“Lord of the Flies” was first published in 1954. Its author, William Golding, was born in Cornwall in 1911, and bought up in Wiltshire. Golding’s father was a teacher and a socialist and his mother actively supported the campaign for votes for women, so from an early age Golding was aware of the social and political systems that were in force and their influence on people.
During the Second World War Golding joined the Royal Navy and took part in the sinking of Bismark and the Normandy on D-day. Golding’s experience of war had a profound effect on him and his view of the world as it taught him how savage and cruel people could be to one another.
Although he was appalled by the evils of Nazism and the Third Reich, he said in an interview in 1963 that everyone was capable of inhumanity, not just the German or the Japanese. He saw Nazism as an evil political system, and so horrifying that it could not be explained through reason alone. He looked for an explanation in the nature of human beings, and their capacity for brutality and inhumanity in “Lord of the Flies.”
The novel itself is set on an imaginary, remote island. A plane, evacuating children from a war zone, crashes and the survivors are a group of boys: Ralph, Jack Merridew, a fat, shortsighted boy who goes by the name of “Piggy”, Roger and a number of other boys of various ages. The boys are bought together by the sound of a conch, which Ralph finds and blows. The boys have meetings and lay down a number of rules rules. They decide to make a fire, which acts as their signal for survival. As the novel develops, the reader begins to witness the development of a clash of interests on the island and the formation of two groups: Ralph’s group, whose priority is getting rescued, and Jack’s group, whose priority is to have fun and hunt.
During the boys’ stay on the island, three of the boys die: the boy with the Mulberry-coloured birthmark across one of his cheeks, Simon and Piggy. At the end of the novel a fire starts on the island which attracts the attention of a Naval officer whose ship is passing by and the boys are rescued.
To begin, I will describe the island, which is separated and isolated from the outside world. The island is unspoiled and it has an abundant amount of fruit, vegetation and natural life, and we see some suggestions that it is like the Garden of Eden. Nature on the island is beautiful and yet at the same time it is potentially hostile. The beauty of the island is conveyed through similes, for example:
“The lagoon was still as a mountain lake- blue of all shades and shadowy green and purple.” (Chapter 2).
The phrase shows the reader the good side of the island on which the boys can feel safe. There are other phrases that suggest evil and destruction:
“Smashed a deep whole in the canopy of the forest.” (Chapter 2).
This description of the island foreshadows what is to eventually become of the good nature of the boys i.e. the bad side of the boys will start to unfold itself.
Golding’s use of the phrase “smashed a deep whole” reminds the reader of the war which is going on in the outside world. Furthermore, through his descriptions of the island, Golding has revealed the purity of nature before Man spoils it. We can tell something about the different characters from their response to the island’s natural life. Jack, for example, wants to exploit it to satisfy his own desires, which is shown when he decides to set it alight in chapter 12 when Ralph is being hunted down by Jack’s tribe. Jack feels that by setting it alight he can smoke Ralph out of the forest. Whereas Simon is in sympathy with it and celebrates its beauty, which is shown in chapter 3 when Simon goes to his secret place in the forest in which he admires the beauty of nature.
As the boys have crashed on an island with no adults or rules, they feel very confused until a society is formed with Ralph democratically being elected as the leader.
“Vote for chief!” Jack to the other boys, (Chapter 2).
By electing a leader, the boys show their first attempt at trying to establish a society similar to the one from which they have emerged. Once Ralph is elected as a leader, he realises Jack’s anger at not being elected as the leader; he therefore appoints Jack as the leader of the choir and lets Jack decide what they should be. This shows Ralph’s good qualities, as he is just and fair, Ralph’s actions also show his wisdom and his attitude towards different situations which presents that he is a considerate person, since he does not ignore Jacks’s feelings and desire to be a leader. In addition, Ralph’s second step as chief is to place a rule of not being able to speak without holding the conch. At this point, the conch has become a symbol of authority, common sense and democratic discipline. The colour of the conch changes as the novel progresses. This reflects the boys’ loss of innocence. Jack adopts a tribalistic and savage way of life. In addition, the boys loose their innocence when they decide to follow Jack’s way of life and surrender to their desires including hunting. Jack adopts a tribalistic and savage way of life
Furthermore, Ralph tries to re-establish the civilised way of living which was in effect in England. He attempts to build huts, which represent the houses of civilised people. Ralph does this to provide the boys with shelter, warmth and to prevent them from getting scared in the darkness of the night. Ralph’s actions show his compassion, love and consideration towards others. He also tells the boys to use the rocks by the water as toilets, which shows that Ralph is trying to keep the boys clean and hygienic.
In chapter 3, we see a clash of interests emerging on the island as, initially, everyone promises to work together for a unifying cause, which is to get rescued and build shelters. However, Ralph and Simon do most of the work. Through Ralph’s contribution in building the huts, Golding shows how within society people work together, regardless of how high or low they are; to form a good and peaceful community. The others find activities such as bathing, playing and swimming much more appealing. Jack ignores Ralph and focuses on hunting most of the time. Ralph is bewildered and angry that he cannot make the boys see the importance of building shelters and being rescued, and Jack is frustrated as he tries to communicate his desire to track and kill pigs.
Throughout the novel, we see that Ralph depends in his thinking on his friend Piggy. Piggy is asthmatic, overweight and has poor eyesight, disabling him from taking part in any of the fun activities that the boys participate in. As a result piggy is laughed at and bullied by the other boys. Through Piggy, Golding is trying to show the reader the ignorance of society, in which everyone who is considered not ‘normal’ is not easily accepted. Golding is also giving the reader a brief preview to Piggy’s past in which he may have been bullied. Piggy and Ralph share the same characteristics in that they are loyal, realistic, kind, responsible and naï¿½ve, which is why they continue to get on with one another until the end of the novel when Piggy is killed.
The change of good into evil does not only take place in the boys i.e. the change also occurs in the fire. At the start the fire is good because it provides warmth for the boys and acts as their hope of rescue as it gives a smoke signal to passing ships. However, as the novel continues, the fire becomes bad when it goes out of control causing a tremendous amount of destruction. Golding uses metaphors to describe the fire i.e. an animal. At first the fire is described as a “bright squirrel”, which creates the idea that the fire is good, but is later described in terms of wildlife which creeps as a “Jaguar”, which shows that it has become dangerous. Consequently, the forest becomes savage with smoke and flames.
Overall, Ralph is a very strong democratic figure who tries to reform civilisation on the island and constantly reminds the boys of who they are. i.e. British boys who have to behave in a dignified, honorable and civilised way towards one another.
However, Ralph’s civilised way of living shatters when Jack, leader of the hunters, gets bored with having rules to follow.
“Bollocks to the rules!” Jack to Ralph, (Chapter 5).
Furthermore, Jack’s rise to power is autocratic as he brings himself to power. He is dictatorial in what he says and uses the desires that the boys feel to get them to join him, he promises them two things: fun and hunting. At this point in the novel, we can see how Jack is trying to take advantage of the fact that there are no adults on the island to follow or listen to.
As the novel progresses, the reader views a changing Jack. In chapter 4, he has painted his face with clay and charcoal in order to comaflouge himself whilst hunting. The mask offers an external picture of what is happening to Jack, as he is regressing to a primitive form. When Jack sees his reflection he sees an “awesome stranger” which delights him because he feels with the new mask that he has been released from the civilised world.
As Jack leaves the civilised world we see Ralph’s and Jack’s characters becoming worlds apart as they confront each other. Their feelings and their ideas about what is important are completely different. The reader begins to see the formation of two societies: Ralph’s society who want to be rescued and Jack’s community who want to have fun and hunt. It is now that Ralph links himself with Piggy the most, as the other boys no longer obey or listen to his rules. Ralph feels very lonely and isolated. Furthermore, he confides in Piggy for help and support, while Jack and the other boys move away. Ralph kindly asks Piggy for his glasses to start the fire, which shows how Ralph and Piggy are becoming better friends.
In addition to the degeneration of the boys, Jack’s actions become almost animalistic. Whilst practicing his hunting techniques, Jack is startled by a:
“Harsh cry that seemed to come out of the abyss of ages.” (Chapter 3).
This underlines the gap that exists between modern civilisation and past ages, when primitive man had to hunt in order to survive. The reader sees Jack crouching the air and sniffing like a dog. Jack’s physical appearance has changed because he has discarded his uniform and now carries a spear, which makes him seem very savage and tribalistic. His desire to kill gets greater in chapter 3 as he attempts to kill a pig.
However, Jack is not the only one who shows clear degradation, Roger does too. At the beginning of the novel, Roger throws stones at some of the littluns aiming to miss, this is because his behaviour is still tempered by his upbringing in the civilised world; the rules and regulations from back home still have an influence on Roger as he still has a conscience which holds him back from harming others.
In contrast to the innocent boy he was at the start of the novel, Roger’s aim soon becomes to hunt and injure, as he no longer holds civilised values towards the end of the novel. The changes in Jack and Roger show the reader an obvious degeneration in the boys to savagery and barbarism. This is because they are free to do as they wish with no limits.
An obvious sign of savagery is Jack’s violent way of ruling. He shows the boys his power and control by punishing a boy called Wilfred for no clear reason and uses him as an example to the other boys- whosoever did not obey him will have to face the consequences. Jack abuses his power by beating innocent people. Jack’s tribe uses other strategies to make themselves feel strong. The huge rock is poised at the entrance to the ‘fort’, ready to be used as a weapon. They also begin to use military language like “Halt!” and “Advance”; and call themselves “defenders of the gate.” Overall, Jack’s way of ruling shows the way in which his tribe has become uncivilised.
As a result of the uncivilised behaviour of the boys three of them die. The first death is that of the young boy with the Mulberry-coloured birthmark across one side of his face. This boy goes missing in chapter one when the fire goes out of control, the little boy is never seen again, so it is believed that he dies in the fire.
The second death is that of Simon, who is killed in chapter 9 when the boys see him as the beast whilst they are in their frenzy, performing their ritual dance. Simon recognises that the real beast is in everyone, and that the truth must be accepted before we are either ruled by it or overcome it. Like martyrs who die for others, he is killed as he tries to tell the boys the truth about their situation. He is beaten to death and his body is carried out to sea by the rising tide. Golding describes Simon’s death and burial in a beautiful way which creates the sense of rhythm, as well as majesty of the universe with the use of phrases like:
“Somewhere over the darkened curve of the world the sun and moon were pulling.” (Chapter 9).
“While the solid core turned.”(Chapter 9).
Simons’ torn body is transformed when the line of his cheek is silvered and his shoulders become “sculptured marble,” suggesting coolness and endurance. The calm solemn language that describes how Simon becomes part of eternity challenges the brutal ugliness of his killing.
The last death is that of Piggy, who is killed in chapter 11 by Roger, who levers a large rock from above him. This crashes down, smashes the conch, and hits Piggy- who falls forty feet to his death. Piggy’s death is harsh and brutal. Golding says that “Stuff came out” of Piggy and “Turned red” and “Piggy’s arms and legs twitched a bit,”(Chapter 11), which shows that Piggy’s death was harsh and ugly. Also, Piggy’s body was “sucked away” (Chapter 11) by the water. His death suggests that he was murdered like a pig. Golding described Piggy’s death in a harsh way because there was no real cause for his death, unlike Simon who died in trying to tell the boys the truth about the “beastie”. In other words, Simon died for a good cause.
To conclude, as this book was written in 1954 after World War II, (it can be seen as a small microcosm of the world), which reflects what is happening in the great outside world. Some of the book’s contents and characters are reflective of real figures in society at that time. The character of Jack Merridew can be seen as Adolf Hitler as they use dictatorial and appealing methods to make people join him.
After the First World War was lost Germany was forced to sign the treaty of Versailles; she was forced to give up land and to pay a huge sum of money. However, during this period of time no one paid any attention to a man who was gaining greater power day after day. That man was Adolf Hitler. He was born in 1889. He did not come from an important family. He was not even born in Germany. He was the son of an Austrian customs official. His father was a hard-drinking bully, who beat his son. He died when Hitler was 14. Hitler was left in the care of his mother until she died when he reached the age of 18. At school Hitler despised all his teachers except his History teacher, who taught him to love Germany. Hitler’s education did not go as he had wanted it to and he was left homeless. During 1907 and 1914, Hitler learned to hate, and most of all, he hated the Jews and the Communists. He decided that the Jews were inferior and the Communists would ruin Germany. Hitler’s popularity continued to grow and in 1933, he became the chancellor of Germany. From that point onwards he came to greater power, until he became in charge of the whole of Germany. People voted for Hitler because they thought that he could save them and release them from the jeopardy they were living in. However, many of them were wrong as they soon found out things were not getting any better! After loosing the Second World War, Hitler shot himself. To conclude Hitler’s rise to power is very similar to that of Jacks’ who used similar techniques.
Also, Ralph can be seen as Winston Churchill as they are both good leaders who want the society to work together in making peace. Winston Churchill came to power in 1940 and he led Britain into was against Germany in Word War II. He never gave up and always supported and encouraged everyone to take part in the war, which they won. Churchill fought against the extremism of Hitler to create a peace-loving society, just as Ralph fought against Jacks’ dictatorial ways until the end of the novel.
Furthermore, Jack is an example of how, without the restrictions of adults or society, certain people revert to primitive desires and actions.
Another moral that can be learnt from the novel is that everyone of us, regardless of our colour, race or religion, has evil within us, which develops as we grow with the influences of society. However, we must all struggle by not letting it conquer us or develop in such a way that it harms others. Furthermore, we must be able to recognise those figures in society that are evil and deal with them in the right and proper way.