Ponyboy and Johnny did not think before they ran to save the kids. They did so out of the goodness of their hearts. In Lord of the Flies, this type of caring nature is also seen in Ralph.
Benevolence is evident at the beginning of Lord of the Flies. When the boys first arrive on the island they try to cooperate. They try to form a type of government with Ralph as the leader. In the book, Ralph symbolizes order and civility as well as the true nature of man. He does everything he can to try and rescue the boys and provide for them.
Ralph spoke again, hoarsely. He had not moved. ‘You let the fire go out.’... ‘There was a ship. Out there. You said you’d keep the fire going and you let it out!’ He took a step toward Jack, who turned and faced him. “They might have seen us. We might have gone home—”. (Golding 70)
Ralph truly wanted to rescue all of the boys. He had their best interests in heart. It is obvious that some of the events that took place on the island are incredibly and irrevocably evil. However, these events took place after the boys had spent a fair amount of time on the island. Their experiences started to warp their morals and civility. Fear was created by the presence of a “beastie” on the island. In response to this, they started to act animal-like. This explains why some of their human morality vanished. Succumbing to their fears caused the boys’ truly benevolent nature to be deformed.
The true nature of man is proven to be inherently benevolent. This fact explains all human actions throughout history. At birth humans already want to help each other. Their first instinct is to cooperate and be kind to one another. In The Outsiders, the main characters were heroic and risked their lives to save others. In Lord of the Flies, the boys worked well together at first and had the potential to achieve great things. From this one can conclude that all evil events that have taken place in human society can not be blamed on human nature. Evil is a learned concept.
Golding, William Gerald. Lord of the Flies. Penguin Books, 2016.
Hinton, S. E. The Outsiders. Penguin Books, 2019.
Szalavitz, Maia. “Is Human Nature Fundamentally Selfish or Altruistic?” Time,
Time, 8 Oct. 2012, http://healthland.time.com/2012/10/08/is-human-nature-fundamentally-selfish-or-altruistic/.
Ward, Adrian F. “Scientists Probe Human Nature--and Discover We Are Good,
After All.” Scientific American, 20 Nov. 2012, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/scientists-probe-human-nature-and-discover-we-are-good-after-all/.
This is the first of 24 essays that will be written by PHS Honors English students in collaboration with The Portland Beacon over the next six months. Ms. Chandra Polasek, PHS Honors English and Drama teacher, will provide the essays on a regular basis to The Beacon. All essays are original work of the students.