Lord of the Flies is a novel by Nobel Prize-winning English author William Golding about a group of British boys stuck on an uninhabited island who try to govern themselves, with disastrous results. Its stances on the already controversial subjects of human nature and individual welfare versus the common good.
Within the larger battle of civilization and savagery ravaging the boys’s community on the island, Lord of the Flies also depicts in great detail the relationships and power dynamics between the boys. In particular, the novel shows how boys fight to belong and be respected by the other boys. The main way in which the boys seek this belonging and respect is to appear strong and powerful. And in order to appear strong and powerful, boys give in to the savage instinct to ignore, pick on, mock, or even physically abuse boys who are weaker than them. Over and over, Lord of the Flies shows instances where a boy who feels vulnerable will save himself by picking on a weaker boy.
Although Golding argues that people are fundamentally savage, drawn toward pleasure and violence, human beings have successfully managed to create thriving civilizations for thousands of years. So that disproves Golding’s theory about human nature being savage, right? Wrong. The famous psychologist Sigmund Freud argued that without the innate human capacity to repress desire, civilization would not exist. In Lord of the Flies, Golding makes a similar argument. He depicts civilization as a veil that through its rules and laws masks the evil within every individual. So even while civilizations thrive, they are merely hiding the beast. They have not destroyed it.
The island represents good and evil. It stands for a new independent life without any adults who rule the childrens’ life. So it is like treasure island at first glance. The island is full of life - there are animals and lots of fruits to make food of. It has an idyllic effect which, however, is deceptive. - The fruits cause diarrhoea and stomach-aches. There is also the heat which is overwhelming. Some “littluns” are afraid of the island because of its alleged beasties, and therefore have nightmares. One part of the island is the jungle which shows the dangerous side of the island. The “boy with a mark”, presumably the first dead corpse, goes missing after he wa last seen entering it. - The “good” and the “evil” sides of the island are representative of human beings. Golding’s intention is “to reveal the potentiality of evil in any society and to show the end of innocence and the darkness of man’s heart.” - The island shows that besides mankind, nature can also change its face.
The conch is a tool to build up a civilisation on the island. Through the power of the conch Ralph is able to make meetings. Without the conch it would have been very difficult to get things organized and to get to know who is on the island. It is even a symbol of the group outside the choir because Ralph is the owner of the conch, a means of power.
The novel takes place during World War II. Golding got the idea for the book because of his experiences in the war, where he served in the Navy and learned the inherent sinfulness of man. It’s interesting that the war is mentioned indirectly at the beginning and end of the novel but nowhere in between. This is a remarkable literary device of Golding. After reading any significant portion of this site, it will become obvious that Piggy and Jack symbolize two opposite extremes of human behavior while Ralph is pulled between these philosophies. Piggy demands adherence to the rules of his auntie while Jack subscribes to the philosophy, "If it’s fun, do it." Ralph empathizes with parts of both sides; that is why he walks the tight rope.
The defects of human nature are exemplified in Golding’s novel through the characters of Jack and his hunters. Here, Golding shows that men are inherently evil; if left alone to fend for themselves, they will revert back to the savage roots of their ancestors. This is seen in the novel near the end, when the tribe is hunting Ralph. Matters had become quite out of hand by this time. Even the naval officer who saves the boys knows their society has become savage. Yet Golding’s last comment in his press release criticizes not only the boys on the island but also the society of adults in which the officer lives. Golding asks— while the ship saves the boys from killing each other, who will save the ship from killing other ships or being killed? In this way the society of the outside world mirrors the island society on a larger level.
In addition to its other resonances, Lord of the Flies is in part an allegory of the Cold War. Thus, it is deeply concerned with the negative effects of war on individuals and for social relationships. Composed during the Cold War, the novel's action unfolds from a hypothetical atomic war between England and "the Reds," which was a clear word for communists. Golding thus presents the non-violent tensions that were unfolding during the 1950s as culminating into a fatal conflict-a narrative strategy that establishes the novel as a cautionary tale against the dangers of ideological, or "cold," warfare, becoming hot. Moreover, we may understand the conflict among the boys on the island as a reflection of the conflict between the democratic powers of the West and the communist presence throughout China, Eastern Europe, and the Soviet Union. (China's cultural revolution had not yet occurred, but its communist revolution was fresh in Western memory.) Ralph, an embodiment of democracy, clashes tragically with Jack, a character who represents a style of military dictatorship similar to the West's perception of communist leaders such as Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong. Dressed in a black cape and cap, with flaming red hair, Jack also visually evokes the "Reds" in the fictional world of the novel and the historical U.S.S.R., whose signature colors were red and black. As the tension between the boys comes to a bloody head, the reader sees the dangerous consequences of ideological conflict.
Is evil innate within the human spirit, or is it an influence from an external source? What role do societal rules and institutions play in the existence of human evil? Does the capacity for evil vary from person to person, or does it depend on the circumstances each individual faces? These questions are at the heart of Lord of the Flies which, through detailed depictions of the boys' different responses to their situation, presents a complex articulation of humanity's potential for evil.
This novel brings up an important issue in human nature. It explores the inquiry if humans are naturally evil or if the situations they are put in causes this evil to arise. If these boys had not been put into the situations they were put into, would they have still shown the hostile actions that they showed in the book? The reader is left with this thought to resonate with.
The loss of innocence is a major theme in Lord of the Flies. The boys stranded on the island at just the age (between six and twelve, roughly) to leave the idealism of youth and face the actuality of the real world. And what better place to do so than an uninhabited island free of rules, restrictions, and adults? Because of their circumstance, the boys leave behind not only youth, but civilization, and the reality they face is not one of adults, but one of untamed human nature. The novel ends with its main character, Ralph, weeping for “the end of innocence, the darkness of man’s heart.”
One of the big questions raised by Lord of the Flies is whether the boys in their primitive actions are reverting to a somehow inferior state of life, or whether they are driven to their natural and rightful states. If well-brought up British boys become violent savages when left without supervision, maybe people really are just violent savages, covered up in clothes and caps. But big questions aside, primitivity in Lord of the Flies means hunting, the desire for food, the desire for power, bloodlust, violence, sadism, and a general inability to distinguish between man and beast.