The Lord of the Flies: Themes
Jack’s leadership represents savagery. The dark, brutal mentality of primitive man sleeps in the heart of us all but is held in check by rules of society. Jack’s savage impulse was awaken through hunting for pig. His need for power fused with his brutality to create a reign of terror over subservient children.
Ralph counters Jack’s savagery with calls for order and civility. However, savagery wins out against civility, and the island spirals into barbarism. Savagery is symbolized by the Lord of the Flies, or the pig’s head on a stick staining the pristine landscape of the island.
Law and Order
Ralph’s leadership represents that of law and order. The early days of the tribe center around the signal fire and the conch. The boys blow the shell to call assemblies where they can only speak when holding it. It brings order and formality to the daily assemblies, preventing them from speaking on top of each other.
It is often spoken that the conch is all they have between civility and chaos. As Jack drifts from the group, he gradually disregards the order of the conch. Ralph and Piggy bring the conch to their final meeting with Jack’s group. There, it is smashed, along with any semblance of civility.
Loss of Innocense
In the beginning, the island is a beautiful play land, or Garden of Eden for the boys to have fun and pass the time until rescued. They behave like all young ones, building sand castles and bathing in the sun.
The primitive life awakens the sleeping savage in some, spreading evil through the group like a cancer. Spilling blood is likened to the tempting of the forbidden fruit. The garden turns ugly and violent. In the end, Ralph cries uncontrollably on the beach, mourning the loss of innocence.
Throughout the novel, the boys fear the unknown. The littluns fear the “beastie” lurking and are plagued by nightmares about monsters. It was fear of the beast that forces the boys to sacrifice their mountain-top fire, draws boys into Jack’s group for protection, and kills Simon when he steps into the dance.
At an assembly, Piggy says there is no reason to fear a beast and upholds that none exists on the island. However, he adds a valid fear might be toward their fellow tribe members. This comment foreshadows the coming descent into savagery.
A New Life
The boys are forced to contend with the fact that their former lives are no longer relevant, possibly forever. Littlun Percival is known to mechanically spout his name, address, and telephone, and burst into tears. Ralph often daydreams about times at home. Everyone is homesick, whether it is directly discussed or not.
At several times in the book, the boys question the point of tending to the signal fire. Many lose sight of the importance of the fire as a connection to possible rescue. Perhaps this shows a complacency and acceptance that rescue is nearly impossible and a new life needs to be built on the island.
The novel does not offer easy answers on the nature of evil. Every child adjusts to life on the island differently. Some try to bring values and rules expressed in the society they left. Others sense a new-found freedom to cast away rigid control of behavior.
The freedom awakens an evil within Jack, in particular. Ralph is not free from evil tendencies, but struggles to control his impulses based on the morals learned from society. In the end, Ralph weeps on the beach, lamenting the blackness of man’s heart that spilled onto the island.
Ralph was declared leader at the first meeting. This upsets Jack, who wanted the position of chief. Jack maintains power of his choir, leading them on brutal pig hunts.
Above all, it is Jack’s lust for more power that severs the group. He uses the lure of pig hunting and the promise of meat and protection to charm the boys into joining his separate camp. There, Jack creates a society of servants to him. In other words, one boy’s lust for power is responsible for the denigration of the island society.
The boys find themselves on the deserted island after their plane was shot down. Some kind of war is taking place. A reference is made to “the Reds”, suggesting war is being waged between England and the Communists.
The novel was published in the early days of the Cold War. The battle occurring on the island can be seen as a reflection of the broader war. In one sense, the boys take the morals and rules of society to the island. In another, they also take the violence and disagreement of the society they left.
Battling the Elements
The boys battle the elements of the island from the beginning. The harsh sunlight of midday, for example, forces the boys into their shelters. The littluns eat fruit all day that makes them sick. Ralph never gets used to having to brush his long hair out of his eyes. He dreams of a proper bath and a toothbrush.
The boys are constantly covered in cuts and scrapes from hiking in the jungle. Some, like Simon, relish the beauty of the untamed land where they find themselves. But others never fully adjust to the brutal elements of the island.
Jack looks at himself in the water, painting his face with clay and charcoal. The official reason is to camouflage himself as he hunts. But in fact, he is taking on a new identity. He is shedding the past and accepting a new purpose in life: one based on the hunt.
The other boys follow, casting off their clothes and painting their bodies. Ralph can no longer recognize them. The painting of their bodies mirrors the change in their personalities. They are no longer innocent young boys, but creatures of murder.