This essay discusses theme in Lord of the Flies. The student wrote it as a revision exercise to prepare for the internal exam.
Golding uses his novel, Lord of the Flies, to bring across his ideas on civilisation and the behaviour within a civilised society. His ultimate aim is to show how thin the veneer of civilisation is and that goodness and innocence cannot prevail without its presence. Initially, the stranded boys have a desire for order and to create a functional society. Even Jack is enthused with the concept, seeing it as a game, crying:
“We’ll have rules!…Lots of rules!”
It is the concept of civilisation that keeps the darker side of human nature reigned in. Golding wishes to demonstrate that there is an innate evil in all humans that can make them do horrific things. It is this bleak idea that he uses to keep reminding us that civilisation is a buffer against our own darkness.
When what civilisation the boys have begins to fracture, various characters ‘true’ natures begin to show. Roger, at first is simply quiet and unsociable. When he was teasing the Littlun, Henry, by throwing stones near him in the water, Roger cannot aim directly for him. Physically, he is perfectly able to, but society’s rules and taboos of when he was back in England, are still in place.
“Round the squatting child was the protection of parents and school and policemen and law. Roger’s arm was conditioned by a civilisation that knew nothing of him and was in ruins.
However, in the savage and chaotic world of the Tribe, Roger forgets any such restraints. He is changed to a sadistic torturer and rolls the rock that kills Piggy. He carries out his whims with a shocking calmness, not having the civilisation around him to quell his tendencies. Of all the characters he is the closest to evil.
Golding, in Lord of the Flies, successfully destroys the misconception held by most of humanity that mankind is essentially innocent and society (civilisation) is evil. His use of primarily child-characters make this point more shocking. Children are not innocent, they can torture, they can kill. With a lack of law enforcement and repercussions for breaking rules, anyone can be savage, brutal and cruel.
Piggy is the physical representation of society’s blindness to reality. He is an archetypal society that refuses to see humanity’s propensity for evil. Piggy is bound by logic and scientific thought to the point where he cannot see or recognise the concept of a ‘beast’ (which is fear). He cannot face that he was part of a horrible ‘game’ that killed someone. He tries to be always rational and is thus blind, even when he has his glasses:
“We was scared!…Anything might have happened. It wasn’t – what you said.”
Piggy tried to explain away Simon’s murder. He is mature adult society – immature in their inability to face the faults of people.
Democracy is the bastion of civilisation. In the novel it is championed by Ralph: “The boy with fair hair.” This description has two possible meanings, both being accurate: fair of colouring and fair in judgement. He has a continuing faith in reason, order and democracy. This is due to his associating order with adults, adults with rescue and rescue with civilisation.
Even to the end Ralph still has a desire to make things work, make the boys ‘civilised’. He is a society that is not naïve or blind to its subsequent faults, but still wishes for rules and order. What he does not understand is why it went wrong on the island:
“Things are breaking up. I don’t understand why. We began well. We were happy.”
The civilisation and order Ralph presents in a childish attempt at democracy is opposed and eventually destroyed by Jack. Jack is an able leader, save he is a dictator, ruling by fear and violence. The formation of his ‘Tribe’ comes about because he offers the boys freedom from their fear of the beast, exploiting their fears shamelessly. His use of face-paint is another way to be free of rules and order that lingers. It liberates him to barbarism and chaos:
“…the mask was a thing on its own, behind which Jack hid, liberated from shame and self-consciousness.”
There is a contest between Jack and Ralph for leadership of the boys. Jack eventually breaks the semblance of civilised democracy with savage dictatorship. This fall shows that democracy, and thus civilisation, is fragile when forced to contend with mindless and continual aggression.
Golding’s aim was to show that evil is innate in human-kind and that civilisations essential purpose is to keep that from manifesting itself. Overall it presents an extremely bleak view on the human-race. Golding created a microcosm (the purpose of isolating the boys on an uninhabited island) to prove this idea as a mirror to our society. It is effective because the isolation and characters make it all the more horrific and saddening.
Golding allows for some hope. He alludes (via the character of Ralph) that society can move forward if it acknowledges its own darkness. It is, after all, civilisation that lets humans stay blind. Golding both champions and despairs of civilisation.
“Ralph wept for the end of innocence, the darkness of man’s heart…”