William Golding
Chaos Versus Civilization in Lord of the Flies

By Tahmina Mojaddedi
For more on William Golding see The William Golding Page

Ralph wept for the end of innocence, the darkness of man's heart, and the fall through the air of a true, wise friend called Piggy. (Chapter 12)


The plot of William Golding's novel Lord of the Flies suggests that Golding supports the biblical idea that every human is born tainted with evil, and that men are born savage, driven by their instincts.

Chaos and savagery come about as a result of men trying to attain pleasure without making any sacrifice or applying any effort. While order and civilization are situations in which humans are forced to suppress their instincts and follow rules to attain higher goals. In a world with rule and order we're forced to put on a mask of respectability and sacrifice some pleasures for the greater good of society. The society we live in shapes and forms us to act the way we do, but it cannot completely wipe out the savage nature of men, for that is our base foundation.

Golding demonstrates this world-view by putting English boys alone to fend for themselves on an island without any adults to enforce civilization. Each of the characters define parts of society. Ralph represents law and democracy, Piggy represents innovation and discovery, Simon represents the natural goodness in humanity, Jack represents tyranny, Roger represents cruelty and injustice, the littluns represent the common poor people, and the bigguns represent the higher class in the society. The novel shows what happens when these elements of society clash without laws.

At first, the idea of order and civilization is still fresh in the boys' minds as they decide to make laws and pick a leader. They pick Ralph as their leader because of his responsible attitude, which shows that they care for law and order. Ralph decides that whoever is holding the conch shell has the right to speak, a rule which suggests civilization through democracy, and which establishes the conch shell as an important symbol for civilization. The boys are then split into groups and are given certain tasks, an arrangement which also shows their civilized attitude.

Ralph, sensing a savage streak in Jack, and feeling intimidated, decides to put Jack's savageness to use by making him the leader of the hunting team.

Piggy is a rational and intellectual boy who gives them the best ideas. He is innovative and also represents order on the island. He wants to return to civilization so he tells them to light a fire so that passing ships might see it as an SOS signal. One night Jack and his hunters decide to steal Piggy's glasses (which they use to light the fire) and accidentally break them, causing Piggy to lose the ability to see the world as it is.

The first time Jack tries to hunt he still has some feelings of order in him which make him afraid to kill the pig. Later his determination is driven by instinct, which releases his true human nature. With savagery awoken inside him he overthrows Ralph and persuades the rest of the boys to join his tribe. The boys, who are also now driven by their instinct as there is nothing enforcing civilization upon them, quickly agree.

They hunt and kill a pig and fix its head to a pole. Flies then begin to circle around it, as do the boys themselves. The pig's head stands for the savagery of their hunt, which was motivated by instinct, an instinct that was driven by evil.

Although Jack is the main representative of savagery, he is not the only one. Roger is another example. He is cruel and brutal, and his main goal is to please and impress Jack, from which he gets gratification. Instead of making an effort and trying different approaches, he follows his instincts which tell him to torture the other boys, and he eventually murders Piggy by rolling a boulder at him.

Even the island serves as a symbol for order versus chaos. When they first arrive on the island everything is neat and beautiful, but once they are driven by instinct and savagery the island becomes dirty and damaged.

Their savage instincts drive them to kill, they need something to believe in so they decide to believe in the “Beastie.” It gives them a reason to kill Simon.

Their last shred of civilization is shattered along with the conch shell, which served as a symbol for order from the beginning. With that gone, and the death of the boys who died on the island, their innocence is lost.

Society's impact on the suppression of human instinct become clear when the Naval Officer arrives on the island to see why the fire is lit. He is dressed in uniform and leads others to order. Since he is the first adult to intervene he is seen as a suppresser of human instinct. He makes the boys realize what they have done.

Realisation begins with Ralph, as he remembers the deaths of the other boys and the savage ways they turned to. Soon they all begin to cry as they realize that slowly and step by step they got carried away by instinct. Instinct was the only thing that taught them how to survive on the island but they see the faults and errors in it.

Though I don't agree that man is born impure and evil I do believe there is instinct in man. Instinct is what pushes us through tough times when our judgement is clouded. But it isn't right to follow every instinct. As we have seen in this novel, if instinct is given free reign it can get out of our control.

© Tahmina Mojaddedi, M.U.A. High, Scarborough, Ontario. January 2009

See also: The William Golding Page > Novels on Film >

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