Lord of the Flies


 In his first novel, William Golding used a group of boys 
stranded on a tropical island to illustrate the malicious nature of 
mankind. Lord of the Flies dealt with changes that the boys underwent 
as they gradually adapted to the isolated freedom from society. Three 
main characters depicted different effects on certain individuals 
under those circumstances. Jack Merridew began as the arrogant and 
self-righteous leader of a choir. The freedom of the island allowed 
him to further develop the darker side of his personality as the Chief 
of a savage tribe. Ralph started as a self-assured boy whose 
confidence in himself came from the acceptance of his peers. He had a 
fair nature as he was willing to listen to Piggy. He became 
increasingly dependent on Piggy's wisdom and became lost in the 
confusion around him. Towards the end of the story his rejection from 
their society of savage boys forced him to fend for himself. Piggy 
was an educated boy who had grown up as an outcast. Due to his 
academic childhood, he was more mature than the others and retained 
his civilized behaviour. But his experiences on the island gave him a 
more realistic understanding of the cruelty possessed by some people. 
 The ordeals of the three boys on the island made them more aware of 
the evil inside themselves and in some cases, made the false 
politeness that had clothed them dissipate. However, the changes 
experienced by one boy differed from those endured by another. This 
is attributable to the physical and mental dissimilarities between 

 Jack was first described with an ugly sense of cruelty that 
made him naturally unlikeable. As leader of the choir and one of the 
tallest boys on the island, Jack's physical height and authority 
matched his arrogant personality. His desire to be Chief was clearly 
evident in his first appearance. When the idea of having a Chief was 
mentioned Jack spoke out immediately. "I ought to be chief," said 
Jack with simple arrogance, "because I'm chapter chorister and head 
boy."  He led his choir by administering much discipline resulting 
in forced obedience from the cloaked boys. His ill-nature was well 
expressed through his impoliteness of saying, "Shut up, Fatty." at 
Piggy. (p. 23) However, despite his unpleasant personality, his lack 
of courage and his conscience prevented him from killing the first pig 
they encountered. "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." (p. 34) Even at the meetings, Jack 
was able to contain himself under the leadership of Ralph. He had 
even suggested the implementation of rules to regulate themselves. 
This was a Jack who was proud to be British, and who was shaped and 
still bound by the laws of a civilized society. The freedom offered 
to him by the island allowed Jack to express the darker sides of his 
personality that he hid from the ideals of his past environment. 
Without adults as a superior and responsible authority, he began to 
lose his fear of being punished for improper actions and behaviours. 
This freedom coupled with his malicious and arrogant personality made 
it possible for him to quickly degenerate into a savage. He put on 
paint, first to camouflage himself from the pigs. But he discovered 
that the paint allowed him to hide the forbidden thoughts in his mind 
that his facial expressions would otherwise betray. "The mask was a 
thing on its own behind which Jack hid, liberated from shame and 
self-consciousness." (p. 69) Through hunting, Jack lost his fear of 
blood and of killing living animals. He reached a point where he 
actually enjoyed the sensation of hunting a prey afraid of his spear 
and knife. His natural desire for blood and violence was brought out 
by his hunting of pigs. As Ralph became lost in his own confusion, 
Jack began to assert himself as chief. The boys realizing that Jack 
was a stronger and more self-assured leader gave in easily to the 
freedom of Jack's savagery. Placed in a position of power and with 
his followers sharing his crazed hunger for violence, Jack gained 
encouragement to commit the vile acts of thievery and murder. Freed 
from the conditions of a regulated society, Jack gradually became more 
violent and the rules and proper behaviour by which he was brought up 
were forgotten. The freedom given to him unveiled his true self under 
the clothing worn by civilized people to hide his darker 

 Ralph was introduced as a fair and likeable boy whose 
self-assured mad him feel secure even on the island without any 
adults. His interaction with Piggy demonstrated his pleasant nature 
as he did not call him names with hateful intent as Jack had. His 
good physique allowed him to be well accepted among his peers, and 
this gave him enough confidence to speak out readily in public. His 
handsome features and the conch as a symbol of power and order pointed 
him out from the crowd of boys and proclaimed him Chief. "There was a 
stillness about Ralph as he sat that marked him out: there was his 
size, and attractive appearance; and most obscurely, yet most 
powerful, there was the conch." (p. 24) From the quick decisions he 
made as Chief near the beginning of the novel, it could be seen that 
Ralph was well-organized. But even so, Ralph began repeatedly to long 
and daydream of his civilized and regular past. Gradually, Ralph 
became confused and began to lose clarity in his thoughts and 
speeches. "Ralph was puzzled by the shutter that flickered in his 
brain. There was something he wanted to say; then the shutter had 
come down." (p. 156) He started to feel lost in their new environment 
as the boys, with the exception of Piggy began to change and adapt to 
their freedom. As he did not lose his sense of responsibility, his 
viewpoints and priorities began to differ from the savages'. He was 
more influenced by Piggy than by Jack, who in a way could be viewed as 
a source of evil. Even though the significance of the fire as a 
rescue signal was slowly dismissed, Ralph continued to stress the 
importance of the fire at the mountaintop. He also tried to 
reestablish the organization that had helped to keep the island clean 
and free of potential fire hazards. This difference made most of the 
boys less convinced of the integrity of Ralph. As his supporters 
became fewer and Jack's insistence on being chief grew, his strength 
as a leader diminished. But even though Ralph had retained much of 
his past social conditioning, he too was not spared from the evil 
released by the freedom from rules and adults. During the play-fight 
after their unsuccessful hunt in the course of their search for the 
beast, Ralph for the first time, had an opportunity to join the 
hunters and share their desire for violence. "Ralph too was fighting 
to get near, to get a handful of that brown, vulnerable flesh. The 
desire to squeeze and hurt was over-mastering." (p. 126) Without 
rules to limit them, they were free to make their game as real as they 
wanted. Ralph did not understand the hatred Jack had for him, nor did 
he fully comprehend why their small and simple society deteriorated. 
This confusion removed his self-confidence and made him more dependent 
on Piggy's judgement, until Piggy began prompting him on what needed 
to be said and done. Towards the end of the novel, Ralph was forced 
into independence when he lost all his followers to Jack's savagery, 
and when Piggy and the conch were smashed by Roger's boulder. He was 
forced to determine how to avoid Jack's savage hunters alone. Ralph's 
more responsible behaviour set him apart from the other savage boys 
and made it difficult for him to accept and realize the changes they 
were undergoing. Becoming lost in his exposure to their inherent 
evil, Ralph's confusion brought about the deterioration of his initial 
self-assurance and ordered temperament, allowing him to experience 
brief outbursts of his beastly self.

 Piggy was an educated boy rejected by the kids of his age 
group on account of his being overweight. It was his academic 
background and his isolation from the savage boys that had allowed him 
to remain mostly unchanged from his primitive experiences on the 
island. His unattractive attributes segregated him from the other 
boys on the island. He was not welcomed on their first exploratory 
trip of the island. "We don't want you," Jack had said to Piggy. (p. 
26) Piggy was like an observer learning from the actions of others. 
His status in their society allowed him to look at the boys from an 
outsider's perspective. He could learn of the hatred being brought 
out of the boys without having to experience the thirst for blood that 
Ralph was exposed to. Although he was easily intimidated by the other 
boys, especially by Jack, he did not lack the self-confidence to 
protest or speak out against the indignities from the boys as the shy 
former choirboy Simon did. This self-confidence differed from that of 
Ralph's as it did not come from his acceptance by their peers nor did 
it come from the authority and power Jack had grown accustomed to. It 
came from the pride in having accumulated the wisdom that was 
obviously greater than that of most of the other kids at his age. 
Piggy not only knew what the rules were, as all the other boys did, 
but he also had the patience to at least wonder why the rules existed. 
 This intuition made Piggy not only more aware of why the rules were 
imposed, thereby ensuring that he would abide by them even when they 
were not enforced. When the boys flocked to the mountaintop to build 
their fire, Piggy shouted after them, "Acting like a crowd of kids!" 
(p. 42) Piggy was a very liable person who could look ahead and plan 
carefully of the future. He shouted at the boys' immature 
recklessness, "The first thing we ought to have made was shelters down 
there by the beach... Then when you get here you build a bonfire that 
isn't no use. Now you been and set the whole island on fire." (p. 50) 
 Like Ralph, his sense of responsibility set him apart from the other 
boys. The author used the image of long hair to illustrate Piggy's 
sustenance of his civilized behaviour. "He was the only boy on the 
island whose hair never seemed to grow." (p. 70) The author's 
description of his baldness also presented an image of old age and 
made Piggy seem to lack the strength of youth. The increasing 
injustice Piggy endured towards the end of the novel was far greater 
than any that he had encountered previously. In his fit of anger, 
Piggy cried out, "I don't ask for my glasses back, not as a favour. I 
don't ask you to be a sport, I'll say, not because you're strong, but 
because what's right's right." (p. 189) This new standard of 
harshness brought tears out of him as the suffering became 
intolerable. For a brief moment, Piggy's anger at the unfairness and 
his helplessness robbed him of his usual logical reasoning, which 
returned when he was confronted with his fear of the savages. Piggy 
was an intelligent boy with a good understanding of their situation on 
the island. He was able to think clearly and plan ahead with caution 
so that even in the freedom of their unregulated world, his wisdom and 
his isolation from the savage boys kept him from giving into the evil 
that had so easily consumed Jack and his followers. The resulting 
cruelty Jack inflicted upon him taught Piggy how much more pain there 
was in the world.

 Lord of the flies used changes experienced by boys on an 
uninhabited island to show the evil nature of man. By using different 
characters the author was able to portray various types of people 
found in our society. Their true selves were revealed in the freedom 
from the laws and punishment of a world with adults. Under the power 
and regulations of their former society, Jack's inner evil was 
suppressed. But when the rules no longer existed, he was free to do 
what malice he desired. Ralph had grown so used to the regularity of 
a civilized world, that the changes they underwent were difficult for 
him to comprehend. He became confused and less capable of thinking 
clearly and independently. Although he too had experienced the urge 
for violence that had driven Jack and the hunters to momentary peaks 
of madness, his more sensitive personality and his sense of obligation 
saved him from complete savagery. These two traits also helped to 
keep Piggy from becoming primitive in behaviour. He was made an 
outcast by his undesirable physique and his superior intelligence. 
This isolation and wisdom also helped Piggy to retain his civilized 
behaviour. As well, he was made painfully more aware of the great 
amount of injustice in the world. From these three characters, it 
could be seen that under the same circumstances, different individuals 
can develop in different ways depending on the factors within 
themselves and how they interacted with each other. Their 
personalities and what they knew can determine how they would 
interpret and adapt to a new environment such as the tropical island. 
 Not everyone has so much malevolence hidden inside themselves as to 
become complete savages when released from the boundaries of our 
society. Some people will, because of the ways they were conditioned, 
remember and abide by the rules they had depended on for social 
organization and security.


William Golding, Lord of the Flies (1954; London: Faber and Faber 
Limited, 1989), p. 23

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