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LORD OF THE FLIES: Changing Perceptions Shifts Power on the Island
Transcript of LORD OF THE FLIES: Changing Perceptions Shifts Power on the Island
Golding, William. Lord of the Flies. England: Penguin Books, 2003. Print.
By William Golding
William Golding (1911 - 1993) served with the Royal Navy during World War II, and participated in D-Day. His war experiences had a profound effect on his view of humanity and the evils which it was capable of. Many years after writing
Lord of the Flies
, published in 1954, he was quoted as saying his novel was "like lamenting the lost childhood of the world."
Changing Perceptions Mirror a Shift in the Balance of Power on the Island in
Lord of the Flies
Lord of the Flies
is an allegorical tale. On one level, it is a simple adventure story about English schoolboys marooned on a deserted island. On a deeper level, the novel questions what is true human nature; it hypothesizes that people's immoral instincts are often stronger than their nobler ones, and that evil resides within all men.
Most of the characters, objects and actions that take place in the story symbolize larger ideas. For example, Piggy's specs represent the rational world outside the island, and logic and intelligence.
Without his glasses, Piggy is useless; law and order of the outside world is interpreted as useless to the boys as well.
The conch shell represents the freedom of speech necessary to a democracy and to social order, and it also represents respect and power. When the conch is shattered, order on the island is also destroyed,
and power is up for grabs.
Golding uses powerful imagery to influence mood in his word choices:
streak of phosphorescence
long grinding roar
danced and shattered
warmer than his blood
The positive perceptions and innocent beliefs of the abandoned English schoolboys made them approach the start of their island adventure with an optimistic mindset including faith that "this is a good island," (34) rescue is imminent and they will have an adventure just like the children in a favorite castaway story they have all read in school,
The Coral Island
The Coral Island
(1857) is actually a real adventure novel (with a happy ending) about boys shipwrecked on an island. This book was a favorite of young boys of Golding’s generation. The boys stranded on a deserted tropical island in this novel are named Ralph, Jack and Peterkin.
The boys believe that they are a civil group of English children who can maintain a functioning, fair civilization, and they quickly try to start making rules, as boys have "...got to have rules and obey them. After all, we're not savages. We're English, and the English are best at everything." (42) They outline the guidelines for a democratic society with an elected leader, and live together on the "good" side of the island.
When their isolation continues, and the boys begin to perceive a darker side of the island in the form of a "beastie," their thoughts about the island and their adventure change dramatically. There is a profound shift in the balance of power on the island. Rules of civilization are abandoned, and their fragile democracy is lost. A tribal community built on fear moves to the "evil" side of the island under the rule of totalitarianism. Without social order, the boys are free to commit savage acts including murder.
Piggy and Ralph believe in the essential goodness of the island and in people.
Piggy & Ralph
Ralph is described as mild, "fair haired" and having “broad shoulders” and eyes that "proclaimed no devil." Ralph represents a commitment to civilization and morality.
Piggy is described as "intellectual." Piggy represents the scientific and rational side of civilization. Piggy is the voice of reason.
Ralph is elected leader of their new society because he possesses the conch, which represents something powerful to the boys.
Jack is described as bony, red-haired, wearing black, and with a "freckled and ugly" face. Jack represents destruction, and the savage instincts of man.
Jack’s ineffective attempt to seize power, "I ought to be chief," said Jack with simple arrogance, "because I'm chapter chorister and head boy. I can sing C sharp," (22) foreshadows his cruelty and hunger for control.
The boy with the birthmark is scared the "beastie," an undefined scary creature; "he says he saw the beastie, the snake thing, and will it come back tonight...." (36) The beastie is not real; instead it’s a metaphor for their fear of their own inability to remain "good" boys. The boy is the first to voice that the island is actually an unfriendly place, and there is danger for the boys here - danger from their own savage compulsions. Ralph continues to assure everyone that it’s a safe place, and for the time being maintains power and order.
Despite Ralph's optimism, tension grows as all the boys slowly begin to fear the beast. They are transformed physically; they're dirty and hungry, which represents the deterioration of their mental state toward the primitive part of themselves.
Jack uses the clay face paint to hide behind a mask. He is starting to lose his identity as a proper English boy. His warrior mask "liberates him from the shame of self consciousness," (64) or from being himself. He can have a different, more savage identity behind the mask.
Jack's hunters allow the signal fire to go out. Ralph defends order and civilization and fights the chaos of Jack's hunters by stating, "The fire is the most important thing on the island" (80, 142) and that they "ought to die before we let the fire out." (81) The boys are slowly realizing that they may never be rescued from this now "bad" island.
"Rescue? Yes of course! All the same, I’d like to catch a pig first..." (53)
"But we want meat!" (54)
"If only I could get a pig!" (55)
"I got you meat!" (74)
These quotes of Jack's are examples of Jack's increasing savagery and focus on hunting instead of rescue. Jack uses meat to control and manipulate the other boys to satisfy his desire for power.
When Ralph takes part in a hunt, he reveals his own darker side when he discovers he is full of "the fright and apprehension and pride" (113) the others felt.
As their isolation on the island continues, some of the boys like Simon recognize that human beings can intend to be civil, but turn completely savage when order and justice in that society is undermined.
Simon is described as a "skinny, vivid boy" (24) who has a history of fainting or having fits. In some cultures, these are signs that Simon would be connected with the spiritual world. Simon has inner goodness: he rescues Piggy's glasses, helps littluns pick fruit and gives others his share of meat.
Simon recognizes that the island is changing the boys. He suggests that the beast is "only us." (89) Simon's speech is another metaphor; Simon is recognizing there is potential for the boys to destroy themselves from within.
Jack offers a sacrifice to the imaginary beast, a pig's head that attracts flies. Simon hears the beast speak truths about the boys on the island "You knew, didn't you? I'm part of you? I’m the reason why... Why things are the way they are?" (143)
Evil is not confined to certain people, but is inside of everyone. Simon understands mankind's ugly nature. He sees the boys as growing into the scary thing, a beast.
Beelzebub: Another name or synonym for the Devil. This demon's name comes from a Greek word that literally translates to lord of things that fly, or, "Lord of the Flies." Who is the real beast? A "beastie," the parachutist, or the pig's head? The beast is the human nature of the boys themselves.
When Ralph finally sees and believes in the enemy of civilization, the beast,
with "the ruin of a face," the final breakdown of their society and morality begins. Ralph's hold on the rules slips. The balance of power shifts to the powerful Jack.
"The beast had teeth," said Ralph to Piggy, "and big black eyes."
Piggy asks, “D'you think we’re safe down here?"
"How the hell should I know?" (124)
The parachutist: another metaphor. The boys on the island struggle with the conflict between civilization and savagery. The parachutist represents the bloody holocaust being waged all over during WWII; the outside world is struggling with the same conflict.
"Who thinks Ralph oughtn't to be chief?" (127)
Jack tells the group about the beast and then argues that Ralph shouldn't be chief.
"He had not got the conch and thus spoke against the rules; but nobody minded." (87)
The conch, symbolic of law and order, holds very little importance to Jack, who further undermines Ralph’s authority.
"We'll hunt. I'm going to be chief." (133)
Simon and the Beast: Simon alone understands that it is nothing to fear. He intends comfort the others with the truth, but the boys have been swept up by the savage dance whipped up by a frenzy of fear. No one listens; they do not see Simon as human. Their savage bloodlust that Jack has inspired has take over. Simon becomes the victim of murder. A murder perpetrated by all of them, even Ralph and Piggy, who have been swept along in the frenzy. Simon’s death signifies a change on the island. Jack and the boys wanted to exterminate what Simon represented; human goodness.
Piggy, the voice of reason, eventually succumbs to the beast. "It's come!" gasped Piggy. "It's real!" (166) Ralph confronts Jack in a final fight for authority, but says, "we won't be painted, because we aren't savages." (172) He proclaims that Jack is a beast, confirming what Simon learned earlier, the beast is inside us.
In the climactic final chapters, Piggy makes one last attempt to restore order. The conch, once full of power, is now nothing but an object. Jack had already stated that "the conch doesn't count at this end of the island" (150) The crushing of the conch and the crushing of Piggy symbolizes the end of civilization and the boy's growing acceptance of savagery.
"Sharpened a stick at both ends." (190) The stick sharpened at both ends symbolizes the end of rational thinking and the complete transformation into savagery. Jack wants to mount Ralph’s head on a pole, like the pig's.
On the final day of their ordeal, Ralph is running for his life from boys transformed into savage beasts, but the British officer who rescues the boys will never understand what actually happened. He reacts based upon his own perceptions, which mirror those of the boys at the beginning of the tale. His beliefs are what made most sense to him; that the boys are "good" boys, and had an exciting
style adventure. And that the children maintained proper British rules at all times. That all the boys needed was a bath and a nose wiping and all would be well.
In reality, Ralph and all the boys are sobbing in the sand; crying "for the end of innocence," and their recognition of "the darkness of man's heart." (202)