Lord of the Flies. ‘The end of innocence and the darkness of man’s heart.’ Do you agree that these are the central concerns of Golding’s novel? Please justify your answer making close reference to the text.
In his novel, Lord of the Flies, Golding raises the issue of ‘the end of innocence and the darkness of man’s heart’ in his portrayal of certain characters. However, he contrasts such characters with those who possess the human spirit, that is, a humanity and decency that can survive the most extreme circumstances. By contrasting characters of Jack and Ralph, Golding raises the theme of good versus evil, loss of innocence, the struggle for power and his central concern seems to be that there is a thin veneer between civilised man and the savage.
Though Ralph turns out to be a good leader because of his moral principles, initially the boys choose him over Jack because of his appearance: “you could see now that he could have made a boxer”. However, as leader, Ralph is faced with adult problems which force him to lose his innocence and develop as a character. For example, Ralph reveals Piggy’s name to the others after Piggy had asked him not to, but he experiences empathy towards him: “Ralph, looking with more understanding at Piggy, saw that he was hurt and crushed. This causes him to mature and treat Piggy with more respect. Ralph attempts to maintain order among the boys by constructing a set of rules. For example, the fact that one must be holding the conch to speak.
The conch represents a sense of order and democracy among the boys and Golding describes it as ‘precious’ and ‘valuable’ yet ‘fragile’. The fact that the rules get ignored gives a sense that Ralph is losing power and the boys are gradually deteriorating into savages. The idea of the loss of order is reinforced by Golding when Ralph notices that the conch is “losing its shine.” By the end of the novel, Ralph is the only one not to degenerate into a savage and retains his dignity. This is demonstrated when Samneric wanted to wear paint but Ralph refused to wear it: “we won’t wear paint because we’re not savages.” His fight for good against evil leads him into a situation quite beyond him because the standards he represents are crushed in a world run by Jack’s kind of rules.
Jack epitomizes the corrupt dictator in society. From the very beginning he is illustrated as a sinister character through Golding’s use of diction such as ‘dark’, ‘shadow’ and ‘evil’. He also shows malice towards Piggy, shutting him up when he’s got the conch: “Shut up’ fatty!” this shows his disregard of the rules which pushes him to savagery. On the expedition around the island he found a piglet. Jack was on the point of killing it when he realized the “enormity the downward stroke would be” and let it get away, but afterwards he said, “Next time there would be no mercy” which is a turning point for Jack as he is now prepared to kill. The image of the pig can be linked to the character, Piggy, and Jack’s determination to kill the pig foreshadows his murder of Piggy.
This is ironic since Jack was introduced as a choirboy and it reveals that we are all capable of evil. Unlike Ralph, Jack degenerates as a character, becoming an “ape-like” savage with a lust for killing. He attempts to assert his power and abolish the order when he tries to eliminate the need for the conch: “We don’t need the conch anymore.” After he becomes chief, he abuses his power. For instance, he makes his seat into a ‘throne’ and he takes Piggy’s glasses by force: “You came around like a thief and stole Piggy’s glasses.” He also managed to corrupt the others through his use of paint: “the mask compelled them” and the reward of meat.
Golding’s central concern seems to be that there is a thin veneer between civilised man and the savage. He shows us that “the end of innocence and the darkness of man’s heart” is not applicable to everyone in the novel, for example, Ralph, Piggy and Simon are good characters, who possess the human spirit, in that their humanity and decency survive under the most extreme conditions. By contrasting characters, such as Ralph and Jack, Golding raises themes of good versus evil, loss of innocence and the struggle for power.