Being stranded on a desert island is a situation that can have a severe physical and mental impact on those involved. As the boys on the island discover, such a situation can lead to their true selves breaking out from beneath their childish exteriors. The boys’ brutality is an expression of frustration surrounding the lack of rules and restrictions that civilised society provided for them in their previous lives. Brutality is their way of dealing with the things they cannot emotionally cope with, and is a way of releasing all their feelings, such as fear.
The fact that there are no adults has an impact on the boys, as the lack of authority provides them with limitless freedom, which is something they have never faced before, and do not know how to deal with. “Here at last was the imagined but never fully realised place leaping into real life” – this gives us a clear idea as to how the boys initially view the island. Golding shows us how the boys are still subconsciously connected to civilised society, through various references made through comparisons to feature of the jungle. An example would be describing the boulder as “like a bomb”, which also makes a connection to the events of the war in the outside world. Golding is trying to show us the boys’ dependency on the things they know and understand, and also, their fear of the things they don’t know and don’t understand, such as the beast, which comes into the story later on.
“They knew very well why he hadn’t [killed the piglet]: because of the enormity of the knife descending and cutting into living flesh; because of the unbearable blood” – this sentence stresses the fact that the boys are still rooted in their civilised past. Jack, to whom the quote refers, realises that he cannot go against his conscience, which is against killing another living thing. This is Golding’s way of showing us one of the things that the boys are really scared of, at least in the beginning – going against their civilised consciences.
“Eyes shining, mouths open, triumphant, they savoured the right of domination” – this is trying to get across the irony of the circumstances, in two ways. Firstly, he boys see themselves as owning the island, whilst in reality, the opposite is true. Secondly, the obsession with domination echoes the fact that World War 2 is underway at the time, and this gives us a clue as to how the story might unfold – the fact that two sides who cannot identify with each other ultimately turn against one another.
“Things are breaking up. I don’t understand why. We began well; we were happy. And then- …Then people started getting frightened” – this line illustrates perfectly the underlying theme of the entire book. Society, just like the society on the island, is in constant danger of falling apart – not as a result of influencing events, but as a result of basic human nature. Fear is the strongest emotion that exists, and leads mankind into many difficulties, just as it does for the boys on the island. The references to World War 2 strengthen this ‘decay’ of civilised society – a return to the underlying brutality that drives all humans, just as it does the animal kingdom, to whom we often consider ourselves superior. In the beginning of the novel, the boys on the island seem as though they do not care about the implications of their situation, and seem content with enjoying themselves and generally being childish about everything they encounter. Golding makes this aspect obvious from to the beginning so as to create a contrast as the story unfolds.
Golding uses symbolism throughout the story to represent some of the non-physical aspects of the boys’ fears on the island. “If you’re hunting sometimes… you can feel as if you’re not hunting, but-being hunted, as if something’s behind you all the time in the jungle.” This of course refers to the beast. The beast, although initially a physical symbol, actually represents the evil that resides within man. The children are all aware that such a beast exists, but none of them realise (except Simon) that it lies within them. Manifested in various forms throughout the story, the beast constantly plagues the littluns-the least conditioned by society. At one point during the story, Piggy says, “I know there isn’t no beast-not with claws and all that, I mean-but I know there isn’t no fear either…Unless-…Unless we get frightened of people.” This is one of the major turning points of the story, as it the first mention of the fact that they only have themselves to fear, which is Golding’s main underlying message in the novel. Although this is the main idea of the story, others exist underneath it. The most prominent of these, probably, is the fact that often times people single out another person, or another group of people to look down upon in order to feel secure. Piggy’s character personifies this societal flaw, as he is always shunned and made fun of.
Jack Merridew’s murderous obsessions certainly scare some of the boys, especially Piggy, who says, “I’m scared of him, and that’s why I know him. If you’re scared of someone you hate him but you can’t stop thinking about him. You kid yourself he’s all right really, an’ then when you see him again; it’s like asthma an’ you can’t breathe. ” Jack, who, throughout the novel systematically removes the forces opposing him, is scornfully afraid of Piggy and eventually kills him to eliminate his moral influence on the group, which conflicts with his plan to rule with a triibalistic, survivalist morality.
When some of the littleuns burn to death near the beginning of the novel in the fire, Golding tries to show us how the boys cope with this fact. They constantly refer to the one of the dead boys as the “boy with the mulberry-coloured birthmark”, which shows us that they are scared of what it might mean if they refer to him by his real name, or mention any of the other boys killed in the fire. They are scared of having to face up to what has happening, and so as a way of dealing with it, they put to one side and forget about it, which confirms the fact that are scared of reality, or facing up to it at least. The issue of ghosts that crops up in an assembly later in the story frightens the boys, especially the littleuns. The idea of ghosts seems to remind the boys of the events of the littleuns burning to death, and perhaps that the ghosts could be their spirits coming back to haunt them. Again, as a means of dismissing the awful truth, they resort to childish behaviour- “at once the platform was full of noise and excitement, scramblings, screams and laughter.”
Golding’s view is that the theme of the novel is to trace the problems of society back to the sinful nature of man. He wrote the book to show how political systems cannot govern society effectively without first taking into consideration the defects of human nature.
The defects of human nature are signified in Golding’s novel through the characters of Jack and his hunters. Here, Golding shows that men are inherently evil; if left alone to fend for themselves, they will revert back to the savage roots of their ancestors. This is seen in the novel near the end, when the tribe is hunting Ralph.
What about the naval ship that comes to save the boys at the end of the novel? While the ship saves the boys from killing each other, who will save the ship from killing other ships or being killed? In this way, the society of the outside world mirrors the island society on a larger scale.