The Lord of the Flies
William Golding
Contributed by Karim Chandra
Themes
Themes are described as ideas that dominate a particular piece of literature. In almost all cases, pieces of literature will be centered a theme or a number of them.
Civilization vs. Savagery
There is hardly a theme that manifests itself more clearly in the novel than the conflict between civilization and savagery. It appears, literally, through the conflict between Ralph and Jack, wherein the former represents civilization and the latter represents savagery. The divide between Ralph and Jack appears in their respective approaches to authority, order, and power. Whereas Jack focuses on gaining power through unorthodox measures, like creating fear among the boys and then promising them shelter and protect, Ralph follows a more traditional approach of using the democratic process to create fair rules for everyone to follow. Ralph believes that order can be established without the use of force, but Jack assumes that subservience through fear is the key ingredient to effective control. Jack’s victory over Ralph suggests that, at best, humans are innately flawed animals prone to evil, and at worst, humans in their truest form are nothing more than brutes.
The Nature of Evil
Lord of the Flies showcases the potential of all humans — even children — to engage in evil. Even though all the novel’s characters are young and presumably innocent boys, they inflict pain and suffering on each other. From the naval officer’s perspective, Jack is just a little boy engaging in silly games, but he was the leader of the boys’ descent into violence and chaos. When the two ardent disciples of civilization — Piggy and Ralph — reveal their own evil sides by participating in Simon’s murder, it becomes clear that no one is pure. Golding’s use of young characters suggests evil is an innate trait of humanity, not something people learn over time as they age. To reinforce this notion, the Lord of the Flies tells Simon it is impossible to destroy evil because it lives deep within the human heart.
The Loss of Innocence
The boys arrive on the island as innocent children, but their innocence fades over time. At first, Jack and Ralph do not oppose each other. Even when the boys elect Ralph as their leader, Jack’s reaction is one of disappointment and frustration instead of anger and violence. The boys begin their time on the island in high spirits, joyful at the lack of adults and hopeful that they will be able to play games and have fun on the island. As they interact more with each other and with nature, however, they change. The boys conceal their identities by painting their faces and bodies, signaling diminishing innocence. Their bodies become rough and their hair unkempt. They become violent, led by Roger and Jack. Roger kills small insects for fun and sometimes throws stones at the littluns. The first incident that reveals the boy’s profound savagery is Simon’s murder. Thereafter, bloodlust among them grows. Roger kills Piggy in cold blood. Had he not escaped, Ralph would have been next. When the naval officer discovers the boys, their boyhood has been eclipsed by brutality and violence.
Man vs. Nature
Lord of the Flies also showcases three different relationships humankind has with nature: harmony, control, and subservience. First, humans can create a harmonious relationship with nature, in which they treat it with respect and honor. Simon, for example, has this positive connection with the island. He ventures into the jungle just to experience its beauty. To Simon, nature is friendly and hospitable. Second, humans can attempt to dominate nature. Destruction characterizes this controlling dynamic. Roger and Jack, for instance, seek to control the island. Roger torments small insects for pleasure, and Jack hunts and kills animals whenever he pleases. Finally, humans can become submissive to nature. Ralph exemplifies subservient behavior when he flees the jungle’s dangers and avoids engaging in any activity that harms it.
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