The novel “Lord of the Flies” is a complex expression of author William Golding’s deep-seated beliefs. At the surface, it is an interesting, exciting adventure story about a group of boys stranded on a deserted island. When read closely, though, it is a deep, unsettling tale of man’s descent into savagery and evil. There are a number of powerful ideas at the heart of the story expressed through several recurring themes.
A major theme in this novel is that evil is a powerful and inborn element of man’s character. Jack shows this early in the book, in his strong lust for hunting and killing. Later in the book, he organizes all of his followers to find and kill Ralph. Roger also demonstrates this, finding his place in Jack’s group as a torturer and a murderer. When Piggy went to Jack to ask for his glasses, Roger deliberately launched the large boulder with the intention to kill. The boys’ descent into evil is the main feature in the story.
A related theme also shown in this book is that man’s natural tendency towards evil is suppressed by society. When the boys first meet each other on the island, they all act relatively civil. As Roger threw rocks at another boy, he made sure not to actually hit him. This shows how society’s rules still governed the children’s behavior. As the story progressed and the children realized that there was no one to enforce the rules, they became more and more savage. Jack often questioned Ralph’s leadership and all of the rules he imposed on the boys. The degree of how far each boy descended into savagery depended on how strong the force of society was in him.
Another related theme is that fear is a very powerful force that can cause a person to act in a shocking and detestable manner completely deviant from their usual behavior. The boys coupled their irrational fear with an imaginary beast they ‘saw’. When Simon ‘talked’ to The Lord of The Flies (Beelzebub), it told him that the beast was a part of him and all the other boys that could not be hunted and killed. Their fear of this beast was such a strong influence on Jack’s followers that they beat Simon to death during a tribal ritual thinking that he was the beast. Jack used the boys’ fear of the beast to force them to follow him. He told the boys that they should follow him because he could hunt and kill the beast, while Ralph was too cowardly to do so. Fear was the main force that caused most of the boys to join Jack’s group and turn to evil and savagery.
Throughout the story it is shown that in bleak circumstances, it is much easier to enter a dream-like state of denial than to face the harsh reality of the situation and act rationally. The boys quickly abandon their duties of hut building and fire watching to play or hunt throughout the beginning of the story. When Simon was killed, the boys refused to believe that his death was purposeful. Piggy would not even listen to Ralph when he said that Simon was murdered. As Ralph was fleeing from the savages trying to kill him, he frequently had to fight off his natural reaction of rationalizing the situation and thinking all was good. The book often mentioned Ralph trying to keep a ‘curtain’ from switching in his mind. The boys’ inability to accept their situation caused them to abandon Ralph and rationality.
In the writing of “Lord of the Flies”, the author expressed his belief that man was naturally evil and needed enforced rules and ethics to become ‘good’. This opposed the widely held belief among adults that children were born pure and good and were later corrupted by society and government. The author attempted to ‘prove’ his belief by setting up the fictional experiment of a group of young boys stranded on an uninhabited island. He described how the children fell from well behaved British schoolboys into bloodthirsty savages through a line of logical steps in an isolated environment to show that society caused the boys to act civilized and only when left to their natural devices without any rules or laws did they become evil. This theory is a deeply troubling perception of human nature with far-reaching implications.