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Lord of the Flies, penned by William Golding teaches the reader invaluable lessons on human life through a group of English boys stranded on an island. The plot is intricately formed with the thread of innocence being weathered by human nature. The novel starts off with a miniature community in which roles are assigned to all the members and leaders are elected through democracy. However, Golding provokes the readers mind to question the essence that keeps human beings closely bound. The innate savagery that surfaces through the troop, the desire to kill, the need to be powerful, unleashes the human mind from the rules and regulations set by society through civilisation. In the words of Golding, 'while savagery is perhaps an inescapable part of human existence, civilisation can mitigate its full expression'. The themes of civilisation versus savagery, loss of innocence, and innate human goodness are successfully highlighted by Golding through the use of various literary elements and devices and the relevance of these themes to today's society is highly apparent.
'Lord of the Flies' mainly brings out to the reader the theme of civilisation versus savagery. Civilisation refers to the controlled behaviour of humans triggered by written rules. Savagery, according to Golding, is innate, always existent in the human psyche. 'Lord of the Flies' is highly allegorical. By using characters to represent the themes of the novel, Golding successfully engages the reader into his set of issues. The clash between Ralph and Jack is apparent the moment they meet on the beach. It is allegorical to the clash of civilisation and savagery. Their attitude towards leadership clearly distinguishes their personality. Ralph represents a society based on democracy while Jack practises a totalitarian system, turning authority into a weapon against the powerless, the 'littluns'.
Initially, the children decide to build a society whose foundations will be freedom and justice, stems of human civilisation. Whoever wishes to speak may do so, provided he respects the rule and holds the conch. In addition, everyone has a right to vote for their leader. Here, the element of irony steps in, as the freedom of speech leads to idle talk. The children agree to build shelter and then go bathing but they do otherwise. They agree to keep up a fire on the mountaintop and forget it. Their irresponsibility strips them of an opportunity to be rescued. It is ironical that though exposed and education to the civil ways, their savage instincts do not take long to surface. In the words of Jack, 'we're not savages, we're English' yet in the end he is the leading figure of savagery. Golding's use of irony draws the reader's attention to humankind at large. The behaviour exhibited by the children on the island mirrors humanity on the globe. Though civilisation successfully controls human nature, it does not fully eradicate savagery.
The theme is further expanded through symbolism; the conch shell a symbol for law and order, associated with Ralph who represents civilisation while 'Lord of the Flies', an offering to the mythical beast, which symbolises inherent evil linked to Jack. Golding uses lucid imagery to show the extent of the savage instincts of Jack and his troop. The metaphorical 'rape' of the pig gives birth to the 'Lord of the Flies'. 'The spear moved forward inch by inch and the terrified squealing became a high-pitched scream' followed by Roger's claim, 'Right up her ass!' (Golding, 1996,p.168). The head of the pig is then impaled on a stick forming the 'Lord of the Flies'. The readers are stunned by the malevolence of the children. The use of imagery enables the reader to witness the downright savagery present in humans. Golding embodies law and order, and evil in the symbols to portray the existence of these elements in a society. Being abstract, through symbols, these elements are projected deeper into the reader's awareness on the co-existence of both good and bad. Across the chapters of the book, as the war of civilisation against savagery deepens, the conflict between Ralph and Jack moves to higher grounds, eventually stripping Ralph of his authority and awarding Jack complete power. The fall of civilisation also affects the symbols. With the decreasing importance, the conch shell gradually loses it colour, from 'creamy' to 'fragile and white'.
In society today, the clash between civilisation and savagery can be directly viewed through war. Recent wars including the conflict of two civilisations, Israel and Palestine resulted in a horrific aftermath. Israel, the most powerful force in the Middle East, has taken 'undertaken brutal, vicious and cruel assaults on weak opponents' . Young innocent children were blown to pieces in bomb blasts, pregnant women were shot, and mosques were torn down. The war left Palestine on barren grounds. Death lurked in every corner. Fear crept in the hearts of civilians. Young children were forced to carry weapons instead of pencils. One is left to ponder the resolution brought by war. The collision of civilisation and savagery is highly prevalent in current times. The island in 'Lord of the Flies' mirrors the world today, it is ironical that even though Ralph was recued by civilisation at the end of the novel only to have him return to a society engulfed in the same conflict.
Golding uses little English boys, ranging from age four to seven in his story instead of adults because children are more spontaneous in exhibit savage and civil instincts. They are oblivious to the rules of civilisation as they are taught to be civil without knowing the reason why they should be so. The theme the loss of innocence is brought into view when savagery takes over the reign of authority. In the early chapters, the children behave like children, they swim, and build sand castles. Ralph says 'until the grown-ups come to fetch us, we'll have fun' and so they do, enjoying their freedom and later expressing home sickness and fear of the 'beast'. Towards the end, the ironical 'evolution' is enormous. The increasing belief in the 'beast' by the rest of the troop indicates the gradual loss of innocence as they develop savage sides. Ralph had hoped to have fun but he lived through a nightmare. His experiences on the island robbed him of his innocence. At the end, Ralph weeps bitterly 'for the end innocence'. He now knows 'the darkness of a man's heart'. The name 'Lord of the Flies' is an allegory of Beelzebub, a literal Hebrew translation of the devil. Golding's use of allegory enables the reader to relate the plot to Biblical history further illustrating the theme.
In addition, Golding explains how the loss of innocence is registered on the natural landscape through imagery. When Simon first steps into the forest glade, he is beheld by the breathtaking sight, 'the whole space was walled with dark aromatic bushes and was a bowl of heat and light'. Simon notices the 'pair of gaudy butterflies dancing around each other', 'the sound of the bright fantastic birds' and 'wide white flowers glimmering under the light that pricked down from the first stars' (Golding, 1996, p. 72). The sharp imagery used enables the reader to feel the absolute serenity of the island. Savagery prevails over civilisation with the rise of the 'Lord of the Flies'. When Simon returns to the clearing, it is no longer the same, 'the butterflies deserted the open space where the obscene thing grinned and dripped', 'everywhere a pearly stillness' apart from the 'black blob of flies that buzzed like a saw' (Golding, 1996, p. 171) over the sow's head which was impaled on a stick in the middle of the clearing; 'Lord of the Flies'. The grotesque imagery of the clearing reinforces the dark and tragic tone of the story. The landscape serves as a metaphor of a child's innocence. When the children first arrived, they were bound by the morals of a society, however, this gradually changes as they give in to their primordial instincts to survive and embrace savagery. The 'Lord of the Flies' is realisation of the evil and corruption. The minds of the children are now fully consumed in bloodlust hence the tainted surroundings.
Market economy, in which the rich countries exploit the poor, has led to poverty in the third world which in turn stimulates population growth resulting in an increased fertility in societies. Due to the need to earn sufficient money, children are forced to work in factories, as slaves, and even as beggars. In several countries, female children are forced into the swamp of prostitution. According a fact sheet of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) (2006), in 2004, approximately 218 million children globally engaged in child labour from which 156 million children in the age span of five to seventeen are forced to deal with hazardous work. Like Ralph, they too, deal with harsh circumstances causing a loss of innocence. They are forced to live a life of bitter cruelty while other children go to school. One seeks to question the norms of society which permits such actions.
In the novel, Ralph represents civilisation while Jack stands on the opposite end of the line representing savagery. Golding stresses that all human beings possess inherent primordial compulsion but through Simon, he symbolises essential human goodness. Simon stands on a plane different from that of Ralph, Jack and the rest of the group. His drive to be moral is not governed by civilisation but his own intuition. Simon in this novel is allegorical to Jesus Christ. His name is of Biblical origin where two apostles, Simon Magus and Simon Peters, bore his name. Throughout the story, he takes care of the littluns, he finds 'for them the fruit they could not reach' and pulls 'off the choicest from up in the foliage' and passes them 'to the endless, outstretched hands' until he satisfied them. This has a gospel connotation to Christ helping the poor where Christ fed 5000 people with two fish and five loaves of bread (Luke 9.16). Simon's parallelism with Christ serves as a medium for the readers to compare between civilisation, savagery and the goodness present within humans. It questions the reason why humans to give in to primordial instincts whether it is for survival or merely a result of lack of spiritual strength.
Simon's role in the story is subjected to irony in his encounter with the 'Lord of the Flies'. Golding uses personification to bring 'Lord of the Flies' to life so that it talks to Simon. The use of personification here brings the situation alive and enables the readers to observe a 'real' confrontation of Simon and the Beast. 'What are you doing out here alone? Aren't you afraid of me? Simon shook' (Golding, 1996, p. 177). Simon is aware that there is no Beast, he is aware of that the Beast lies within each human but fails to convince others when he says 'maybe it's only us'. The 'Lord of the Flies' adds, 'fancy thinking the Beast was something you could hunt and kill!' Through this quote, Golding reveals to the reader the presence of a beast in the children. The reader is left wondering if Simon will be able to succeed in his attempt however; when the Beast says 'I'm going to get waxy. D'you see? You're not wanted. Understand? We're going to have fun on this island (Golding, 1996, p. 178), the readers are able to foreshadow Simon's death. Foreshadowing in this context prepares the ready to face the brutality of events to come. It is very ironical that Simon dies on the brink of exposing the innate evil in human nature. His endeavour to liberate his friends from their frenzy leads to his savage death. He was 'struck', bitten, torn. 'There were no movements but the tearing of teeth and claws'. Simon's death in the story is the turning point of the story because humanity is left standing on a fickle thread of civilisation and savagery. Innate human goodness is eradicated. With the body of the parachutist drowned by the sea, the chance to see the truth and be emancipated from the clutches of the Beast is gone. Golding uses Simon to emphasise that humans should not fear external triggers of evil such as the Beast in this story, but their own self and others because humankind is capable of breathing savagery beyond one's comprehension.
We have seen various role models like Simon; Mother Theresa is one good example. She served ceaseless for the betterment of the humanity. She was on a mission to care for "the hungry, the naked, the homeless, the crippled, the blind, the lepers, all those people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society, people that have become a burden to the society and are shunned by everyone' (Mother Teresa, n.d.) She was a mother to them all. She worked with love and dedication tirelessly without knowing any boundaries Mother Theresa helped the 'poorest of the poor' from India, the hungry in Ethiopia, radiation victims at Chernobyl, and earthquake victims in Armenia (Mother Teresa, n.d.). Like Simon, she stood by morality without the need to be bound to the rules penned by civilisation.
William Golding's 'Lord of the Flies' brings the reader to terms with many issues related to human psyche. It is crucial to understand the extent to which humankind can diverge, good and evil co-exist in everyone. The understanding of which path to tread on is governed by deep moral conscience. Golding has given readers a taste of savagery, a thrill of the hunt and savage murder. The choices of literary devices and elements play a crucial role in projecting the themes of the story. The island in the novel is a microcosm of humanity. The themes highlighted are highly relevant to today's global community. In the global picture, one is left to ponder if savagery will prevail over civilisation or vice versa.