Suggesting that we are indeed savages, the novel charts a terrifying escalation of violence across its twelve chapters. Golding displays an escalation from verbal violence in “bollocks to the rules” to increasing physical violence, from when Ralph “machine-gunned Piggy”, Roger’s throwing of stones foreshadowing the murder of Piggy later, the sadistic murder of the sow, the killing of Simon to the hunting of Ralph clearly displaying the savagery in the boys.
The physical violence also increases in extremity and linguistically when the simile, “thunder went off like a gun” intensifies to a metaphor “overhead the cannon boomed”.
From “gun” to a “cannon” is an increase in power and from a simile to a metaphor, a stronger linguistic device that describes something as being something else while a simile compares the likeness between the two. Additionally, Golding initially presents the boys as “choir boys” in chapter one and by chapter three they rapidly devolve into a tribe of “hunters” and eventually are referred to as “savages” and “demoniac figures” by the end of the book demonstrating the degeneration of the boys into primitive violence and savagery as civilisation and society crumbles.
The use of the word “demoniac” has connotations with hell and Satan, the embodiment of all evil and by associating the boys with this invokes the reader to believe that they are evil but have been subject to social conditioning to make them good. This arouses the question of whether humans are innately good or evil. Golding, being a catholic, was heavily influenced by the Christian idea of “original sin” and the “fall of man” fuelling the theme of good versus evil in human nature and whether we need to be conditioned to be good.
The time in which Golding was alive, events like Hiroshima, Dresden, his war experience and the prevalent problem of atomic and nuclear weapons post world war two highlights the worst in humans, the evil/savagery that is hidden in our nature. Exposure to such harsh realities would lead anyone to believe humans are innately evil however some people may refute that and go further to mention the ideology of it being easier to be mean than it is to be kind, explaining a lot of worldwide atrocities and ultimately the boys savage and violent behaviour.
Golding’s vision of our savage nature is such that he argues that we need rules and authority figures to keep us in line. On the island, Golding creates the conch as a symbol of civilisation and democracy when, “They obeyed the summons of the conch” showing the boys using it to call meetings in order to restore order and sort things out, however “the fragile white conch” is delicate, just like democracy and societal order. Especially with the absence of proper authority and Jack challenging democracy, it makes it harder for Ralph to keep everything civil. This is emphasised greatly when immediately by chapter two the power of the conch is challenged by Jack when he says “the conch doesn’t count on top of the mountain” to try and limit its power and say “bollocks to the rules”. By chapter eleven “the conch exploded into a thousand white fragments and ceased to exist” indicating democracy and order had been destroyed, and immediately the savagery begins with the first intentional murder (Piggy).
A prime example of the success of social conditioning (by authority figures) is Roger in chapter four when he “threw it (stone) at Henry” threw it to miss”. Roger’s “arm was conditioned by a civilisation that knew nothing of him and was in ruins”. He had been so conditioned by the authority figures in his life that he still did what they would tell him to do, in fear of punishment (operant conditioning) even though they are not present. When he realises there will not be any repercussions as there are no adults to maintain order and whatever civilised order Ralph had tried to keep had been abolished, Roger rolls the rock to kill Piggy in his “sense of delirious abandonment”.
However, due to our savage nature, those in power are especially susceptible to evil and corrupt dictatorial methods, like Hitler or Jack, who becomes leader of the boys (hunters), but uses torture and threats when “the chief poked Sam in the ribs” to maintain his power and dictatorship. The Milgram experiment proved that obedience to (uniformed) authority (Jack) is ingrained in us all from the way we are brought up and that normal people are capable of killing, even to the extent of killing an innocent human being (Ralph). Golding expresses this further when Piggy “was terrified by this uniformed superiority”. Both Jack and Roger demonstrate Nietzsche’s will to power theory, the desire in humans to be the most powerful, and in the boys case, through any means possible, which unleashes their savage nature. Even Henry, a littleun, “became absorbed beyond mere happiness as he felt himself exercising control over living things”, highlighting that the will to power is felt by all humans, whatever status.
The use of the word savages in Ralph’s question hints at one of the faults in the boys – their racism. Golding presents the boys as upper class, private English school boys, whom at the time were brought up in a society with patriotic values and military violence with remnants of the English empire, (like Ralph’s father in the navy) inspiring colonial arrogance within the boys when Jack states, “We’re not savages. We’re English; and the English are the best at everything”.
The historical use of the word “savage” especially in the west, was to describe anyone of a different race other than white so Indians, Blacks, Afghans etc. (othering). This racism was and is an important tool to justify the destruction and occupation of another country, a way of liberating themselves against the guilt that comes with committing war crimes. In Fable, Golding says that “One of our faults is to believe that evil is somewhere else and inherent in another nation”, explaining why the naval officer says, “You’re all British, aren’t you? Would’ve have been able to put up a better show than that” showing the colonial arrogance that stems from white supremacy and seeing as everyone else as inferior as a form of racism. There is a heavy irony in the English’s colonial arrogance as the British committed many barbaric atrocities to obtain their precious empire yet would still be appalled at events like the holocaust.
The British’s ethnic cleansing of the Red Indians, with whom they particularly associate with savages and Golding’s novel proves how wrong Jack was as all the boys, except Simon, give into savagery and actually end up looking like savages with “painted faces and long hair”, chapter four’s title. In Piggy’s most heroic moment where he stands up for democracy, a “British” value and says, “which is better ” to be a pack of painted niggers like you are, or to be sensible like Ralph is? “it is disappointing for the reader as his prejudice highlights the bleak reality of white colonial arrogance, a common sentiment at the time, which Golding emphasises the irony of when he says in Fable, ” they were not done by some tribe in the Amazon. They were done by skilfully, coldly, by educated men, doctors, lawyers, by men with a tradition of civilisation behind them”. Golding was appalled when he “discovered what one man could do to another” through his war experience, leading him to believe that we “are suffering from the terrible disease of being human”.
The climax ” or rather, nadir ” of Golding’s despairing vision is that we are the beast. The repetitive description and sibilance of snakes like, with a hiss, twisted and snake-clasp has connotations with the Satan from the creation story in Genesis where Satan in snake form tempts Eve to eat the apple and since the snake thing was a beastie, the beast is the devil and therefore an evil being. Taking this further, Golding drops hints like when Jack works out that the beast is a hunter, and as the boys are hunters this makes them the beast, hence they are evil. The island itself resembles the Garden of Eden from Genesis, with its picturesque scenery, abundant fruit, and idyllic weather and Golding juxtaposes the island’s paradise imagery with the snake imagery like “vines rise in the heat of the fire like rearing snakes” to create a sense of good versus evil, with evil infiltrating everything good, similar to temptation in the creation story.
Additionally Ralph’s dream shows something snake-like “slither down”, showing evil (the snake) infiltrating even his fantasy world, where by the end of the book, the boys turn the island into hell figuratively and physically when Jack’s tribe tries to use fire to smoke out Ralph. The fire, once a symbol of order and cooperation corrupted by the boys to become like the fires of hell Golding also uses other animalistic words to describe the boys beast-like behaviour, for example when Ralph “accepted a piece of half-raw meat and gnawed it like a wolf”, the repetitive flies “buzz(ing)” that comes from the pig’s head on the stick and the carrion flies around it. The Lord of the Flies tells Simon that I’m part of you, leading him to figure out that the beast is the inner evil in humans like Golding believes.
The Lord of the Flies comes from the Arabic for “Beelzebub”, a demon associated with Satan directly when the boys kill Simon, something the Lord of the Flies threatens to do and that he will get “waxy” and “do” him, in the language of the boys proving the boys are the Lord of the Flies and are evil. When they kill Simon, they do so in an animalistic way as there are “no words and no movement but the tearing of teeth and claws” further proving Golding’s despairing vision of humans. Furthermore, in the book of Revelation, the beast comes “out of the sea” from “from the abyss” linking to chapter five’s title “Beast from Water”, the naval warship, a reminder of the evil British empire as the officer’s uniform displays the “crown, an anchor” representing the imperialism that the Queen, the Navy and the Army are responsible.
In particular, the Navy and the Army both have military power and are known for bringing destruction or as Hemingway would say “mechanised doom” rather than peace, emphasised when the naval officer arrives in a “warship” and has a “revolver”. As the beast from water is the naval officer, Golding is pointing out that the adults are also the beast despite the boys” misconception that their “authority” would sort their situation out. The adult world creates beast from air, a sign from the world of grown ups”, the dead parachutist who symbolises war as the adults are fighting with each other and offer no safety like the boys hope as there is no “majesty of adult life”.
However, Golding’s vision of human nature is not entirely nihilistic and pessimistic – rather, we are heroic and sick. Ralph and Piggy exemplify Golding’s idea perfectly. Ralph tries to keep the fire (symbol of order and cooperation) going as an attempt to be rescued, he protects Piggy, and tries to maintain order and democracy through assemblies which shows him as heroic. However, he also says he has the urge to put on warpaint and be a savage and he also surrenders to his savage instincts when the desire to squeeze and hurt was overmastering demonstrating his sickness. However, one could argue that the fact that Ralph chooses not to be a savage perhaps portrays the fact that he knows that it is easier to be mean than it is to be kind and one has to actively try not to give in to evil and temptation.
Piggy is heroic too when he offers his smart suggestions, tries to organise the littluns, stands up for Ralph, democracy, law and order by confronting Jack, but he is also sick as he is lazy, jealous and very racist despite his intelligence. In Piggy’s most heroic moment, Golding reveals his sickness when he says, which is better to be a pack of painted niggers like you are, or to be sensible like Ralph is? not allowing him to be too heroic as he believes that that we are suffering from the terrible disease of being human and that man is a fallen being and is gripped by original sin as told by him in Fable. Additionally the boys require masks to liberate them, suggesting a sense of shame. Like the concept of the other and the contextual use of savages, the boys also use masks to justify and allow them to give into their savage nature without guilt as you can hide behind it as Jack, hid, liberated from shame and self-consciousness. They also have painted faces of red, white and black which are Nazi colours; Golding clearly showing they are acting like savages just like the Nazi’s who committed war crimes.
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