In the novel Lord of the Flies, by William Golding, a group of English boys in their adolescence are stranded on an island. They crash-land while being evacuated because of an atomic war, so the boys must learn to cooperate with each other in order to survive. The boys are civil at first, but the bonds of civilization unfold as the rapacity for power and immediate desires become more important than civility and rescue. The conflict between Ralph, the protagonist, and Jack, the antagonist, represents the conflict between the impulse to civilization and the impulse to savagery, respectively. In Lord of the Flies, Golding uses Ralph and Jack’s struggle for power to show that greed and lust for power can corrupt the best leaders and, sadly, even the people who follow that leader.
From the very beginning of the novel, the reader discerns a very important difference between Ralph and Jack, their hair color. Ralph is described as “the boy with fair hair,” to bluntly show the reader that Ralph represents fairness and democracy. As the novel develops, the reader sees Ralph’s drive for civilization and democracy. “[I]f we have a signal going, they’ll come and take us off. And another thing, we ought to have more rules. Where the conch is, that’s a meeting. The same up here as down there,” Ralph exclaimed. On the other hand, Jack is described with red hair to portray to the reader that Jack represents immorality, danger, and an authoritarian type of government. “Better red than dead,” was an anti-authoritarian phrase in the 1950s when Golding wrote this book. It was a hate phrase used mostly against the Soviet Union during the Second World War. For one to think that red is just a color in Lord of the Flies is a major misunderstanding. Golding wrote every detail with a specific intention.
Ironically, when the boys are voting for chief, they notice that “the most obvious leader was Jack,” but yet the boys still voted Ralph chief. It was because Ralph held the conch shell. The conch shell directly symbolizes a cultivated culture and order. The boys saw that Ralph held the order. The conch was used to call meetings and whosoever held it, had the power to speak. Jack starts to disobey the conch because he is turning more and more savage-like. “[T]hey closed in on the struggling pig, knowledge that they had outwitted a living thing, imposed their will upon it, taken away its life like a long satisfying drink,” thought Jack. As the story progresses, Jack realizes he wants to kill pigs, not keep fires going for rescue. Jack shouted, “We don’t need the conch anymore.” At this point in the novel, Golding is showing the reader that because Jack is lusting for power, he is turning into a ferocious monster. By turning into a savage, he has lost all sense of civilization and democracy.
By the end of the novel, Jack has become a full blown barbarian. He is so caught up in killing pigs that he no longer listens to Ralph. He tries to become chief again and fails. Because of that, he starts his own tribe on the other side of the island where all they do is hunt pigs. The boys that follow him are transformed into the savage that he is. “Here, struck down by the heat, the sow fell and the hunters hurled themselves at her…Jack was on top of the sow, stabbing downward with his knife. Roger found a lodgment for his point and began to push till he was leaning with his whole weight. The spear moved forward inch by inch… [t]hen Jack found the throat and the hot blood spouted over his hands.” Jack and his followers were demoralized and tainted because of his greed for power.
Jack and his tribe try to kill Ralph because to them there is no need for civility or rescue, and in the process, they burn down the island. Golding shows us here that without democracy, without civilization, without reason, the whole world will come crashing down. Jack, at first, was an innocent young boy, but because of his ravenous craving for power, he and the boys that followed him were turned into beasts.