June 12, 2017
The Hidden Nature - Literary Analysis of Lord of The Flies
All books are written with a purpose - and that is to illuminate a path one hopes or fears humanity will take. However, what differentiates between a compelling book and a terrible one is the delivery of the message. An effective novel should have an overarching theme that speaks volumes, accompanied with dynamic characters to capture the reader. William Golding’s Lord of The Flies combines a strong theme it delivers about the savage nature of humans, empowered with the use of symbols, and its unique characters to create a compelling novel.
The words of Golding deliver a profound theme— the true nature of humans, is savagery, and moral behaviour is imposed by the spoken and unspoken rules of society. Throughout the story, an evident conflict is present- the instinct to live by rules, following moral commands and to value everyone’s benefits, versus the instinct to gratify one’s immediate desires by enforcing one’s will over everyone else, or in short, to obtain supremacy. At the very beginning of the book, the children are on a deserted island, given the power to build their own society. Their first instinct is to follow the examples adults have set, which is to create rules and regulations, to maintain order in chaos. This point is supported as Ralph says ‘“We can’t have everybody talking at once. We’ll have to have ’Hands up’ like at school.”’ (Golding 44). In this case, Ralph immediately decides to create rules, simply because it is what he has experienced in society thus far, prompting him to believe this is the most suitable solution. Further examples of moral behaviour imposed by the rules of society include the hesitation of the boys when they first attempt killing a pig, as Golding narrates “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” (Golding 29) and when Roger throws stones at Henry, intentionally missing, as he feels “the taboo of the old life” (Golding 86). Golding further explains this “taboo” by narrating “Round the squatting child was the protection of parents and school and policemen and the law. Roger’s arm was conditioned by a civilization that knew nothing of him and was in ruins.” (Golding 87). From these examples, it is clear to see that the boys are ashamed to use brute force to hurt others as it violates the rules they so closely grew up with. However, as the story progresses, the boys become desperate to live, causing them to disregard their morals in order to survive. For instance, they start to chant “Kill the pig. Cut her throat. Spill her blood” (Golding, 96) whilst hunting, showing the transition from feeling uneasy in hurting a living animal into mercilessly killing it in order to live. Slowly, this savagery manifests in the boys, most evidently in Jack. Jack’s bloodlust and thirst for power results in irrational thinking, causing him to act for the sole purpose of satisfying himself. Jack creates his own group “The Hunters,” tired of being under Ralph’s control. Later on, he leads an army of boys to kill all who oppose him, showing incapability of controlling himself, as it is his savage nature that is now driving his actions. Even Roger, who once hesitated to throw a rock at Henry, participates in Jack’s ridiculous actions, as he unloads a boulder that takes the innocent life of Piggy. At this point, it is clear that the internal conflict between upholding moral behaviour and satisfying one’s desires is gone, as the true nature of Jack and the hunters finally unleash. Through this frightening change, the story addresses the theme in an impactful way, which makes its delivery a very successful one. This leaves the readers with a meaningful message to take away and dwell on, making this one of the reasons why it is a good piece of literature.
Symbolism is a powerful tool that helps with delivering the theme, and this story shows no diversion to that. The conch shell to begin with, is a symbol of discipline and order. Ralph uses it as a way of organizing the group, as whoever holds the conch shell has the power to speak, while the rest listen attentively. The shell is regarded with great importance as Golding narrates, “He caressed the shell respectfully” (Golding 37), showing the boys’ immense value in maintaining order in the new society they are creating. However, as the boys descend into savagery, the power of it decreases, indicating the loss of influence of the rules they set. Later on, the boulder in which Roger rolls onto Piggy crushes the conch, showing the demise of civilized instinct the boys garner in their primal, barbaric selves. Next, the fire is a symbol of the idea of working together to resolve problems. Throughout the story, Ralph enforces the need to keep the fire going, believing it is the only way to be rescued. The fire is made with collectively gathered materials, and watched by individuals, taking shifts. This shows the amount of teamwork the group has at the very start of the book, as the fire is made and maintained with everyone's contribution. In the end, the boys were indeed rescued by outsiders spotting a fire. However, ironically enough, it was one set with the malicious intent of killing Ralph that attracted them. This irony suggests that gaining benefits together may not be the most realistic solution, but instead resorting to use the evil that lies within our hearts will solve our problems. Relief comes in the most unexpected forms. Ultimately, these two symbols assist the delivery of the theme, as one shows that regulations do not matter in a world of savagery, and the other completes it by suggesting that resorting to evil will solve problems, demonstrating the exceptional use of symbols in amplifying the intent of the theme.
Besides expert use of symbolism, the formation and development of the characters also engage the reader. The two main characters in this story are obviously Ralph, the protagonist, and Jack, the antagonist. Initially, one can feel the pride of Jack, as Golding author narrates “The group of cloaked boys began to scatter from close line. The tall boy shouted at them. “Choir! Stand still!”’ (Golding 26). One can infer that Jack has significant authority, suggested by his tone when ordering the choir boys. He is furious after losing the election to Ralph and tries to obtain more power by constantly pushing the boundaries of his subordinate role in the group. His unquenchable thirst of power eventually develops into his egomaniacal character, which becomes clarified later on. This change in Jack is typical and predictable, but is crucial in the development of the story. Without his absurd and insane actions, the readers will not be able to feel the savagery that Golding has always been trying to portray. As well, the story would not have a violent side to it, curating less interest and intrigue. On the other hand, Ralph is the complete opposite of Jack as his commitment to morality is strong. He acts with the good of the group in mind, not his own. For example, while the boys are initially fooling around, Ralph decides to take on the responsibility of building huts and making sure that the little ones have a shelter to live in. He regards it as an responsibility and not a burden to ignore, and also feels it is expected of the him to ensure the safety well-being of the younger ones. In earlier parts of the novel, Ralph is disapproving of how Jack and the boys give in to the yearning of bloodlust and barbarism. The sight of the hunters chanting and cruelly killing is distasteful to him. Surprisingly, despite Ralph’s strong moral code, he later joins in the hunting, and even enjoys the exhilaration and thrill of brutality, as he excitedly yells ‘“I hit him all right. The spear stuck in. I wounded him!”’ (Golding 162). This is unexpected of Ralph, due to him being dismissive of this behaviour earlier. Furthermore, he participates in the ruthless killing of Simon in Jack’s party. This sudden violence that Ralph acts with is astonishing to the readers, and even to Ralph himself, as he narrates ‘“I wasn’t scared, I was—I don’t know what I was.”’ (Golding 224). From this quote, Ralph clearly seems terrified of himself now, being baffled by his own actions. Slowly, he understands that the evil in Jack and the hunters have exists within him too, but refuses to acknowledge it. This is one of the biggest turning points in the story, as even the supposedly “righteous” one succumbs into this absurd savagery. Ralph’s sudden awareness prompts readers to reflect upon themselves and to realize that one’s moral behaviour is never truly natural. Yet, it is forced through unwillingly in situations in which one wants to act otherwise but cannot, because of the underlying rules set by civilization. Doubtlessly, these two characters have played immense roles in adding flavour to the story, as they open passageways for more personal connections.
William Golding’s Lord of The Flies’ meaningful theme empowered with the clever use of symbols and unique characters altogether make this an effective piece of literature. Golding manages to deliver a strong and harsh theme that suggests of evil present in everyone, which is something horrifying to think of, yet something everyone needs to realize. Additionally, its charismatic characters allow the readers to connect, and reflect upon themselves honestly. Ultimately, all these factors combined make it a book worthy of reading, and to be cherished for many centuries ahead.
Golding, William, and Edmund L. Epstein. Lord of the Flies: a novel. New York: Penguin, 2006. Print.