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The main themes of Lord of the Flies are rooted in William Golding’s views on evil. This is one of the most controversial topics in literature, which implies finding reasons behind people’s behavior, namely — behavior that is deemed evil. Moreover, Golding pays attention to the concept of fighting evil, the methods of doing so, as well as the efficiency of these methods in the society. All of these subjects are revealed in the novel through allegory.
The author’s initial goal (as he stated in 1954 when the novel was first published) was to find the connections between the imperfections of our nature and the imperfections of society, in general. Almost 30 years later, Golding summarized the main theme of Lord of the Flies to be ‘grief.’ This theme is vividly pictured at the end of the novel. Ralph grieves for the lost innocence — his own and the boys’ around him. By the end of the novel, we see how all of the characters strive for power over others. They act violently to this or that extent. They are willing to impose their own opinion by demonstrating their power. Although Ralph’s leadership is filled with ideas on which a civilized society can be built upon, the circumstances and craving for power blind the others, making them choose the path of violence.
Isn’t the society forced to make similar choices in real life? Every day, in every country of the world, there is always a choice between innocence and aggression. The later causes grief that the author attempts to picture. Even though we are used to violence in a group of adults, no one expects violent behavior from children. Golding’s island, however, makes it burst with great impetuosity. It gradually bewitches the mind of each and every boy on the island, starting with Jack. Eventually, everyone, even the youngest and apparently the most innocent ones, is snared into the evil course of events and actions that make them roll into a metaphorical abyss. They cannot stand against war started by their fathers.
Aggression and violence seem to go hand in hand; however, aggression, when seen as energy to move forward, can be a positive factor. William Golding subtly reveals this idea through Lord of the Flies, hinting that a lot of people and societies make use of their aggressive nature to build productive communities. Hunting, as seen in the novel, is a violent act — especially, for children. However, hunting is also a means of survival, which is why, at the beginning of the novel, it can be seen as positive motivation.
Still, where do we draw the line between productive and destructive violence? Metaphorically speaking, is the road to hell always paved with good intentions? As the author would suggest, violent acts for the sake of community (in this case, procuring food) lead to effective mutual collaboration. On the other hand, violence for the sake of violence, or the unnecessary extent of violence that does not lead to any positive results, is seen as evil and corruption. This notion is perfectly revealed through the hunters’ behavior, as they become savage and cruel.
Further on, Golding suggests that there are plenty of violence outlets in modern day society. The military is a perfect example, that can also be analyzed from different perspectives. On the one hand, a functioning army is a violent mechanism; however, it can be used for protection, not for destruction.
Politics is another sphere where aggressive behavior is not unusual. And, once again, it is possible to draw the line between ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ aggression. Building a democratic society calls for a lot of strength and energy, and both of these attributes can technically come from a potentially violent person. However, the excess of power can lead to a dictatorship, which is perfectly revealed in Golding’s Lord of the Flies. Jack starts with verbal violence, using it for the benefit of his ‘power-plays.’ Further on, however, the words transfer to action. He creates an army of hunters, which helps him build and support his authoritative rule over the other boys.
As the plot progresses and we observe the shift from verbal to factual violence, we can also draw several historic analogies. Golding suggests that the boys’ community follows in the mankind’s footsteps. So, at first, they manage to establish a very primitive society; further on, isolated groups of people (in this case, the hunters) are established. All in all, Golding draws our attention to certain milestones in the course of history — from tribal society to more complex (democratic and not so much) social systems.
Golding analyzes the concept of democratic vs. authoritative systems quite vividly. First, the boys are ready to support Ralph, because his ideas seem to be just and fair. Later on, their support shifts to Jack and his ‘fun’ tribe. Golding suggests that it is our reliance on emotion that leads the crowd from just to not-so-just social systems. By choosing to follow Jack and the ‘fun,’ boys choose the path of self-indulgence and violence. All of this, however, could have been avoided — if the boys listened to reason (in this case, Ralph).
This point reaches its climax when Ralph meets an officer on the beach. Instead of paying attention to the officer’s face, he looks at his ‘tribal’ markings — in this case, a gun and a uniform. Both are associated with Jack’s tribe that effectively instills fear.
This leads us to the next point — namely, the role of fear in the novel. The author suggests that both individuals and groups are subject to fear; however, it is in a group that fear gets the most destructive. This thought is perfectly conveyed through the example of a dead parachuter, found on the island. The boy who found it is so scared that he cannot perceive an objective situation. His fear leads him to believe that he is being chased by the enemy, and he transfer that fear to the rest of the community. This, in turn, results in a savage frenzy, and one of the boys dies. So, instead of trying to overcome the situation together, they allow their worsts emotions to surface, as a result killing one of their own.
Silence and verbal language are among the essential themes of the novel. Both of them are quite complex. On the one hand, speech is what differs civilized society from animals. From this perspective, Golding opposes speech to silence. This is not the complete silence that he talks about. After all, there are always some noises around the boys. However, it is not enough even for Jack who goes to the forest willingly. The boys have a strong necessity to hear someone speak and they do not feel right when the one holding a conch stops speaking. They also need to listen, not just hear. Ralph says “I’ll give the conch to the next person to speak. He can hold it when he’s speaking… And he won’t be interrupted. Except by me.” This rule has been enacted immediately.
Golding attaches great importance to communication and silence. Ralph sees the reasons for what happened on the island in the lack of opportunity to think about the situation because no one could be in silence for a long time. He assumes that everything would be different “if only one had time to think.” In a civilized world, there are places when one can be left in silence and think over the widest range of things – from their everyday activities to the most important matters. However, it does not always save the society from wars and violence. On the island, Simon was the only one who has such a place. There, he can be alone and think about the Lord of the Flies and how the tribe should live, worshiping it. Besides, he is also the only one who speaks with it. This communication, which may also be regarded as Simon’s revelations, is very important for the plot. It breaks the silence, which is the image of both enlightenment for a separate person and doom for society.
The conch, too, can be seen as a symbolic representation of the lost hope. It stands for a chance at productive and democratic society, where everyone has a chance to speak one’s mind. As this opportunity slips through fingers, so does any change at peaceful and productive co-existence.