Lord of the Flies is a novel written by William Golding in 1954. Golding’s participationin the Second World War, and especially in the invasion of Normandy may have pessimisticallyaffected his viewpoints and opinions regarding human nature and what a personis capable of doing.
This can be seen in his novel, which observes theregression of human society into savagery, the abandonment of what is morallyand socially acceptable for one’s primal instincts and desires.The beginning of Lord of the Flies introduces the maincharacters and the story’s setting. A group of boys are stranded on an isolatedisland and must find a way to survive until rescue comes. The protagonist, Ralph,as well as an overweight boy nicknamed “Piggy” come across a conch, which theyuse to find any other survivors.
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Once all the survivors have assembled, theyelect Ralph as their chief because he possesses the conch, a symbol ofauthority. His goal is to maintain order and civility among the boys and tolight a signal fire so they can be rescued. The novel’s antagonist is JackMerridew, the leader of a group of choir boys. He envies Ralph’s chieftainposition and eventually forms his own group of hunters. The story revolves around twoopposing groups and mentalities – one seeks order and civility, the other seeksto satisfy the primal, savage aspect of humanity.
By establishing rules (suchas prohibiting anybody who does not hold the conch during an assembly to speak),and assigning jobs and roles for the boys, Ralph wishes to retain the moralsand ideals they have received during their upbringing. On the other hand, Jackonly wishes to hunt and sate his animalistic urges. Later on in the novel hisgroup even paints their faces with clay – an act, synonymous with savagetribes.The regression from “society” to “savagery”is gradual.
At first everybody works together to build shelters, search forfood and water and to light a signal fire whose smoke can grab the attention ofpassing ships or aircraft. As time goes by on the island, however, some of theboys become either lazy or bored with Ralph’s plan and would rather join Jack’shunting party. This attitude costs them their rescue, when a ship is seenpassing by the island, but because the boys responsible for maintaining thesignal fire have neglected their duties, the ship cannot see the smoke andinvestigate. One of the key factors for the boys’descent into savagery is the reports of a “beastie” lurking on the island. Therumors of its existence scare the smaller children, but also become thecatalyst for Jack and his group to indulge their savageness, due to theirdesire to hunt it down and kill it.
The boys are driven to madness because ofit. This “beastie” is the titular Lord of the Flies, or Beelzebub, who in theNew Testament is identified as the Devil – a symbol of evil. When one of thecharacters, Simon, stumbles across the beastie it is revealed that it is a pig’shead on a stick.
The pig was brutally stabbed by Jack and his hunters in afrenzy, as the pig squealed in pain. This act of savagery solidifies the lossof innocence and the embracement of evil. Simon hallucinates the head talkingto him. “You knew, didn’t you? I’m part of you? Close, close, close! I’m thereason why it’s no go? Why things are what they are?” (Golding 158) The Lord ofthe Flies suggests that his presence is the reason for the boys’ descent intosavagery and madness, beginning with the children’s fear of the beast’sexistence, followed by Jack’s brutality when killing the pig as well as histransformation into a savage, finally culminating in the frenzied murder ofSimon at the hands of the children who mistake him for the beast. While theyare beating Simon to death they are also chanting “Kill the beast! Cut histhroat! Spill his blood!” (Golding 168) and dancing around him, similarlyto a tribe of savages. The killing of a fellow human being is the biggest signthat evil has enveloped the hearts of the children. Not too long after Simon’s deathPiggy also dies, after Jack and his tribe hunt him and Ralph down. When Piggydies, the conch is destroyed, symbolizing the destruction of civility andorder.
In the ensuing manhunt for Ralph, the forest is set on fire, burningdown the food sources on the island, but due to their bloodlust they do not care.All they care about is hunting down their prey. After narrowly avoiding hispursuers, Ralph eventually succumbs to his exhaustion and is prepared for theworst, but is instead greeted by a soldier. Ironically, the forest fire,created with evil intentions, is the cause for the boys’ rescue.In the end of the story, instead ofjoy, everybody, even Jack, is overcome by grief and sadness, shaking andsobbing for “the end of innocence, the darkness of man’s heart” (Golding 225)One can argue that Golding’s goalwas to pessimistically portray the evil, animalistic brutalities of humannature, especially when confronted with a situation, which is alien to us.While order and civility may persist at first, eventually they are replaced bythe primal instincts and savage desires, ever-present in our soul.