In William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, which is set during World War II, English school boys, escaping war in England, crash on a deserted tropical island. From the protected environment of boarding school, the boys are suddenly thrust into a situation where they must fend for themselves. In order to survive, the boys copy their country’s rule for a civilized life by electing a leader, Ralph. He promises order, discipline, and rules for the boys so that they form a small civilized society. This civilized society does not last.
Struggling with Jack who wants to be the leader and the boys’ fears of the unknown, Ralph is unable to maintain control, and the boys fulfill Golding’s perspective that human nature is inherently negative as the boys become savages that brutally and viciously kill. Golding creates an allegory by using symbols to show his pessimistic view of human nature through the boys’ desire for civilization, their struggle against evil, and their descent into savagery. Golding develops the allegory using symbols of the boys’ desire for civilization.
Leadership and reasoning are represented by the symbols of Ralph and the conch and Piggy and his glasses. Finding a conch on the beach, Ralph uses it to keep law and order or peace among the boys. “Ralph grasped the idea and hit the shell with air from his diaphragm. Immediately the thing sounded” (15). Blowing into the conch, Ralph assembles the boys for meetings. He uses the conch to promote fair play by passing it around so that each boy has the opportunity to speak freely and express himself. “I’ll give the conch to the next person to speak. He can hold it when he’s speaking” (39).
Ralph represents the order that is necessary in a civilized society, and the conch is the means by which he establishes this order. In addition to establishing order, Ralph organizes the boys into separate groups like hunters, gatherers, and shelter makers to aid the survival of the group giving more evidence of his leadership abilities. Ralph delegates one responsibility to Jack making him in charge of the hunters. Although the boys would prefer to have fun and play games, they follow Ralph’s rules at first. This order is maintained until Ralph loses his leadership role to Jack.
After providing, or bribing, the boys with juicy pig meat, Jack asks “’Who’ll join my tribe and have fun? ’” (211). This lure of enjoyment along with the promise of more food sways the boys to follow Jack. With the demise of Ralph’s leadership and under the leadership of Jack, the boys begin to turn towards savagery. From this point on, the change in the leadership brings with it the transformation of the boys from ordered society to savages. Through the downfall of Ralph’s leadership and the resulting descent into savagery, Golding is able to reveal how the dark side of human nature can prevail.
Golding’s character Piggy portrays the voice of reasoning and logic and his glasses symbolize his wisdom. Ralph recognizes Piggy’s ability to think with clarity and soon depends upon him in his role as leader. Piggy’s idea to use the conch to assemble all the survivors leads to Ralph’s election as leader. Ralph uses Piggy’s ideas for building shelter and Piggy’s glasses to ignite the signal fire. “Ralph moved the lenses back and forth, this way and that, till a glossy white image of the declining sun lay on a piece of the rotten wood” (30).
Golding shows his pessimistic view of human nature as Piggy, whose ideas and logical thoughts have been so important to the boys’ survival, becomes irrational. Once the voice of reason, Piggy refuses to accept his role in the death of Simon. The destruction and loss of his glasses destroys Piggy’s ability to see clearly and decreases his ability to influence the actions of the group. Upon an attack, Piggy, who once refused to believe in the beast, thinks Jack is the beast and cries out “’It’s come! ’ gasped Piggy. ‘It’s real! ” (233).
Piggy continues to believe the group of boys will respond to logic when he asks them if it is better to be like savages and kill or to have order and be rescued. The boys remain silent when Roger pushes a big rock on Piggy to kill him. “Piggy, saying nothing, with no time for even a grunt, traveled through the air sideways from the rock, turning over as he went” (255-256). With the death of Piggy, who was the icon of reasoning, Golding shows that the dark side of human nature triumphs over reasoning and rational thinking.
Golding extends the allegory by exploring the boys’ struggle against evil with the beast symbolizing the boys’ fears of evil and Jack as the symbol of the lure of evil. At one of their first meetings, the boys discuss their predicament with optimism that they will soon be rescued, and until that time, they will enjoy the freedom of the island. One of the smallest boys is urged by his peers to come forward to speak and asks reluctantly what will be done about the beast. The others laugh at him until he describes the beast as a big, snakelike creature that comes in the dark wanting to eat him.
Ralph tries to dismiss the boy’s ideas as merely a nightmare, but the crowd did not completely believe him. “The eyes that looked so intently at him were without humor” (44). This moment plants the seeds of fear in the boys’ hearts that will later unleash their inner savage. Ralph returns to the topic of the beast at another meeting in hopes of calming the worries that began with the littluns and spread throughout the group. At this meeting Jack takes the conch and attempts to convince the boys again that the beast is just in their imagination. “’The thing is – fear can’t hurt you any more than a dream’” (110).
Even Piggy speaks up to say that there is nothing such as the beast to be afraid of in the forest until he has the realization: “’Unless we get frightened of people. ’” (113). Golding’s development of the boys’ fears using the beast shows the struggle of humans with their inner selves and the evil that lies within. Golding creates the character Jack as a catalyst for the allegory by his luring of the boys into the evilness of savagery. When Jack first attempts to kill a pig, he hesitates because he still belongs to the civilization he left when the plane crashed.
The pause was only long enough for them to understand what an enormity the downward stroke would be” (35). At this point, Jack changes. He loses the sense of self that resists the lure of evil and begins his descent to his dark side. “He snatched his knife out of the sheath and slammed it into a tree trunk. Next time there would be no mercy” (35-36). Jack becomes obsessed with hunting and works to perfect his weapons and his stealth. Jack dons a mask that frees him from his self-consciousness and shame creating a new person ready to kill.
Jack takes some boys with him and kills a pig. When they returned, all are chanting “’Kill the pig. Cut her throat. Spill her blood. ’” (90). Jack transforms the young boys from innocent children to violent killers. Golding uses Jack to lure the others to evil and awaken their inner savage instincts. Golding’s allegory is further developed by his description of the boys’ descent into savagery symbolized by the deaths of the pig and Piggy. Golding shows Roger’s descent into savagery when Roger, excited and blood thirsty, begins a brutal attack on the pig.
He plunged his spear into the pig and “began to push down with all his weight. The spear moved forward inch by inch and the terrified squealing became a high pitched scream” (189). Roger’s sense of elation derived from killing the pig makes him want more blood. Roger delves deeper into savagery as he takes the life of a fellow human being. No longer killing just for survival, Roger finds satisfaction in the death of Piggy. “Roger, with a sense of delirious abandonment, leaned all his weight on the lever” (255). Crushing Piggy with the rock, Roger silences Piggy forever.
With Piggy’s death, Roger has committed murder, the ultimate crime. Lord of the Flies is an allegorical novel in which Golding uses the symbols of the conch, Piggy’s glasses, the beast, Jack, and Roger to reveal his views that human nature is innately evil. Through the boys’ desire for civilization, their struggle against evil, and their descent into savagery, Golding portrays humankind as civilized only on the surface with evil lurking just beneath. As Piggy said “’What are we? Humans? Or animals? Or savages? ’” (122).
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