Filed under: Personal
Dear reader, what you are about to view is a positively insane essay that I chose to write in my sophomore year of high school. We had just finished reading Lord of the Flies and our big project for it was writing an essay somehow comparing its themes to another form of media. Now, being the weird, depressed kid I was, I was really into Alice in Chains, and… somehow… found a decent connection between their debut album and the book. I haven’t actually bothered to reread it before copying it here into this post, so … expect some light commentary near the end. Although… who cares what present me has to say? Read the enlightened thoughts of a 16 year old Tyoma instead.
(Note: I will spare you the Works Cited, but I will leave my parentheticals intact. Just for academic integrity and whatnot.)
Not even halfway through William Golding’s legendary Lord of the Flies, one thing becomes blatantly obvious: that the author is conducting a thought experiment regarding what true human nature is like. The book takes a very dark and pessimistic viewpoint of the theme, which can lead many readers to the conclusion that humans would be inherently evil, were it not for the laws that govern us all. The messages relayed by this book have greatly inspired many other works of art, whether it be intentionally or unintentionally. One piece that seems to have a strong connection to the themes present in the book is an album called Facelift.
Facelift is the debut album of the Seattle grunge band, Alice in Chains. It was released in 1990 to critical acclaim, greatly appealing to teenagers with it’s heavy metal sound and dark, emotional lyrics. While their following albums still maintained a metal sound and the same melancholy songwriting, the songs off of Facelift came from a place of resentment towards the current state of humanity (Childers). The songs “It Ain’t Like That,” “Sunshine,” “I Can’t Remember,” and the book Lord of the Flies all share the common themes of the darker sides of human nature as well as the loss of innocence and societal order. As a note, the lyrics of each song will be interpreted as if they are directly inspired by Lord of the Flies.
A brief summary of the song “It Ain’t Like That” would reveal that the song is about how a previous way of life has been completely altered. It can be taken to be from the perspective of the protagonist, Ralph, who is struggling to deal with the fact that the island functions completely independently of how their homes did. The first verse of the song begins by describing a great fear of something, but to connect it to the book, it relates to how Ralph and the other kids are afraid of being trapped on the island. The second, darker part of the verse has the lyrics “In my life, I’d not soften / Things that cut, and burn so often / But I sit, think of somethin’ / Scared to face, the dyin’ nothin’” (Alice in Chains, “It Ain’t Like That”). The first two lines imply that Ralph believes he is the best for the job because he won’t let the reality of their situation break him. Yet, with the last two lines, he knows that everything will spiral into chaos, so he has to be the adult in the situation and maintain order. We see this during their first assembly, where he himself says “Seems to me we ought to have a chief to decide things” (Golding, 22) and is subsequently declared chief by the majority.
The second verse of the song begins with the line “Where I go is when I feel I’m able,” representing how the children on the island, especially Jack and the choir boys, have begun to just do whatever they want (Alice in Chains, “It Ain’t Like That”). Ralph’s struggle to keep everything together due to tensions with Jack is shown by the lines “How I fight is why I’m feeling sore / In my mind, not forgotten / Feel as though a tooth were rotten” (Alice in Chains, “It Ain’t Like That”). One of the first and biggest ways we see this struggle come to light is through the absence of the signal fire in Chapter 4. While Ralph and Piggy are talking by the beach, they spot a ship on the horizon. Jack and his hunters were assigned by Ralph to tend to the signal fire. However, the fire went out because they had gone out on a pig hunt (Golding, 69-71). While this is Jack’s first major act against Ralph’s orders, Ralph still has a reasonable amount of authority over him. When Piggy scolds Jack, Jack hits Piggy and breaks his glasses, but when Ralph confronts him, he finally says “I’m sorry. About the fire, I mean… I apologize” (Golding, 72). The last two lines, “Behind the smile, a tongue that’s slipping / Buzzards cry, as flesh is ripping” foreshadow the eventual murders of Simon and Piggy (Alice in Chains, “It Ain’t Like That). The use of the word “buzzard” also helps describe how almost all of the children will begin to embrace killing and death, since buzzards are known to regularly feed off of the corpses of dead animals.
The third and final verse of the song represents how Jack has captured the hearts of most, if not all, of the children on the island. It starts off with the lines “Here I sit writing on the paper, trying to think of words you can’t ignore” (Alice in Chains, “It Ain’t Like That”). As the story goes on, Ralph increasingly has more issues getting people to listen and gather at assemblies. Near the end of the book, when Jack’s crew steals Piggy’s glasses, Piggy tells Ralph to call an assembly, to which Ralph responds, “An assembly for only us?” (Golding, 169) After the conch is blown, the area is described as follows: “Both ways the beach was deserted. Some littluns came from the shelters… three others stood before [Ralph]” (Golding, 170). While the conch was once a symbol of authority like a gavel is in a courtroom, it has lost it’s power now because Jack’s tribe has a greater appeal to the children’s sense of desire. The chorus had come several times before, but finally ended the song with the lyrics “See the cycle I’ve waited for / It ain’t like that anymore” (Alice in Chains, “It Ain’t Like That”). By this point, the island has established itself as an entity separate from the society they once knew. The way life will go on this island is far removed from how their regular lives in civilization used to be.
The next song, “Sunshine,” can be construed as a song from the Beast’s perspective about what the beast truly represents. Since the Beast represents the deeper evils of human nature, the verses reflect questions that can be raised from that fact. For example, the second verse features the line “Am I your reflection, melting mirror smile” (Alice in Chains, “Sunshine”). In other words, the fear they place upon the beast reflects their fear of each other and what they know they are capable of doing. They find something to target so they can at least feel safe around one another. The last verse of the song is simply “Can you face the question? / Is my soul entire?” (Alice in Chains, “Sunshine”). Because the children don’t know for sure what the beast truly is, this verse posits that maybe the beast is not a separate entity, but an ingrained part of them all. The first to point this out was Simon, during an earlier assembly in Chapter 5, where he said “Maybe… maybe there is a beast. What I mean is… maybe it’s only us” (Golding, 89).
Simon’s connection to the Beast can be further explored through the chorus: “Then some dude came down to touch the Mother / Mother touched, and dude ain’t here no more” (Alice in Chains, “Sunshine”). This would represent the point in the story where Simon wakes up after fainting and discovers the Beast. It is actually the corpse of a pilot that had parachuted down from a plane. He remarks that “the beast was harmless and horrible; and the news must reach the others as soon as possible” (Golding, 147). In other words, Simon realizes that everyone had really been afraid of the wrong kind of beast. He rushes down the mountain to alert the others, but they are frenzied and think he is the Beast, and attack him. The children “surged after it… leapt on to the beast, screamed, struck, bit, tore. There were no words, and no movements but the tearing of teeth and claws” (Golding, 153). They are described more like animals in this passage, biting and tearing at Simon with claws as if they are predators. Ironically, they had become more like beasts than the actual Beast had. The interlude before the last verse includes the line “Memory, set me free / I don’t care no more” (Alice in Chains, “Sunshine”). While at one point of the story they had been longing to return back home, by the current moment, they appear to have given up all hope of returning back to their normal lives.
The third and final song deals with the loss of identity, or in the book’s case, the loss of innocence and humanity within the children. “I Can’t Remember,” through a particular interpretation, blurs the lines between the kids’ inner animalistic desires and civilized thought. The first verse describes the beginning of Jack’s increase in power and influence. It features the lines “I haven’t eaten today, and my eyes are turning grey / What’s your name? / I can’t remember” (Alice in Chains, “I Can’t Remember”). Since the kids actually appear to be well-fed throughout the story, “not eating” can be interpreted as a different kind of hunger: a longing for something, specifically for a leader they actually want to follow. Jack is the most likely candidate, due to his appeal to their desires, and they slowly begin to slip farther away from true order.
The second verse comes from the perspective of that inner, evil nature. It says, “Bring me down, you try / Feel the pain and keep it all in ’til you die” (Alice in Chains, “I Can’t Remember). This represents how the kids, at first, try to go along with Ralph’s organized group and rules, but instead go along with Jack to have fun. They’re trying to suppress their inner nature, but they give in to it, thus their civilized self “dies.” The line “without eyes, you cannot cry” also implies that if they give up their connection to their old lives, then they will feel no guilt by going down this road (Alice in Chains, “I Can’t Remember). The final line of this verse, “who’s to blame,” poses a very important question. Can their embracing of the darkest aspects of human nature be a result of Ralph’s incapacity to enforce his laws? Could it be due to Jack’s contagious savage influence? Or is it all the fault of the children for letting themselves be overtaken by the allure of sinning without consequence?
In the powerful first chorus of the song, the innocence of the kids is truly starting to disappear. Their connection to society being severed is described by the simple line “I can’t remember identity” (Alice in Chains, “I Can’t Remember”). There is no greater example of a lost identity than in the case of Percival Wemys Madison. Percival makes his first appearance in Chapter 5, where he constantly is chanting his name and address. He does this so that, if he were back at home, an adult would be able to guide him back to his house. By the end of the assembly, where the rest of the kids are discussing what they should truly be afraid of, “Percival Wemys Madison, of the Vicarage, Harcourt St. Anthony… was living through circumstances in which the incantation of his address was powerless to help him” (Golding, 94). Here, Percival is faced with the harsh realization that there is no authority here to help him survive on this island. He has to help himself survive. As the story continues, everyone gives into a murderous, evil instinct and tries to chase down Ralph and kill him once and for all. However, a naval officer arrives to return them back home. When asked his name, “Percival Wemys Madison sought in his head for an incantation that had faded clean away” (Golding, 201). After everything he had been through, Percival threw away the last remaining scrap of humanity he had: his connection to regular civilization. The next line in the song, “Mama, mama, ooh / My angry brains of infancy” calls back to how they are all, in fact, just kids (Alice in Chains, “I Can’t Remember”). After being stranded on an island for several months, they’ve completely lost their innocence as a result of the atrocities they had committed through murdering Simon, Piggy, and almost Ralph. This realization finally kicks in as “the… little boys began to sob and shake,” bringing them back to their childlike state after being confronted with an actual adult, after all this time (Golding, 202).
The second chorus comes from the all-powerful perspective of their newly awakened evil nature, beginning with the line “Knocked down but I have enough hate to breathe down your throat and steal your energy” (Alice in Chains, “I Can’t Remember”). This shows how their bloodlust is now so strong that everyone has fallen victim to it, with the only exception being Ralph. The next line, “You took everything but my will to be,” represents how nobody was able to stop Jack from taking power, so his ideas and behaviors just spread like a disease to the rest of the children (Alice in Chains, “I Can’t Remember”). The chorus ends with the final lyric, “Now the loss of your god won’t make me bleed” (Alice in Chains, “I Can’t Remember”). The “god” in this line could represent the conch, the last remaining symbol of law and order. In Chapter 11, Ralph and Piggy go over to Jack’s camp to retrieve Piggy’s stolen glasses. This whole time, Piggy continuously tries shouting that he has the conch to get people’s attention. At some point, “surprisingly, there was silence now; the tribe were curious to hear what amusing thing he might have to say” (Golding, 180). Even if just briefly for entertainment, the conch’s authority gave Piggy the floor to speak. However, Roger, one of Jack’s followers, lets a boulder loose off a cliff which kills Piggy and shatters the conch. For the remainder of the story, only Jack’s savages have any power over what happens on the island. With the conch gone, the only person suffering from its loss was Ralph; Jack and his crew represented chaos, the complete opposite of what the conch symbolizes. The very last line before the song abruptly ends, “I am alive,” signifies how, despite everything Ralph, Simon, and Piggy did to stop it, a repressed bloodlust managed to overtake everyone else on the island (Alice in Chains, “I Can’t Remember”).
While both a book and musical album are very different avenues of expression, they both manage to convey similar themes in unique ways. Both art forms have their own effect on certain people, and one may be more effective at conveying a message to a particular person than another. The importance of these ideas being broadcast across all forms of art is so that a wider audience can be exposed to philosophical concepts that could potentially reshape their worldview. The topic of human nature is quite a difficult topic to navigate, but both mediums appear to handle it with ease, leaving the interpretation of what human nature really constitutes up to the judgment of the reader or listener. While this idea could be a potentially upsetting topic to think about, it is critical that it be explored in depth, so as to better understand the psychology of our own species. It is paramount that those who have at least read the story, “wept for the end of innocence, the darkness of man’s heart, and the fall through the air of the true, wise friend called Piggy,” and spread the message contained within to as many others as they possibly could (Golding, 202).
Now, maybe I should have left in at least a LITTLE reference to one of the articles. The reference to Childers comes from this article, which I went with because… well, I didn’t want to just sound like I was making things up.
Anyways… now, in my old man mind, I both see that little me was probably filled with a lot more creativity and extrapolative capacity than I am now. But honestly? I’ve got no damn clue what I’m even talking about in some of these passages. Like, I sort of get what I’m trying to interpret from some of these lyrics, but with others it’s just like “WHERE DID YOU GET THAT FROM?” I don’t even wanna say I’m looking for meaning where there is none, both because the song is obviously about SOMETHING but because I truly felt like a genius at the time for finding these connections.
I also kinda see different interpretations NOW than little me did. Like.. take the very last verse of I Cant Remember.
“Knocked down but I have enough hate to breathe Down your throat and steal your energy You took everything but my will to be, Now the loss of your god won’t make me bleed”
It’s been a while since I read the book, but maybe you could connect the first couple lines more to what the Beast represented. “Knocked down” could be more metaphorical… for the Beast lost some power (fear) over the kids. But it still stole their spirits (“energy”, as the song says) by causing them to turn into violent monsters. The other two lines are a little tougher, ‘cause I still stick by it representing the conch. This gets a little tougher though, because the Beast is both seen in the ACTUAL beast (i.e. the dead pilot) but also speaks to Simon through that impaled pig head. But on the other hand - maybe you could connect it to Simon? He is sort of like the Christ figure of the book, if you want to call it that. Oh well, use your guys’ imagination.
I will say though I really dig my concluding paragraph. Hope you guys enjoyed this silly ride as much as I did.