William Golding's noteworthy novel 'Lord of the Flies' is often viewed as a cautionary tale or allegory concerning Human Nature, Rules, Order, & Absence of Civilization.
Golding aims to communicate his central themes and ideas with eloquent use of imagery and symbolic objects and characterizations.
Moreover, many literary exponents also considered Golding's work as an allegorical novel of the 1940 Cold War post World War II.
The phase was referred to as the turning point of Golding's life as he witnessed first-hand what Evil humans are capable of during war, bloodshed, and mayhem.
In his novel, he explores around with the theme – 'Human Behavior in the Absence of Civilization,' thus portraying a state of anarchy.
Of course, Golding also explores other essential themes throughout his novel to create maximum impact on his reader's mind.
Below Is an Index of The Central Themes in Lord of The Flies.
- Savagery versus Civilization
- Human nature and the depth of evil in their hearts
- Loss of innocence and end of rationalism
- Lawless land without social norms
- The Theme of 'Mob Mentality, Humankind's Future & War'
Let's Explore These Central Themes and Golding's Message Behind It.
The Theme of 'Savagery versus Civilization'
The novel begins with Piggy (a boy) surviving a plane crash on an island during the war. After emerging from the crash, he meets Ralph (an older boy), who also survived after crash landing on the island before.
Ralph appears more headstrong than Piggy and immediately starts considering him as Piggy's superior. Soon enough, Ralph finds a conch shell, and on blowing it, the other boys, Simon, Roger and Jack, arrive at the scene.
After the boys assemble on a deserted island with no one to guide or instruct their courses of action, Ralph gets voted to lead them while Jack becomes the hunters' leader.
Golding explores the conflicting desires existing within all humans. One is to instinctually act peacefully, follow the rules and think about the group's well-being. The other is the will to act violently and claim supremacy over others.
The noticeable struggle between ‘Savagery and Civilization’ is evident in the protagonist (Ralph), the group's leader as embodiment of human's civilized instincts, and the antagonist (Jack), who embodies lust for power, authority, dictatorship, and barbarism!
The Theme of 'Human Nature and The Depth of Evil in Their Hearts
Through his allegorical novel, Golding reveals that human beings, by nature, are evil at their core. It is the focal theme that's consistent throughout the novel.
Golding elaborates that humankind when unbound by civil rules and moral guidance (for what to do and what to avoid) draw out the evil in their hearts and become ruthless savages. Furthermore, by portraying boys as the main characters of his novel, Golding hints at the potential Evil that resides even within children.
Jack, who starts off being keen on societal rules and norms, becomes infatuated with hunting, scaring others, and showcasing promise in brutality and violence. Jack's desire for power, control, and subjugation supersedes his empathy, civil behavior, and intellect. He sheds his cloak of civility and morphs into a vicious leader.
Eventually, as the novel progresses, even Ralph and Piggy, under the influence of the situation, forego their humanity and empathy and conjointly partake in slaying Simon. Their temporary submission to the vicarious thrill of violence and mass hysteria proves Golding's theme that human beings are inherently evil at their core. And when backed into a corner, their primal savage nature surfaces.
Eventually, after Simon's murder, Ralph realizes and accepts the evil inside him and labels himself no better than Roger and Jack.
Furthermore, Golding also highlights that Evil is an integral part of human nature. Some are born evil, while others bring out evil based on their circumstance.
With no societal rules, the presence of civilization, or fear of punishment to regulate the boys' actions, all of them revealed their core primal nature, which is uninhibited savagery and wickedness.
The Theme of 'Loss of Innocence and End of Rationalism'
After crashing on the island, the boys gradually lose their innocence and humanity as the story progresses. The well-managed and civilized kids seen at the novel's start are no longer there.
Golding portrays this 'descension into darkness' as natural due to the essence of evil and wickedness already existing within them. He draws the reader's attention to this inevitable scenario without the presence of civilization and behavioral regulations.
Golding further explains that civilization can never eliminate the innate evil harboring inside them.
In the 3rd chapter, when Simon sits on the forest glade, it also allegorically represents a ‘loss of innocence’. Initially, the spot was considered a sign of natural beauty and serenity. However, when Simon returns to the spot, he finds a blood-stained sow's head mercilessly speared upon a post in the clearing.
This brutal imagery portrayed by Golding (and referred to as a 'bloodstained offering to the beast') has devastated the paradisiacal spot appearing previously. And. thus this powerful symbol of humankind's potential for evil has destroyed childish innocence.
Furthermore, Golding reveals rationality can be considered virtuous. However, it is often daunting to practice in topsy-turvy circumstances. Among the characters, Piggy shows most rationality.
However, as the story progresses and Jack murders Piggy, too, Golding underlines that in a state of chaos and mayhem, rationality comes to an end. With their innate evil, people resort to violence and brutality quicker than keeping a rational head. Piggy was the symbol of rationality. And his death brought an end to rationalism on the island.
Moreover, other imagery in the novel also depicts the ‘lack of rationalism’ among the boys. One instance is the scene where all the boys get scared, witnessing the image of the beast.
Simon is the only one among the group who grasps the absence of any beastly presence, and that evil resides inside people. Post his interaction with the ‘Lord of the Flies’, Simon realizes the paratroopers embody fear whereas the rest of the boys (excluding him) symbolize evil.
Upon this revelation, he returns to the rest to reveal the truth. Unfortunately, Simon could not explain himself completely to the rest before the boys murdered him (beating him down) in hysteria, fear, and exhilaration
The theme of 'Lawless Land without Social Norms'
Golding aims to convey that people tend to defy laws and rules that shackle them from being their true selves. And it is these civilized traditions and norms that force individuals to obey them. Of course, without any civil traditions or social norms, people will reveal their true colors-which are Evil and being diabolical.
It's relatable in the novel's 4th chapter. Roger (who appears to be one cruel, sadistic boy) is fond of brutalizing other children. In this chapter, we learn of his evil habits when he takes a stone and hurls it at Henry.
Golding explains that humankind begets evil as a bee makes honey. And individuals are only worried about the consequences of their actions due to civilization laws and guidance.
Roger only intended to scare Henry (not hurt him). Through his action, Golding implies that Roger is still connected to civilization (or the taboo of his previous life) and doesn't like it. And strangely, Roger was scared of being punished by Henry's parents/school, society, or the law enforcers (cops).
Furthermore, in context to the absence of social norms, Golding explains that the boys felt they had to act together on a marooned island without adult supervision or regulation. Thus, they turned savage and bloodthirsty.
Jack forms a separate group of hunters and looks to break the rules without fearing punishment. Jack feels liberated to do whatever he likes and persuades others to do the same- even at the cost of hurting others or themselves. The result of this chaos led to Piggy getting killed. They even attempted to murder Ralph (but fail). Nevertheless, the instinct to severely hurt or kill within Jack and the other boys reveals a lawless land devoid of social norms or moral regulations.
The Theme of 'Mob Mentality, Humankind's Future & War'
Numerous scenes of violence and terror reveal 'mob mentality' in 'Lord of the Flies.' Initially, the boys are found chanting, 'Kill the pig, cut her throat, and spill her blood.' And afterward, they engage in celebration for their shared act of brutality.
Golding points out the mob mentality in the boys, who transform an upsetting scenario of slaughtering an animal into a bonding ceremony.
Moreover, their evil alliance makes them commit more and more immoral deeds (including killing two members – Simon and Piggy). Finally, the group mutually harbors unfounded fear and proclivity for brutality, thus resulting in one final act of cruelty.
Furthermore, Golding's 'Lord of the Flies,' was set during WW II. The island acts as a symbolic representation of how world societies will look after such a mammoth catastrophe. He explains the evils of war will continue to impact people's hearts and minds, thus making them lose every shred of goodness and civility. The boys failed to resist the temptation and brought out their core nature when arriving at a lawless land without moral guidance and rules.
The protagonist, Ralph, states that justness, order, and rationality have no place in a world where everyone struggles to survive.
Thus, even in the silence of the deserted island, the boys could not resist violence and descent into their 'basic instincts' of brutalizing and murdering their members. And in this way, they mirror the waning war-stricken world surrounding them.
An Index of the Central Characters in Lord of the Flies
- The Beast
Let's Explore These Characters And Unravel What Golding Wanted To Portray Through Each.
Ralph is the novel's protagonist. He became the group leader due to his rational mind and composure (initially). Golding portrays him as a symbol of civilization and humankind's rationality. Ralph is also the most responsible of the lot. While the rest was fooling and playing around, Ralph sought ways to get off the island. Hence, his influence over the other boys is reassuring at the start.
However, later on, evil corrupt Ralph's heart, thus decreasing his hold on others. Jack ascends and compels others to succumb to their inner potential for evil. Much like Simon, Ralph comes of age and realizes that evil is not on the island but within the boys. Ralph does what he can to resist the temptation but fails. And eventually, he, too, conjoins with the rest in murdering Simon and Piggy.
Initially, Ralph resembles the light or hope for the boys to return to civilization. But evil defeats Ralph’s resolve and turn him into a savage like the rest.
Jack is the novel's antagonist and can be considered an agent of evil. His lust for power and desire for violence manifests in others as the novel progresses (including Ralph). He gets obsessed with hunting and even paints his face as a barbarian. As Jack becomes more vicious, he gains control over others by inflicting fear on the boys. Moreover, Jack has no empathy and feels no remorse. After considering Piggy as a hindrance, he executes him. Jack symbolizes the crude nature of a war-stricken world where men are brutish killers without emotions or regrets.
Piggy embodies the scientific and sane essence of civilization. After crashing on the island, he first meets Ralph, and they become comrades. He is chirpy, wise, intelligent, and supportive of Ralph's decisions. He is a believer in rules and civil guidelines. He recommends saving the boys using fire using his spectacles- thus proving him as a problem-solver. His thought process and morality prevent him from becoming a part of the savage group led by Jack. Hence, this makes him more tolerant of succumbing to the mob mentality.
But like Ralph, eventually Piggy could not escape the clutches of savagery manifested among other boys. After Simon's death, Piggy persuades himself that his demise was accidental. His willfulness to be accepted by the group members resulted in him misleading his actions.
Eventually, Piggy dies due to the barbarity of the other boys, and his death ends any shred of rationality or sanity on the island.
Like Piggy, Simon is the other good character on the island. Simon believes in goodness among others and doesn't harbor any evil desires. He is the first one among the group to understand that there is no beastly existence on the island but inert savagery that lurks inside the boys’ hearts.
Of course, Simon also likes being alone and refrains from merging with the other boys. He is the most mature of the lot, and his death symbolizes how good people become collateral damage when found amidst warmongers.
Roger is a sadistic, vicious boy who derives pleasure in brutalizing his group members. As there are no social norms or fear of punishment, Roger feels free to act without inhibitions or remorse.
His cruelty is evident in chapter 4 when he hurls a stone at the little child, but only to scare him.
Golding hints that Roger is still connected to civilization (the taboo of his previous life).
Of course, seeing Jack become more savage, Roger realizes that the more vicious Jack becomes through his endeavors, the more likely will he become a strong leader.
Even though the beasts doesn't physically manifest, it plays a dominant role throughout the novel. Jack uses the fear of an unsightly beast to inflict fear and gain power over the others. Ralph uses the fear of the beast to establish his worth as a group leader, vowing to get everyone off the island.
Simon (believes) to have seen a deformed pilot' body with his face concealed in a swarm of flies! However, Simon understands and maturely explains that the beast is within the boys and not some physical apparition. But eventually gets murdered before he could share his point.