The book was the first work of fiction of Golding's, written in 1954. It is an unusually and carefully constructed fable that was, in Golding's words, "an attempt to trace the defects of society back to the defects of human nature." (The Concise Encyclopaedia Of Modern World Literature 1963). The novel shows a group of English boys -the incompletely educated- reverting to savagery on a Pacific island (The Concise Encyclopaedia Of Modern World Literature 1963). The book deals with the conflict between humanity's inner barbarism on one side, and the civilising influence of reason on the other.
Each of the two characters I have chosen to contrast and compare is presented in the novel as the most influential representative of each of the two sides. Jack, the chief of the hunters, representing the hidden human passion and almost animal cruelty, and Ralph, with Piggy and a few other children, who is representing human common sense.
When the reader enters the book, they find the whole group of the boys on a small island after they had been evacuated from their hometown and after their plain had crashed leaving them on the island with no grown-ups.
At the beginning of the book the position of Jack and Ralph is more or less equal. They are both well-conditioned boys of school age, who find themselves on a lonely island with some other boys of various age, but not older than themselves. They share similar opinions about their situation and its solution. They both want to be rescued and taken home. They both realise that there are a lot of things they must do to survive on the island until all of them get rescued. And lastly, they both are dominant types, but yet at the beginning of the novel they both acknowledge each other's authority and behave to each other in a friendly way.
At the return Ralph found himself alone on a limb with Jack and they
grinned at each other, sharing this burden. Once more, admit the breeze,
the shouting, the slanting sunlight on the high mountain, was shed that
glamour, that strange invisible light of friendship, adventure, and content.
-" Almost too heavy."
Jack grinned back.
-" Not for the two of us."
Together, joined in effort by the burden, they staggered up the last step of the mountain.
Together, they chanted One!
The first, although hidden conflict between Ralph and Jack, the conflict between the two sides, arises when Ralph is elected or appointed as the chief, "the one who decides things". The reader feels that Jack's vanity has been hit by the loss.
-" I'm the chief then."
The circle of boys broke into applause. Even the choir applauded; and the freckles on Jack's face disappeared under a mortification.
Even then the relationship and attitudes of the two boys remain almost the same. They both agree on the need of fire, on the need of shelters and on the need of meat. Nonetheless, one can feel that after Ralph had been elected for the chief, the Jack's side of "reasons" and Ralph's common sense start separating from each other.
At first Jack and his hunters do what they are asked to, but as time goes on, they start to participate in different activities and neglect those needed for the sake of the boys' salvation.
-" You let the fire out."
Jack checked, vaguely irritated by this irrelevance but too happy to let it worry him.
-" We can light the fire again. You should have been with us, Ralph. We had a smashing time. The twins got knocked over..."
-" We hit the pig..."
-" ...I fell on the top..."
-" I cut his throat," said Jack, proudly...
In Golding's novel the fire, as many other things, has a symbolic function. For Ralph and his followers, the only way how to get rescued is to keep the fire burning. Therefore Ralph tries to enforce the superiority of the fire to other things. When the fire, the symbol of sense, goes out, it is because Jack and his hunters get carried away by their hunting passion, which more and more dulls their "natural" human sense. They let the fire out right when a ship passes by; this moment emphasises the significance of the fire and the abysmal difference between human common sense and minds influenced and dulled by eagerness; in this case it is their eagerness for hunting.
From this moment on, the divergence of Jack and his hunters from Ralph's and also reader's reason is becoming more and more obvious. Ralph and Jack begin to compete, their attitudes to each other change. The tension between the two is rising. Jack objects to doing things that Ralph tells the whole group of the boys to do as well as he objects to Ralph's being the chief.
Ralph leapt to his feet.
-" Jack! Jack! You haven't got the conch! Let him speak."
Jack's face swam near him.
-" And you shut up! Who are you anyway? Sitting there, telling people what to do. You can't hunt, you can't sing..."
-" I'm chief. I was chosen."
-" Why should choosing make any difference? Just giving orders that don't make any sense..."
-" Piggy's got the conch."
-" That's right- favour Piggy as you always do..."
Jack's voice sounded in bitter mimicry.
-" Jack! Jack!"
-" The rules!" shouted Ralph, "you're breaking the rules!"
-" Who cares?"
Ralph summoned his wits.
-" Because the rules are the only thing we've got!"
But Jack was shouting against him .
-" Bollocks to the rules! We're strong-we hunt! If there's a beast, we'll hunt it down! We'll close it and beat and beat and beat...!"
Jack also protests to using the conch; another symbol of common sense on the island.
-" I got the conch!"
-" Conch! Conch!" shouted Jack, "we don't need the conch any more."
The conflict between the two of them, also caused by different views on the existence of a beast (Daryl L. Houston 1995), culminate when Jack decides to separate from Ralph. At this moment, Jack and the hunters, lose the last contact with Ralph and Piggy's common sense and voluntarily succumb to their own hunting desires.
Now there are the two very different groups of boys, with Ralph and Jack as their chief representatives. None of the groups profits from the separation, but only Ralph and Piggy realise it. Ralph's group is not big enough to keep the signal fire going, and Jack and the hunters do not have Piggy's glasses (another important symbol in this Golding's novel) to make their own fire. Here, however, the Jack's fire is not a signal one, the hunters need fire so that they can broil their bag.
The island, which has a special function in the novel, it creates a different and distant world for the boys, is now a place of struggle between human reason and minds uncontrollably carried away by its own desires. Jack feels strong. He has got his hunters; they all hunt. On the other hand Ralph, with a couple of his followers, has lost his "power", or rather impact on the others; he feels that things are going in a wrong way. The chances of their rescue decreases as the fire burns out; Piggy's glasses were stolen by Jack and his boys, and Piggy, who turns out to be a smart and reasonable boy, cannot see without them; this fact is also symbolically related to the change of power on the island.
When Simon is killed just as he runs out of the forest where he had a "talk" with the pig's head on the stick, which is the Lord of the Flies, it is Ralph and Piggy who only realise what has been done. When Piggy is killed, Ralph is helpless and desperate. He is alone and it seems that Ralph's common sense has entirely been defeated. Ralph tries to conceal himself so that Jack and the hunters cannot find him. Now the whole island is mastered by the hunters' cruelty. Fortunately for Ralph, the rescue-party arrives "on time" and all the boys who remains on the island get rescued. Had it not been the fire that spread on the island, the boys would probably have never been rescued. Here the importance of fire as a symbol of sense is consummated.
The fire reached the coco-nut palms by the beach and swallowed them
noisily. A flame, seemingly detached, swung like an acrobat and licked
up the palm heads on the platform.
The sky was black.
The officer grinned cheerfully at Ralph.
-" We saw your smoke. What have you been doing? Having a war or something?" Ralph nodded.
"However, there is no all-justifying End of the book: none of the characters takes any responsibility for their wrong-doings (Daryl L. Houston 1995) and the rescue-party, which takes the boys off their island comes from a world in which regression has occurred on a gigantic scale- the scale of atomic war." (David Anderson 1969).
The reader feels that at the very beginning of the novel Ralph and Jack are almost the same schoolboys and, in a way, the same personalities. But at the very end, they are completely different. The parts that are between the beginning and the end of the book are carefully developed stages that gradually deepen the differences between Ralph and Jack. Ralph and his common sense stays almost the same throughout the book, it is Jack and his hunters who change. The reader finds out about the differences between the two by experiencing the situations and conflicts that arise between Ralph and Jack as they struggle for "power". The differences are greater and the tension rising as the book goes on, until the plot hits its "unjustifying end".
To end this essay, I want to cite from David Anderson's literary work entitled Nostalgia for the Primates:
" In this book Golding succeeds in giving convincing form to that which exists deep in our self-awareness. By the skill of his writing, he takes the reader step by step along the same regressive route as that traversed by the boys on the island... Our first reactions are those of 'civilised' people. But as the story continues, we find ourselves being caught up in the thrill of the hunt and the exhilaration of slaughter and blood and the whole elemental feeling of the island and the sea... The backing of Golding's thesis comes not from the imaginary events on the island but from the reality of the reader's response to them. Our minds turn to the outrages of our century - the slaughter of the first war, the concentration camps and atom-bombs of the second - and we realise that Golding has compelled us to acknowledge that there is in each of us a hidden recess which horrifyingly declares our complicity in torture and murder..."
Houston,Daryl L. 1995 "Golding's themes"
taken from http://www.lookup.com/Homepages/95416/golding.html
The Concise Encyclopedia Of Modern World Literature (1963) ,edited by Geoffrey Grigson, New York, Hawthorn Books Inc., /pg. 189-190/
Do feel free to use this material to whatever extent you like.
Please, send me your comments,opinions, or objections. I will be very greatful. Please, tolerate any grammatical mistakes. My English is not perfect.
Pavel Radkovsky 1996, e-mail:firstname.lastname@example.org