Title: Jack’s Role in The Lord of the Flies: Character Analysis & Symbolism
The Lord of the Flies, written by Sir William Gerald Golding, is an outstanding novel that explores the underlying savagery and baseness that human beings possess under the veil of civility.
Human beings have managed to repress the animalistic instincts that thrive on chaos and disorder by binding themselves with legal rules. However, in The Lord of the Flies, Golding explores how those repressed instincts burst forth when human beings are removed from civilization and are left unsupervised in a foreign environment.
The Lord of the Flies: A Simple Summary
The Lord of the Flies begins with a group of British schoolboys stranded on a tropical island in the middle of nuclear warfare. The group quickly divides itself into two – the ones around the age of six and those around the age of ten and twelve.
The group elects Ralph as the leader. With the help of Piggy, the intellectual of the group, Ralph and others try to establish a civilized culture like the one that they have been brought up in.
However, one of the boys in the group, Jack, also wishes to be the leader. The conflict between Ralph and Jack worsens when the boys mistake a casualty of the war that had dropped on the mountaintop wrapped in his parachute as a mystical creature. Mistaking the body to be the Beast, Jack and a few other boys dress up as savages and perform tribal ritualistic dances, slaughter a sow, and put its head up on a pike as a peace offering to the Beast.
Simon starts having visions where the sow's head transforms into the Lord of the Flies and reveals that the real beat on the island is hidden deep within every boy's psyche. Later, after Simon discovers the real identity of the Beast (which was the dead soldier), he intends to reveal the truth. Unfortunately, he comes across Jack and his group, who mistake him to be the Beast and kill him.
Ralph's group only includes him and three other older boys. When Jack and his group steal Piggy's glasses to start their cooking fire, Ralph's group confronts them and demands they return the glasses so they can keep their signal fire going. However, one of the boys in Jack's group hurls a boulder at them, killing Piggy. Meanwhile, the other two are captured, leaving Ralph all alone.
Jack’s group gives in to their baser instincts and decides to smoke out Ralph from his hiding spot. This leads to a forest fire, which a British naval officer notices from far away and arrives just in time to save Ralph from the savages.
Who is Jack in Lord of the Flies?
Jack Merridew is the Head Boy of his school and the leader of the choir. He has always enjoyed a position of leadership. As a result, he harbors resentment towards Ralph when he is elected leader over him.
Jack is a bully and doesn't hesitate to use violence to get what he wants. He is also a rule-breaker. When the boys are stranded on the island, he suggests that they follow some rules.
However, he considers himself above the same rules and doesn't hesitate to break them and create new ones when it suits his fancy.
Jack has always favored power and authority over others. He is used to getting his way, even if it means adopting unfair means.
Jack’s violent attitude is first hinted at in the novel when he produces a knife that he had kept on him during his first conversation with Ralph.
Though Jack tries to adhere to the civilized attitude that society instilled in him, he gives in to savagery and bloodlust soon enough. For example, when he first encounters a pig, he hesitates to kill it. But he overcomes this hesitation and casts off his moral dilemma and embraces violence completely, and becomes a hunter.
Physical Description of Jack in the Lord of the Flies
In the Lord of the Flies, Jack is described as having a lanky physique. He is thin and bony, with red hair and freckles and blue eyes.
Though he is not depicted like the muscular and burly characters you would normally associate with violent bullies, his physical characteristics do not mask the savagery that lies within him.
Jack’s Specific Character Traits in the Lord of the Flies
In the Lord of the Flies, Jack’s personality undergoes a massive transformation, which can be seen as the reader progresses through the novel. Readers consider him as the main antagonist of the story, representing the baser human instincts. In that sense, he is an antithesis of Ralph, who represents democracy and order.
Jack's defining characteristics are:
Since Jack was the Head Boy in his school and the leader of the choir, he is used to enjoying a position of leadership and asserting his domination over other boys. He is confident in his ability to lead others, which is why losing the election to Ralph makes him furious. Jack's refusal to accept the results of a vote highlights his totalitarian attitude.
As Jack takes off his mask of civility, he becomes more savage and is able to recruit most of the other boys on his side. He takes on the role of the "chief" and reinforces his power and domination by having the other boys raise their spears in salutation.
Initially, when the boys are stranded on the island, Jack upholds the morality that society has instilled in him from a young age. He suggests that the group should have some rules to avoid falling into chaos as they try to survive on the island.
However, Jack is quick to dismiss these rules when they don’t favor him. For example, when the rule of the conch is established, the group agrees that anyone with the conch won’t be interrupted when they speak.
Though Jack agrees with it, he adds a clause – “Except by me.”
This is quite hypocritical of Jack since he places himself above the rules that the group establishes.
Throughout the novel, the reader can witness the gradual fading of Jack’s mask of civility as his savage nature takes precedence. He has always been a cruel boy, abusing his position as the Head Boy and leader of the choir group to assert his domination.
The first instance of savagery from Jack is when he has the urge to kill a pig early in the novel when they first start exploring the island. But he hesitates to take the plunge, which makes him feel weak.
As a result, he makes it his mission to kill a pig, not out of necessity but out of a desire to satisfy his savage tendencies and assert his dominance. The scene where Jack and his group slaughter the pig is quite gruesome, and the chants that they cry out show how far they have fallen after the shackles of society no longer hold them back.
The killing of the pig begins Jack’s descent into a savage dictator. Jack and his group reenact the same action when they kill Simon.
The true horror of this incident is that the boys are quite aware that they aren't killing a beast but Simon. After Simon's murder, Jack's bloodlust does not end but continues to grow as he plots Ralph's murder.
- Power abuser
Golding represents Jack as a power-hungry dictator who doesn’t hesitate to abuse his powers to get what he wants. He has always been jealous of Ralph being appointed as the leader instead of him. As a result, he breaks off the group and gets into a power struggle with Ralph to assert dominance.
Similar to great dictators like Hitler, Jack uses the power of rhetoric to twist Ralph's words and find reasons to impeach him. He argues that Ralph would never have been able to get them meat like he did, thereby insinuating that he is a better leader than him because of his hunting ability.
He values those who agree with him and are of use to further his goals. This is why he doesn't chide Roger after he tortures the twins or when he kills Peggy. However, those who go against him incur his wrath.
Jack is synonymous with tyrannical power and authority. Even though the boys vote for Ralph as their leader, Jack refuses to accept his leadership and forms a separate group with most of the boys.
As Ralph's power continues to decrease, Jack's increases. He realizes that the only way to maintain power is to keep his group under a rule of terror.
As he frees himself from the shackles of civilized society, Jack embraces the latent savagery that lay within him and appoints himself the “chief” of his group.
Symbols Associated with Jack in the Lord of the Flies
Jack is one of the most interesting antagonists created by Sir William Gerald Golding in the Lord of the Flies. Throughout the novel, Golding makes excellent use of symbolism to express various abstract concepts.
The symbols related to Jack are –
- The conch shell
The conch in the Lord of the Flies symbolizes democracy, law, and order. However, Jack declares the power of the conch invalid on certain parts of the island. When the conch breaks, it signifies the end of a democratic and civilized society and the beginning of Jack’s autocracy.
- The Beast
The Beast symbolizes the irrationality and savagery that lies deep within every human being. Initially, the group of boys fears the Beast. But as the savagery within them reaches new heights, Jack and his group begin to worship the Beast and make sacrifices to appease the devil. View Examples
- The painted face
Jack and his group paint their faces to camouflage themselves from the pigs while they begin their hunt. It symbolizes him hiding his civility and adopting the guise of a savage. His painted face gives him the opportunity to hide his real intentions from the rest of the group. It gives him the freedom to tear away from the restrictions of civilized society and find liberation through savagery.
Golding’s portrayal of Jack highlights the hidden darkness inside every human soul that lies dormant because of the restrictions that civilized society puts on every person. Though Jack tries to adhere to the societal conventions at the beginning of the novel, the lack of adult supervision on the island allows him to give in to his baser instincts.