Counterpoint is a common literary device used by many authors in a variety of forms of literature. It gives the work contrast and interest as well as a diverse insight into two completely different ideas or opposites. The main counterpoint presented in William Golding’s Lord of the Flies would be the idea of civilization vs. savagery. This motif is presented throughout the novel. The idea that humans are constantly battling their feral instincts and civilized ideals is a theme that is deeply and extensively explored. Golding acquaints civilization with good, and savagery with evil. He uses symbolic characters and objects in order to convey his themes and ideas. He represents the opposing forces of civilization and savagery with the two main characters: Ralph, the protagonist, who represents order and leadership; and Jack, the antagonist, who represents savagery and the desire for power. Among these characters there are many others who react to the conflict in different ways. The conflict between these opposites is the driving force of the novel.
When it comes down to the idea of civilization, Golding implies that civilization is something forced upon humans by society, and not something one is instinctively drawn to. Civilization is merely just a mask of ones instincts. Ralph is the perfect example of the desire for civilization among the boys of the island. He expresses this quality when he states, “We’ve got to have rules and obey them. After all, we’re not savages. We’re English, and the English are best at everything” (Golding 2.192). The boys still desire their previous, ordered life they left back in England. Ralph is the symbol of supressing one’s natural savage instincts, he feels the thrill and exhilaration of barbarity but manages to subdue these spirits. Piggy is also an example of the human need for civilization. Not once in the novel does he display savage feelings or undertones. This shows just how badly the human race strives for civilization, but it is not something organic.
The counterpoint to the idea of civilization in Lord of the Flies would be the theme of savagery. Golding seems to suggest throughout the novel that a humans savage instincts are far more powerful then the desire for civilization. The perfect character to acquaint to the theme of savagery would be Jack. Jack thrives off of dominance and power. He exemplifies these traits during the murder of Simon: The sticks fell and the mouth of the new circle crunched and screamed. The beast was on its knees in the center, its arms folded over its face. It was crying out against the abominable noise something about a body on the hill. The beast struggled forward, broke the ring and fell over the steep edge of the rock to the sand by the water. At once the crowd surged after it, poured down the rock, leapt on to the beast, screamed, struck, bit, tore. There were no words, and no movements but the tearing of teeth and claws. (Golding 9.89-99)
The boys revert to their instinctive ferocious roots, having no mercy on their fellow human. They cruelly murder Simon as if he were a wild animal. Roger is also a good example of savagery in the novel. As the idea of civilization on the island begins to become a distant memory, Roger lets himself become victim of his most basic human instincts. This is first apparent to the reader when Roger throws rocks at the littluns, and after his murder of the pig which was much more brutal then necessary. Roger is also the leading culprit in the loss of Piggy. He was the one who pushed the boulder down the hill inevitably causing Piggy’s death. While Jack feeds off the idea of power, Roger revolves around causing pain. He symbolizes the sadistic instincts of mankind, and having to suppress the desire to hurt others in order to function in society.
William Golding uses counterpoint to his advantage in the writing of his novel Lord of the Flies. He clearly expresses the conflict between the complex human need for civilization and mankind’s savage instincts. He expresses the struggle extensively using the characters in the novel to portray both sides. Savages vs. those who struggle to keep civility. The novel deeply explores the concept of human instincts overpowering one’s facade of civilization put on for the rest of society. How, when left up to their own devices, humans are capable of doing the unthinkable.
Golding, William. Lord of the Flies. London: Faber and Faber, 1954.
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