Lord of the Flies Essay
Lord Of The Flies clearly shows that civilisation is only skin-deep. Discuss. One of the key themes of the novel Lord Of The Flies is that beneath a veil of rules and propriety, humans hide a savage nature and instinct. The novel tells the story of a group of young boys dropped on an uninhabited island, and their struggle to replicate the society that they grew up in. The society that we live in today is much like the society the boys grew up in. It is built upon rules and regulations enforced by punishments. Our society has taken many centuries to build up and has been tried and tested over time.
It is a complex way of life with restrictions, hierarchy, police, lawyers, technicalities, ethics, religions, popularity, and much more. Furthermore, our society is constructed using an intricate web of laws that guide our behaviour in the way deemed acceptable for the times. The children in the novel begin trying to emulate a democracy with rules and equality, but are unable to continue to follow these rules, because of the lack of a clear authority, punishments, maturity and sophistication. They try to replicate a form of civilisation that their environment and their population does not support.
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The eldest boys are 12 years of age, and are not mature enough, nor have the authority to create the system they are used to. In school or at home there would be people who are obviously higher or lower in ranking than them and they adjust their behaviours dependent on these rankings. However on the island the boys have no way of determining who outranks whom, because they are all so alike. They elect a leader, Ralph, in an attempt to create a clear authority, but because of their similarities and immaturity, the group do not respect his authority.
Rebellion and refusal to comply with punishment is so easy and reflects playground struggles. In page 217 Jack cries “got to? Who says? ” this is a clear example of this lack of maturity and inability to form a distinguishable leader. As some of the group begin to push the boundaries of the system put in place, we see the already very basic society transformed. The group argues and the rules are not followed. Ralph tries to bring them all together by reminding them of this, but they do not listen and descend into chaos.
However this chaos is much more organised that the democracy they were living in before. Jack is able to control them and they abide by the rules that he has set in place. This new civilisation is a simpler civilisation, but it is still a civilisation; Jack’s regime organises the group in a way that is more suitable for their circumstances. This form of civilisation is a step back in history to when we lived in tribes, hunted for our own share of food, and danced around bonfires for entertainment. The society that we live in now is built on thousands of years of learning.
It has developed from an ape’s tribe to a heavily regulated way of life, but it has gone through many transformations and renovations, pruning in places where traditions have become outdated and new ideas have taken us forward. History takes us back through the centuries, from early Greek and Roman empires to the medieval times where animals could be put on trial and executed; through to the renaissance, all the way to how we live now. We have formed civilisation through trial and error, adapting to the circumstances, finding when new knowledge is acquired we can move in a different direction and live in a different way.
However in the novel The Lord Of The Flies, the boys are unable to build the society that we live in today because it is too complex for their limited resources. They are fighting against their natural instincts, to survive in this jungle environment. Basic instincts take over to enable them to survive. As the children adapt to their new home, their instincts tell them that hunting and surviving is more important than rescue, because they cannot be rescued if they cannot eat. This is a basic instinct that is within everyone; thinking into the future when food is scarce is not the way to survive.
This instinct soon turns into blood lust as the children discover they enjoy the savagery. The fact that the children, who are among the most innocent of society, descend into anarchy, suggests that underneath the conditioning we do have an evil instinct or savage survival impulses. Civilisation today is characterised mainly by depth of learning and wisdoms. Areas like the arts and higher thought are highly valued areas and define a rich society. When we look at the civilisation that Golding created, there is no evidence of such qualities; rather, strength and brutality are the most important characteristics.
This shows the superficiality of society, that when thrown into an unusual landscape, humans will disown their values instantly. The most obvious example of this is the comparison between Jack at the beginning of the novel, boasting about his voice. Jack states “ I ought to be chief, because I’m chapter chorister and head boy. I can sing a C sharp. ” (P. 29) This clearly shows his esteem and value of the arts as a way of distinguishing himself. However by the end of the novel the young chapter chorister is long gone, replaced almost completely with a barbaric savage with not a thought of singing.
Golding shows that underneath a layer of conditioning and socialisation this survival instinct or savagery is still present. He demonstrates his idea by creating a microcosm of how society would have been at the beginning of civilisation. Though the children start off well demonstrating clear goals and regulations, they become lazy and rebel against the system. This causes the descent into anarchy and savagery where the children are unable to control themselves and their bloodlust.
When the boys landed on the Island they would never have thought that by the end of their stay they would be murderers, in fact their top priority at the beginning was to have fun. In page 40, Jack is unable to even kill a pig let alone a human being, however the children change almost completely from the law-abiding innocents. In page 78, Roger throws nuts at Henry, but “he threw it to miss”. These small events in the story show how dramatically the children transform. When they are removed from their normal society they reveal their true natures- Roger shows his bloodlust and Simon shows his goodness.
All of the conventions and conditioning is striped away and underneath is a raw savagery. By the end, Jack actually enjoys hunting and killing and Roger murders Piggy when he hits him with a boulder, no longer aiming to miss. On the other hand civilisation is not only the society we live in today. The children do leave democracy for dictatorship, but they do not leave civilisation altogether. For the children, democracy is not suitable for their situation. There is already an unclear definition between the leader of the group and the followers.
Though this is a fairer form of society for their circumstances, it was too complex to maintain. When the tribe is ruled solely by Jack, he controls the group, and follows through with punishments. This civilisation is much more simple than the democracy they were trying to replicate. Humans have been creating civilisations since they first started walking. Humans are social beings and like ants or lions will create rules and regulations almost immediately, independent of where they are. These rules may be different from the rules they were previously used to, but are still forming a civilisation.
This need to socialise goes hand in hand with this development of civilisation. The idea that civilisation is only what we are used to is primitive and untrue. This social need is ingrained into us and does not just disappear when we are moved to another area. It may change and priorities may alter, but ultimately it does not disappear. The children do create a civilisation. Even if it is different from their previous one, it is no less of a society. Therefore the novel The Lord Of The flies does not show that civilisation is skin deep, but shows that it is an inherent and instinctive part of human nature to develop society.