‘Lord of the Flies’ is an allegorical novel by William Golding in which he employs the scene of a deserted island and the cast of a group of English schoolboys to serve as a framework, through which he explores the themes of his book. The major themes that Golding tackles are the conditioning of behaviour vs. the malicious inclination of human nature and the spectrum of civilisation and savagery. The violence on the island is generated for several reasons, major ones being the loss of conditioning, the transformation from civilised to savage and the conflict between Ralph and Jack.
Conditioning is the learning process by which our behaviour becomes dependant on an event or action occurring in our environment. The boys have been constantly conditioned by schoolteachers and parents to follow the conduct of the English society, and not to do wrong or be immoral, as if they were disobedient, they would have been given punishments from authority: in this period, corporal punishment would have been common. The point in the book which clearly demonstrates the conditioning of the boys is when Roger throws stones at Henry in chapter four: ‘Roger gathered a handful of stones…a civilization that knew nothing of him and was in ruins.’ (page 78). Here, Roger is incapable of throwing the stones directly at young Henry and feels compelled to throw them near to him but not near enough to hurt Henry or cause him any discomfort.
Golding is trying to say that Roger was constrained by ‘parents and school and policemen and the law,’ all who are figures that condition the moral code of society into Roger’s mind. Conditioning is something that must be continuously drilled into the boys, lest it be forgotten, and as the novel progresses, the morals and principles that they have learnt from this conditioning begin to fade away. The conditioning is what keeps them from become savages as it suppresses the darkness within human nature. But the conditioning can never fully rid the boys of this dark temperament, and so as the conditioning ceases to play a part in the development of their behaviour, the wicked disposition grows and the boys can do nothing to resist becoming savages, and thus violence pours into the society on the island.
To be civilised is to have a highly developed culture and society and to show moral and intellectual advancement, and Piggy and Ralph, out of all the boys, are the best display of civilised characters. Piggy and Ralph both believe in making the society on the island into a society that functions efficiently and compatibly, and making the boys stay polite and well-mannered, so that order can be kept. Piggy especially has the civilised understandings of the figures of authority in England, such as schoolteachers and policemen, but sadly he lacks the influence and power to enforce such customs onto the other boys.
Piggy is always trying to improve the life on the island, and although the way he comes off as a whiner and complainer to the other boys, the things that he has to say are continuously about bettering the civilisation of the other boys, and also about ways of developing the technology. ‘”I’ve been thinking…in the sand, and the-“‘ (page 81). Piggy is obviously smarter than the other boys on the island, and here he finds a way that the boys can tell the time, so that they are more civilised, and their day can be more structured. The boys arrive on the island being civilised due to the conditioning from teachers and parents in England. But as the authority on the island of Ralph struggles to keep the boys civilised, the conditioning dies away, and with it their civilised ways. As a result, the boys become the extreme opposite of civilised schoolboys: savages, who wreak havoc on the island, poisoning the little civilisation left in their minds and bringing violence and cruelty into their society.
The conflict between the major characters of Ralph and Jack has an important part to play in the formation of the violence; Ralph is the protagonist and he represents civilisation, order and democracy, whereas Jack is the antagonist and represents savagery and dictatorship. They both have very different ideas of how things should be done on the island as Ralph insists on the fire continuously burning and making smoke so that they can be seen by passing ships and then rescued, and Jack devotes himself to hunting and bringing meat; Ralph looks forward, aiming to achieve a less obvious but more worthwhile result, but Jack is obsessed with fulfilling his immediate desires, such as his monomania about cooked meat. Golding makes clear that there is such a difference between the two boys in chapter three, when Ralph and Jack are making decisions about what to do next: ‘The walked along, two continents of experience and feeling, unable to communicate.’ (page 70).
By saying that they are ‘continents’, Golding automatically makes their ideas seems foreign to the other, and just some lines later Golding says that ‘they looked at each other, baffled,’ as if each boy was confused with the thoughts of the other. Then in chapter four, Ralph, having just spotted a ship in the distance, sprints up the mountain to find Jack and the hunters returning with a kill and the fire burned out. ‘The two boys faced each other…baffled common-sense.’ (page 89). Golding now says that the boys are now separate ‘worlds’ making them seem even more strange and different to the other. Here also the emotion of anger is a strong element in their relationship as Jack has disobeyed Ralph’s order of keeping the fire alight, and has lost a chance of rescue with the passing of a ship.
The two boys have had a clash since the beginning of the novel, since the election, and as Jack tries to stretch his influence over the other boys with his obsessive need for hunting and power, Ralph becomes more and more enraged, and their relationship becomes a war. As the island itself is a microcosm, Jack and Ralph make up a much bigger picture than just two separate forces on the deserted island; they represent the two sides of World War II, with Jack being Hitler, empowered in a dictatorship, and Ralph possibly as Churchill for Britain, following a democratic regime. As Ralph and Jack stand on opposite poles of the spectrum of civilisation and savagery, their relationship inevitably was filled with hostility and disagreement, with Ralph at the civilised extreme, and Jack at the savage extreme. Ralph and Jack’s conflict creates a very large amount of the violence on the island, as they are both the leaders of the two tribes, with very different views and morals.
The darkness of human nature is a theme that appears to be key source for the violence that corrupts the island and is strongly associated with Jack and Roger. The boys at first believe that there is some sort of ‘beastie’ on the island, and there is a discussion in chapter five as to whether the beast exists; ‘”What I mean is… maybe it’s only us.”‘ (page 111). Simon puts forward a claim that there is no real beast, but simply that the beast is in the boys themselves. Although the other boys ridicule Simon and laugh at this thought, it is central to the theme of innate human maliciousness. Simon fully understands about this evil human nature later in his confrontation with the sow’s head in chapter eight. Roger appears to be the most evil of all the boys, and is the only boy to single-handedly kill another boy, as he is the one who levers the boulder to squash Piggy. Roger becomes the most menacing character at the end of the novel, and he is the main victim of the inborn malevolence of human nature: ‘”You don’t know Roger. He’s a terror.”‘ (page 233). Roger is feared as he is a solitary assassin. This wicked tendency of human nature is an important ingredient to the violence, as it motivates the powerful savage characters of Jack and Roger to do the evil acts.
The need of imposing our own thoughts and ideas on another person is possibly one of effects of the innate human evil, and it gives us a feeling of power and control. Several of the characters experience this feeling of authority, especially Jack, who loves his domination over the other boys of the island in the final stages of the novel: ‘”See? They do want I want.”‘ (page 220). Jack is able to exercise his superiority and power over the other boys of the tribe to carry out his tasks and fulfill his needs. Even the ‘littluns’ find a way to take control over someone else or something else; Henry, in chapter four, takes control of tiny sea creatures: ‘There were creatures that lived… gave him the illusion of mastery.’ (pages 76-77). Henry felt blissful that he was able to control and order about another life form, and that he was able to impose his will upon it. Jack has had this need from the beginning of the novel: he wanted to be chief, and then as he was denied this power, he wanted control over his choir. Jack imposes his will on other boys to get his way, and this produces violence from Jack’s side to anyone who disobeys or antagonises him.
The violence on the island comes from many different sources and inevitably leads to corrupting and collapsing the society on the island. The loss of conditioning of the boys causes the morals and principles, which were learnt from the conditioning, to fade, and as they dissolve, the malicious inclination of human nature grows compelling the boys to result to violence and hostility. And as conditioning fades, so does the boys’ civilised nature, with the result of them becoming violent savages. The conflict between Ralph and Jack forms two different sides of island, like two different forces in a war, and from their conflict comes much of the violence that tears apart the society on the island. Roger’s particularly dark nature produces fear and terror as well as violence. Jack’s desire to control and order the other boys generates violence to any offenders to his law. And so the combination of all these sources brings about all the violence that goes on throughout the novel.