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Lord of the Flies is an important title for the novel because it is one of the most important symbols in the novel. The Lord of the Flies, or the pig’s head, is symbolic because it embodies the savagery that is the result of Jack’s corruption and lust for blood. As Simon attempts to talk with it, he hears voices in his head of the pig saying there’s no way to escape: “This is ridiculous. You know perfectly well you’ll only meet me down there-so don’t try to escape!” The author puts this line in the novel because like most the other boys in the society, he would soon submit to the savagery that now overwhelmed Ralph’s and Piggy’s true leadership.
Author: William Golding
First Publication Date: 1954
Jack is the power-hungry boy who is absorbed in his self-pride. He establishes himself as the head of the choir, holding a respectable place of leadership amongst them.
However, he is not chosen for chief because he is not thought of as interesting amongst the littler kids. He is outraged at the election of Ralph as leader, but submits to a position of semi-leadership over the hunters of the group. On his first expedition up the mountain, he, Ralph and Simon come across a pig stuck in an entanglement of vines. Jack hesitates to kill it, which signifies his ongoing attachment to sanity and to the composure of decency. However, this hesitancy is short-lived as he gains his own egomaniac ideas about killing and hunting.
He becomes bloodthirsty, basing his own principles on gathering meat with his hunters. His position of power shifts gradually throughout the book. As he gains more success in hunting and as he assumes a more savage role, he gains much more influence over the other boys in the group, whom he eventually aggregates to his own tribe. The source of his power is not necessarily that he obtains food for the boys, but because he is able to manipulate life, to kill the pig and thereby bringing calm to the fears of a beast that the boys say exists in the forest.
Ralph is a smart and logical leader. He and Jack are strong foils of each other because of the contrasting views each have in how they should run the society in which they live. Ralph wisely attempts to prioritize their rescue by constantly promoting the idea of a fire on the top of the mountain. He is elected the chief of the boys and is resisted by Jack. As a ship passes by the island, Ralph is enthusiastic but is infuriated when he finds out that it is because of Jack’s selfishness that the fire on the mountain was not lit. When things get into sway, Ralph makes the suggestion of building shelter, which he prioritizes over hunting. Jack in his lust for blood, disregards this and heads off to hunt. Ralph, along with one or two other boys helps to build shelters, while most the other children play. This shows that Ralph has dedication to his goals and shows qualities of a good role model and a strong leader but doesn’t have enough support from the other boys to maintain a proper hold on the boys. The major issue Ralph struggles with is control over the boys of the group. Although his methods are strong, reliable, and practical, most the other boys eventually decide to stick with Jack because he eases their fears of the beast, and gives them a false sense of security over no particular danger in the forest. Ralph in this way is stranded, which symbolizes the diminishing role of sanity and civility in the society the boys create.
Piggy is one of the first characters introduced in the book. He is segregated from the group because of his inability to perform physical tasks and because of his obesity. He is clearly the most intellectual of the group. When everybody decides to scramble up to the top of the mountain to build the fire, Piggy is the only one who realizes that there is a child that is missing from the group. Piggy represents the oppressed and the ignored. Jack despises him mostly because he is absorbed in himself and also because Piggy is different from the rest of the group.
The novel is set in some remote island near Europe sometime during World War II. This is important because it increases the tension created by the savagery of the characters in the society they create. Golding is trying to comment on the fallacy in society and the contrast between civility and savagery. Because they are on a remote island, the boys are very desperate to escape, which brings forward primitive characteristics in some of the boys, namely Jack. Ralph and Piggy, in the end, seem to be the only two characters who are still set on maximizing their chances of rescue, while Jack cares more about power and of survival.
The location of the fire is also an important factor in the setting of the novel. In the beginning, the boys place the fire on top of the mountain, so to maximize the chances of being discovered. However, fears arise as time passes which causes delusion as the younger boys believe that there is a beast in the forest. When Roger, Jack, and Ralph go up to the mountain to check if a beast existed, their primitive instincts caught hold of them which caused them to make assumptions about false things. This effectively ends the earlier ideas of a possible fire on the top of the mountain. After Jack separates from the group, Ralph, Piggy and the twins attempt to make a fire on the beach so they could be found, but Jack ruins this idea, stealing Piggy’s glasses so that they can create a fire of their own, for food.
Plot Structure and Narrative Techniques:
Golding uses a very distinct structure in how he accounts for each of the events that occur. In the novel, he breaks up each of the twelve chapters into the twelve most distinct changes in the nature of the society. In the first chapter, for example, the society is first created and order exists. Ralph is chief, and although Jack is jealous of his power, he is content with having a position of leadership over the hunters. In the second and third chapters, Golding presents two examples in which the boys take on a childish nature. In attempting to set up society, the youngest of the boys are uncontrollable, and although they boys try to set up a stable society, they still don’t set priorities correctly.
A very important shift occurs in the fourth chapter. The title of this chapter, “Painted Faces and Long Hair,” demonstrates the first change the boys make on the island from civility to savagery. In order to fit in with the environment, they adjust their physical appearance to match that of their surroundings. In this chapter, the boys begin to struggle between the ideals taught to them in their old lives and the new challenges that face them on the island. “Only Percival began to whimper with an eyeful of sand and Maurice hurried away. In his other life Maurice had received chastisement for filling a younger eye with sand. Now, though there was no parent to let fall a heavy hand, Maurice still felt the unease of wrongdoing.” This demonstrates that the boys are beginning to succumb to the fears that troubled them about the forest and are beginning to revert to primitive instincts to survive.
Even though the characters have an initial hesitancy to the life of hunting and killing, the attitudes presented by the younger kids in chapters two and three represent those of a child. Therefore, it is a very shocking change when all the little children gang up and tear Simon apart like he were some savage beast. The reader is immediately reminded of the nature of the children, and of the blind savagery that the children show in their actions. The younger, impressionable children, although they know moral values, allow themselves to kill even though they know very well that it is wrong to do so; Jack manipulates their fears in order to do what he wants.
This pattern continues until the culmination of the struggle between civility and savagery, when Ralph battles Jack-which is somewhat ironic because civility is battling with savagery, both embracing the Darwinistic approach to survival of the fittest. Golding makes sure, however, that the reader is reminded that although Piggy is physically blinded, he still holds firm to the characteristics of self-containment and restraint.
Point of View:
This novel is written from a third-person, limited point of view. The reader is not able to see a direct representation of the thoughts and emotions going through Ralph’s and Jack’s minds. Instead, the reader can sense the emotions and jealousy occurring in Jack through their actions, reluctance, and arguing. This is a very effective way of writing because it intensifies the emotions in a way that directly stating them cannot: “Jack’s face disappeared under a blush of mortification. He started up, then changed his mind and sat down again while the air rang.” Golding lets the reader see that Jack is enraged that he is not chosen to be chief, and although he doesn’t directly state it, Golding puts hints in the text that suggest that Jack is brooding over these jealous emotions and plans eventually to try and assume control over the boys.
Narrator and Intended Audience:
This novel, written as a critique on society, may have been written for governmental figures and people in positions of power. Golding writes this novel in the perspective of adolescents, so perhaps the novel was directed towards them also. However, the reasoning behind choosing adolescents in the book is probably because they are under the control of adults in society and the book released that idea, furthering the idea of loss of control. Lord of the Flies was likely written towards an older audience, concerning human nature and the maintenance of control in society.
Language Use and Style:
Golding’s diction in the novel is one based on the fact that the story is still a story about children. When in meetings, the conch is used as a symbol of control, that only the person with the conch could talk. This becomes the basis on which the boys make their arguments. Frequently in the novel, Ralph and Piggy use the line: “I’ve got the conch!” a statement which Jack shuts down. This use of language suggests that the reasoning and control processes of society are not very strong in society.
Golding uses a lot of imagery and symbolism to portray the themes of the novel: “The three boys walked briskly on the sand. The tide was low and there was a strip of weed-strewn beach that was almost as firm as a road. A kind of glamour was spread over them and the scene and they were conscious of the glamour and made happy by it. They turned to each other, laughing excitedly, talking, not listening. The air was bright. When they had done laughing, Simon stroked Ralph’s arm shyly; and they had to laugh again.” This passage demonstrates simplicity in the way Golding shapes phrases making it very easy for the reader to understand.
Golding’s tone in Lord of the Flies is that he is trying to warn us about the potential evil in every human’s heart. Although the boys meet a parachutist, Golding does not change the writing style to suit the boys’ emotions, but portrays that it isn’t the beast in the forest that we must fear, but ourselves.
“You can laugh! But I tell you the smoke is more important than the big, however often you kill one. Do all of you see? We’ve got to make smoke up there-or die.”
Here, Ralph is explaining the necessity of rescue in their quest for survival. Fire is one of the most important symbols in the novel. It represents the goal the boys have, and their courage to try and overcome their situation to survive long enough to be found and rescued. However, it has a double meaning. It represents the failure of motivation and the change in direction the boys take in how they choose to live on the island. Ralph’s clear motivation in attempting to get the boys to see the true goal of survival makes him a great leader, and through his speeches, he demonstrates this.
“All at once, Robert was screaming and struggling with the strength of frenzy. Jack had him by the hair and was brandishing his knife. Behind him was Roger, fighting to get close. The chant rose ritually, as at the last moment of a dance or a hunt. ‘That was a good game’ [said Jack].”
This quote addresses the inhumaity the boys undertake as they undergo their fight for survival. In a mock re-enactment of the murder of the pig, the boys bully Robert, thinking that it’s okay to do so-that it’s just fun and games. Jack certainly takes light to it; he even takes out his knife, making it seem like a very real enactment: “struggling with the strength of frenzy.” The diction Golding uses in this quote infers intensity at which the boys act and with how their personality changes drastically. Golding describes their re-enactment not as play, but as a ‘ritual chant.’ This kind of imagery has a dark feel to it, and Golding is most likely trying to convey that although the boys may think that they act for fun and games, their actions are vile and dark.
Power is one of the most important factors in the novel that contributes to the conflict between civility and savagery. Ralph and Jack from the start argue with one another on how the society should run. Ralph’s way of running things is very much like society should run. He suggests the ideas of building shelters, keeping a constant fire to serve as a beacon to passing ships, as well as the conch system of speaking. These ideas are very crucial in creating a society in which they can survive and still be rescued. Jack, however, is egocentric and lustful for blood. His opposing views on how to run the group of boys is based on his selfish need to hunt and kill. This selfish desire makes him an unsuitable leader, but his exploitation of the children’s fears allow him to gain leadership in the end.
Innocence Corrupted/Descent to Hell:
The journey the boys take is a very difficult one. The boys have to learn to survive in a different environment, and have to fend for themselves in finding food and shelter. These conditions cause a change in the boys. Jack, as he attempts to make a name for himself and gain the trusts of the boys, takes on a increasingly savage
The fire is originally symbolic of a beacon for help. Throughout the book, Ralph desperately tries to convince the other boys that keeping the fire lit was of utmost importance in being rescued. The fire also symbolizes the common sense that Ralph tries to convince everyone to understand. He understands the priorities are to be rescued. However, everybody else takes hunting for a priority, and their fears of the island keep them loyal to Jack.
Returning home is a very important archetype in the novel because it represents the initial goal the boys shared in the first place. It symbolizes the diminishing goal that eventually disappears from the minds of the boys as they all-save Ralph-become savages.
The egocentric, Jack, is another archetype presented in the novel. Most the change that occurs in the boys is due to the selfishness Jack displays. For example, he is so obsessed in the hunt, that he recalls two of the fire-watchers to go hunt, which costs the boys a chance for their freedom.
When the conch is first introduced, it is described as “interesting and pretty and a worthy plaything;” this description presents a contrast between what it seems to the boys to what it represents. The conch is used as a tool for authority, for by the rules Ralph creates, only the person with the conch may speak. When all the boys are on the top of the mountain, Piggy arrives with the conch, so he can speak. Although he has the conch, Ralph and Jack do not consider his words of any importance, saying: “the conch doesn’t count on the mountain, so shut up!” even though he is obviously the most intelligent of the group. This is important in the novel, because it presents one of the themes of the book: the fallacy of authority in modern-day society. The author is making a statement about the plight of the low-class and that they are heard very little at the most important of times. The conch is also a symbol for the unification of all the boys; Ralph uses it to summon all the children that may have survived the plane crash.
As with the conch, Piggy is an important symbol in the book. Piggy represents the low-class citizens of society. He is not listened to by those with ‘authority’ (namely Ralph and Jack). He is completely ignored by the two boys. These two boys also have important symbolism. The author takes a critical view of modern-day society, in that the government has similar aspects as two boys who are ambitious but blind, as Jack and Ralph are blind to the boy who went missing.
Piggy’s glasses are an important symbol in the book because they represent intelligence, a trait which Piggy has greatly, and one which the society of boys completely ignores. On multiple occasions, the glasses are brought up in the text, preceding a piece of enlightenment that Piggy gives. Jack, who despises Piggy, uses him for his glasses which are used to create the fire. This symbolizes the use of intelligence in society for selfish needs. The second time the glasses are used, Jack breaks them, rendering Piggy half useless by defeating his ability to see with one eye. This symbolizes the eventual blindness of intelligence in a society where savagery and elimination of humane policies exists. In the end, Piggy is left completely blind when Jack steals the glasses for good.
The knife represents the important difference between savagery and civility in society. As Ralph, Jack and Simon come back down from the mountain, they encounter a pig stuck in some vines. Jack pulls out the knife but is unable to kill the pig. “They knew very well why he hadn’t: because of the enormity of the knife descending and cutting into living flesh; because of the unbearable blood.” Here, Jack tries to defend his pride, claiming that he was just picking a spot. The knife also embodies the archetype and theme of the corrupt innocence. The knife, once used for the purpose of gaining food for the society, ends up being used for the murder of those who opposes Jack’s way of life.
In the early part of the novel, the boys signify the fire as a beacon of hope for the boys that they will soon be found, and the idea that the boys still want to be rescued. They believe that the environment around them is hostile and therefore their greatest adversary. This idea is turned around when they find that the greatest antagonist to their society is really the way of life they created, the society which made them all bloodthirsty. The fire embodies a secondary role in the novel. In the end, when Ralph and the loyal few build a fire, they see the fire as a place of warmth, as a home of sorts because they have nothing left.
The ethical issue of power and the right of a leader to have authority is a major issue in the novel. From the beginning, the boys elect Ralph as the main leader of the pack of boys. However, as Jack gains more trust, the boys all change their personalities and betray Ralph, which shows a contempt for the social laws of leadership and loyalty. Jack appeals to the fears of the younger children as well as the hungers of all the boys to make them join him.
One of the most important themes in the novel is the difference struggle between civility and savagery. Ralph and Jack attempt to keep their own idea of power amongst the boys, which they soon find out, is near impossible. For example, when Ralph and Jack leave to check if the land were an island, all the boys are scattered everywhere; Piggy is unable to control them all, and one of the boys is lost. Golding uses a very strong diction in describing the way in which the boys slaughter the pig. He uses terms such as “rape,” “thrust,” “slash” and “thick blood.” The boys revert to primitive instincts, to kill. This is a huge contrast, because the characters are simply kids, and yet they act with a savagery that many adults never face.
The corruption of innocence is another similar and important theme in the novel. The change in how the boys act across the novel is apalling. In modern-day society, children’s innocence is corrupted daily. The violence and inappropriate material in the media can be seen everywhere in modern-day society. Golding tries to comment on the extreme shift in the boys’ behavior by demonstrating the extremities in how savagery has taken over society and caused chaos and destruction.
“He knelt among the shadows and felt his isolation bitterly. They were savages it was true; but they were human, and the ambushing fears of the deep night were coming on.
Ralph moaned faintly. Tired though he was, he could not relax and fall into a well of sleep for fear of the tribe. Might it not be possible to walk boldly into the fort, say– “I’ve got pax,” laugh lightly, and sleep among the others? Pretend they were still boys, schoolboys who had said, “Sir, yes, sire”–and worn caps? Daylight must have answered yes; but darkness and the horrors of death said no. Lying there in the darkness, he knew he was an outcast.
“‘Cos I had some sense.”
He rubbed his cheek along his forearm, smelling the acrid scent of salt and sweat and the staleness of dirt. Over to the left, the waves of ocean were breathing, scuking down, then boiling back over the rock.
There were sounds coming from behind the Castle Rock. Listening carefully, detaching his mind from the swing of the sea, Ralph could make out a familiar rhythm.
“Kill the beast! Cut his throat! Spill his blood!”
The tribe was dancing. Somewhere on the other side of this rocky wall there would be a dark circle, a glowing fire, and meat. They would be savoring food and the comfort of safety.
The noise nearer at hand made him quiver. Savages were clambering up the Castle Rock, right up to the top, and he could hear voices. He sneaked forward a few yards and saw the shape at the top of the rock change and enlarge. There were only two boys on the island who moved or talked like that.
Ralph put his head down on the forearms and accepted this new fact like a wound. Samneric were part of the tribe now. They were guarding the Castle Rock against him. There was no chance of rescuing them and building up an outlaw tribe at the other end of the island. Samneric were savages like the rest; Piggy was dead, and the conch smashed to powder.”
The first sentence in this passage demonstrates Golding’s lecture-like address to the struggles which affect the society in which the boys live. His diction demonstrates the darkness that Ralph takes on as he looks upon the crowd of boys. He uses terms such as “bitter isolation,” “savages,” and “shadows” to demonstrate his situation. This shows that Ralph’s sensibility and the civility that once existed is now in tatters, existing only in the shadows. The next sentence demonstrates that he recognizes that although they have succumbed to savagery, they are still human, and thus the fears the littler boys have will be present.
The next paragraph represents his weakness in the situation. He wonders if it would be possible at all to come up with some sort of compromise with Jack and the boys. He imagines that the now savages are civilized boys again. As he laughs to himself, he realizes the impossibility of this occurrence. Golding’s diction once again shows itself as he talks about death. He describes their fear as the ‘horrors of death.’ Because he is able to make the distinction between what they fear and what he knows as reality, he considers himself an outcast from the rest.
Ralph then notes the ocean and the reality of the presence of their strandedness on the island. He describes an ‘acrid’ scent, and the ‘boiling’ ocean as he recognizes that his sensibility has reasoning, and that the other boys are blind to their situation. As he continues walking along, he approaches their settlement, and hears the familiar chant that the boys now know as their motto of savagery.
Golding’s harsh diction makes another appearance in describing Ralph’s thoughts on their settlement. Even though he does not see the settlement, he imagines “a dark circle, a glowing fire” two ideas which contrast each other very well. The dark circle represents the boys’ new loyalty and ideals. The glowing fire represents the symbolism of a home, and a place of safety, a safety that Ralph is now no longer a part of.
The final section of the passage represents a finality of the situation. The final two boys who had been loyal to Ralph were now part of Jack’s tribe, part of the new civilization. Golding uses harsh words to describe this finality: “he[Ralph] accepted this new fact like a wound” These words represent the loss of the last hope that might have existed for a proper society based on laws of civility, and not of savagery. “Samneric were savages like the rest; Piggy was dead, and the conch smashed to powder.” This is the last statement that Ralph gives concerning their situation and the failure of civility to overcome savagery in their society.
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