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William Golding’s Lord of the Flies is a novel which has meaning and insights into the themes of civilization, humanity, and social norms. The story is much more than a simple read about the lives of a group of stranded children on an unknown island. Within it all, power struggle, human savagery, societal rules, and justification for what is right play a strong role throughout.
Given the time of the novel’s publication, 1954, the world was in a prolonged state of conflict: World War II had just ended less than 10 years prior, and the Cold War between the United States and Soviet Union was in full swing as two superpowers battled each other over different ideologies. This constant power struggle, one that leads to death and destruction, is reflected throughout the Lord of the Flies.
In many ways it is a depiction of human nature, our lust for control, and the conflict between the evolution of civilized society and our primal savagery and inclination to wield our power over others.
The title itself, Lord of the Flies, implies that there is one leader vying for power to rule over all others, even if war and carnage ensues to secure that power. It is a nod to one of the primary themes in this book and how human nature has an innate desire for control, to be the lord of the tribe, the commander-in-chief who calls all the shots. The flies are symbolic and suggest the aftermath of that pursuit of power and control, and the bloodshed, death, and decay that is a result.
Lord of the Flies opens with a plane crash—a group of 5th grade boys on a field trip have survived the wreckage and find themselves on an island. Dazed, but alive, they must figure out how to survive and be rescued.
Ralph, one of the stranded, establishes leadership and is voted to be the chief over the group of boys. He believes through self-control and order, they can all be saved. He wants to make sure that all the boys can work together to achieve this goal, despite there being some disagreement.
Jack Merridew, also wanting the power of leadership, has a very different idea of how to rule, and feels disdain towards Ralph because of his position among the boys. So begins the clash of the two boys and the downfall of their humanity.
In many ways, Jack embodies our inner savagery and represents certain leaders who rule through fear and violence, such as Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin, appealing to the dark nature of human beings. On the other hand, Ralph embodies civilized society and represents leaders who rule through order and justice, such as Winston Churchill and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
However, both boys show how regardless of intention, the power struggle between competing leaders results in chaos and bloodshed, seeming to suggest that human nature in general is prone to death and destruction.
As Jack rejects Ralph’s leadership, he forms his own tribe that he rules through absolute power. He believes any form of action, no matter how brutal, is necessary to gain the attention and fellowship of the boys. He allows the “littluns” to indulge in their “fun” activities while maintaining control over them through stories that create fear of the “Beastie,” which is similar to the propaganda used by other tyrannical leaders to control the masses.
The unforgiving relationship between Jack and Ralph parallels actual world events. With order declining and unrest created by two leaders with diverging ideologies, Jack seizes the opportunity to do things his way, where he can rule through true savagery, both in appearance and actions. His irresponsible authority attracts almost all of the boys to join him, where they can all hunt and have fun, completely ignoring Ralph’s rules and responsible goal of being rescued.
Further expanding on Jack’s dominance and temporary leadership, there are many similarities with US President Donald Trump. In many ways, America, like the littluns on the island, are misled by false hope and the idea of living a better life. Jack, like Trump, capitalizes on the dark aspects of human nature and our inner savagery within the soul. The notion of civility and rules have little value in Jack’s idea of supremacy.
Just as Trump was voted into office by going against the status quo and inciting the masses through savage xenophobic and misogynistic rhetoric, Jack gains followers in the same sense.
Ralph is clear that he wants the boys to act in a manner that’s socially acceptable and correct. He tells the others that they must raise their hand, as in school, if they wish to speak. Also, the boys must hold the conch when speaking and pass it along to the next person who wants to say something. The conch is a representation of civilized discourse within the group; a common shell that means so much more. It is an object used to represent rule and order in society, and it shows that there is some semblance of Democracy and representation within Ralph’s group. With the conch in hand, Ralph creates fairness and discipline for his tribe.
Ralph decides that a fire should be built atop the island so as to signal other ships of their presence in order to be rescued. He is the voice of logic and reasoning, looking out for the group’s interests as good leaders should. Ralph also suggests that huts be made for all the boys to live in and stay protected from the weather.
Working this out does not go so well, as most of the boys, especially the littluns, would much rather eat or play. Even with his semblance of order, Ralph fails to build many shelters because working is not something the boys have had to do before, and he finds challenges in convincing them to take the required actions for their survival.
A child’s way of thinking is to always have fun and not worry too much about work or survival. Throughout the novel, the littluns can be seen as the true inner thoughts of humankind. The littluns stay true to their natural-born state by doing as they please and satisfying only themselves, setting up the opportunity for a leader like Jack to come in, manipulate them, and assert dominance and control over them.
As the novel progresses, the sense of order among the boys begins to fade. At one point, when the boys are out hunting, they come upon a part of the island not yet explored. It contains jagged rocks, where the ocean crashes viciously against it. This symbolizes the face of unruly and uncivilized ferociousness, the path on which Jack is walking.
With Jack in control, the boys feel empowered to act out in savage ways. Having such a leader encourages those who want to speak their mind and act out, no longer hiding themselves or their thoughts.
“Kill the pig, cut her throat” is a chant the boys use when playing a deadly game of hunting. In August of 2017, with Trump as president, white supremacists chanted “blood and soil,” a phrase dating to the earliest days of Nazi propaganda, during a Nazi protest that took place in Charlottesville. The slogans used by both Jack’s savage tribe and the white supremacists are ways of expressing their inner delirium. Self-control becomes something of the past, and if not properly controlled through rule and order it will turn to action, violence, and bloodshed.
It is during one of these rituals, when the boys are chanting and dancing, that they let their savage nature consume them, and strike one of the boys down, killing him in their act of hysteria.
At this point, we see that Jack and his group of boys have been taken over by the darkness, giving in to their savagery and uncivilized nature.
During a point after having been attacked by Jack’s barbaric tribe, Ralph and his small group pay Jack a visit on Castle Rock, the area where the savages live. Without much rule or logical authority, Castle Rock is a place of unlawful position. Only Jack calls the shots here, and due to his maniacal appearance and actions, the other boys feel they should do everything he says and follow his lead. Almost identical, the White House is President Trump’s Castle Rock. As with Jack, Trump has his followers and believers who think as unorthodox as he does.
Piggy, the voice of reason and Ralph’s loyal partner throughout the novel, has had enough of the heartless group and their leader, Jack. He demands that Jack and his tribe listen to Ralph because of his plan for them to be rescued. Piggy tries to remind the savages of the importance and sensibility of Ralph’s rules. Looking and acting like complete maniacs is not going to get them home. Ralph only wants to do what is right for them all, by maintaining composure, being organized, and staying alive long enough for their potential rescue.
However, similar to how leaders silence those who oppose their abuse of power, Piggy is killed by Jack and his tribe.
The inhuman demeanor of the boys has left Ralph feeling like there is no civility left as he watches the masses flock to Jack or be silenced through meaningless acts of violence and savagery. Like the Berlin Wall being constructed in 1961, and the one Trump wants to build on the border of Mexico, there is a metaphorical wall that is built between Ralph and Jack during this complete downfall and separation of power.
As a whole, Lord of the Flies is an intriguing insight into humanity and the inherent violence and savagery that dwells in everyone. In time, chaos overcomes order, Jack being the embodiment of disarray, and Ralph representing structured society. There can never be one without the other. It is the way of life and will always be, no matter the amount of effort put in to create balance.
On the island, Ralph and Jack do not cooperate, but, sadly, both lose.
Despite the British Navy coming to their rescue, the “civilized” world they will be going back to will be just the same as the one on the island. There will still be war, there will still be savage acts committed by civilized humans, except on a greater scale.
Just as in real life, lives are lost in order to sustain the well-being of others, even if it is temporary. It is a cycle, an ongoing war that has always haunted humankind from the very beginning. Ralph and his small group had just been trying to do the right thing ever since they all woke up on that island of obscurity. Regardless, dwelling underneath, a violent spark flickers, and when stroked just right, all hell breaks loose.
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