Civilization and Savagery in Lord of the Flies

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The war between civilization and savagery has been a conflict in the human mind since the beginning, but no work of literature illustrates this battle better than Lord of the Flies by William Golding. The novel is a beautifully and tragically written tale of the collapse of social order within a group of young British castaways. Golding continually challenges the reader’s perception of human psychology and moral code. As things fall to pieces, we are left to wonder why the attitudes of the boys become so evil, so quickly. As with many things, an explanation of the ultimate tragedy is best given by studying events of the past.

The origin of the conflict is the natural evil in the psychology of the boys. “In each of [Golding’s] novels, there is the effort of bridgebuilding between the physical world which contemporary man accepts and the spiritual world which he ignores but which - in Goldin’s view- does not ignore him.” (Tiger 16) Golding was a believer in original sin, and the fall of man. (Bloom 57) The book as a whole is an exploration of the fall of man, or decay of social order. From losing sight of the first littlun, to the mob killing Simon, eventually giving way to the deliberate murder of Piggy. Everyone takes the pressure or savagery differently. Simon is considered to be on the ‘good’ side, Roger on the ‘bad’ side, and with Ralph and Jack being placed around the middle, Jack being more evil-minded than Ralph.

The main conflict in the Lord of the Flies is not the beastie, or the pressing need to find a way to survive. Rather, it is the inherit evil of the boys. Golding is quoted as saying, “Man is a fallen being. He is gripped by original sin. His nature is sinful and his state perilous.” (Bloom 57) Golding was a firm believer in the concept that man is evil by nature. The notion that the only conflict was they themselves is first introduced by Simon. Amongst the arguing and speculating of who the beast is, Simon speaks up and says perhaps the most profound line in the novel: “Maybe there is a beast […], maybe it’s only us” (89). He has figured this out on his own, which shows us a glimmer of the maturity and wisdom inside him. The other boys do not understand what his suggestion entirely implies, and appear shocked that he would suggest such an idea. He backs down, Golding stating that “Simon became inarticulate in his effort to express mankind’s essential illness” (89).

Several small events over the next few chapters show us that Simon’s suggestion is in fact, correct. Roger is taking a walk on the beach, and finds a littlun named Henry playing with bugs in the sand. After stalking him from the shadows for a little while, an interesting and significant scene takes place. Golding writes, “Roger gathered a handful of stones and began to throw them. Yet there was a space round Henry, perhaps six yards in diameter, into which he dare not throw. Here, invisible yet strong, was the taboo of the old life. 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” (62). Golding shows us in this incident that Roger still feels bound by his old civilized ways. He has a desire to cause mayhem, but cannot allow himself to break the invisible social barrier around Henry. However, a mere couple paragraphs later, we are shown one of the first signs of savagery. Roger is called by Jack to come into the jungle. Once there, Jack reveals to him and some other boys that he has found colored clays and a stick of charcoal. Despite the confused and reluctant faces of the boys, Jack begins forming the clay into his own mask. Golding writes, “Beside the pool his sinewy body held up a mask that drew their eyes and appalled them. He began to dance and his laughter became a bloodthirsty snarling. He capered toward Bill, and the mask was a thing on its own, behind which Jack hid, liberated from shame and...
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