Superficial Moral Systems Exposed in William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, and George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion
"The superficial nature of human moral systems" is a valid concern in society today. This has always been a factor in society that authors have felt the need to address. People see the hypocrisy in themselves and know that it exists in others. The manners that are so commonly used in public are rarely practiced in private. Most people are ashamed to say and do what they believe is right when they are in public. This understanding causes people to worry what other human beings are doing out of the public view. If it weren't for the opinions of others, most of the popular ideas on morality would not be implemented at all.
In The Lord of the Flies, the morality of apparently civilized boys gradually seems to vanish in direct relation to the amount of time that they are separated from society. They never understood why they had behaved themselves before they were stranded on the island. They only repeated the moral systems of their parents just as any other perfunctory gesture. As soon as they are on their own, they begin to do what is easiest rather than what is "proper." This concept is not far from what the reaction to any person would be in this situation. If someone found that suddenly he were not longer responsible to anyone, his life would greatly change from the way it was before. People do many things to please family and friends. People only do what is expected. If moral behavior is no longer expected, it will stop being practiced.
A perfect example of this human hypocrisy lies in The Scarlet Letter's Arthur Dimmesdale. To his congregation, Dimmesdale is an icon of morality, but he knows better. Every night he beats himself with a "bloody scourge" because he knows that while he is preaching against adultery, he has committed this act. In his Puritan society, what he has done is not allowed. Not only does he not want to be punished, but he also wants to keep his influence in the community. The public opinion is dear to him. He has convinced himself that it is better for everyone if he does not confess, but he knows that he is lying to himself. What Dimmesdale does is only for himself. He wants to keep his position, so he pretends to remain a morally upright man.
Bernard Shaw's characters Andrew Undershaft and Alfred Doolittle have the same ideas about human morality. It is something that only the rich can afford. Anyone who is well off feels an obligation to help others that they would not consider otherwise. The pressure of having something while others have nothing causes people to take measures on the behalf of other humans. This very concept allows the idea to follow that the compassion that the charitable seem to have is based on appearances rather than an actual concern.
In Crime and Punishment, the semi-charitable acts of Raskolnikov and Svidrigailov seem to support the hypocrisy that is inherent in most acts of human kindness. Svidrigailov gives in a capricious way, with little thought either way for the good of the people to whom he gives. Raskolnikov's charity seems to be more for himself than for the person receiving. He helps others to ease his conscience. Neither has morality in mind when he gives. Their sporadic acts of compassion reveal that they do not really care what is right. They only care about what they want to do.
All information seems to indicate that human morality is for the most part a pretense. If it weren't for the unwritten laws of society, human beings would openly manipulate and hurt each other for their own gain. Most people do not even speak up for what they believe and cannot stop pretending to believe the same as everyone else in society. Perhaps it is only this pretense that keeps human society from completely destroying itself.
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