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Lord of the Flies Themes

Get to grips with the themes in Lord of the Flies by reading our in depth analysis!

Civilisation

Golding wanted to show that normal, well brought up young English boys (“we’re English; and the English are best at everything.”) could, without the restraints of civilisation, quickly revert to savagery- just as ordinary Germans committed terrible atrocities in World War II. Ralph and Piggy attempt to establish rules but even they are caught up in the killing of Simon. With the murder of Piggy it’s clear that behaving barbarically is much more attractive. Ralph is ultimately rescued by a warship that is presumably active in World War III. This is ironic, as he is being saved by something that has a destructive purpose.

Barbarism

Jack becomes Chief; Ralph turns into a hunted animal; of Roger we’re told that “The hangman’s horror clung to him.” This is a far cry from meetings where everyone speaks in turn, votes are cast and decisions respected. The novel shows how this degeneration happens. By the latter stages Jack has learned that primitive tribes give sacrifices and offerings to their gods in order to please them: “This head is for the Beast.” We know that he plans to use Ralph’s head when he catches him. He steals Piggy’s glasses to become the bringer of fire. The trick at the end of the story when we see them through the naval officer’s eyes as little boys playing games, does not hide that sense of the darkness of man’s heart.

The Conch

The value of the conch is first recognised by Piggy as a means to call everyone together. When the boys see Ralph with the conch they acknowledge his authority. Ralph suggests passing the conch so that everyone’s voice can be heard. It is like the speaker’s mace in the House of Commons. But as things begin to break down, the conch is more and more ignored, until Jack shouts “Bollocks to the rules.” It still has power as a symbol even for Jack. We see this when Piggy is killed. At the same moment the conch is shattered and Jack screams: “The conch is gone.” This marks the triumph of barbarism.

The Beast

Lord of the Flies takes its title from a Biblical devil named Beelzebub. In the story, Jack leaves the pig’s head on a stick saying “This head is for the Beast.” What some of the boys have actually seen is the dead body of a pilot whose decaying corpse remains attached to its parachute, which makes it look as if it is moving. This results in them being convinced that there is a beast. Simon discovers the truth but is killed before he can tell them. But it is also Simon – in a kind of epileptic fit - to whom the pig’s head speaks, saying “I’m part of you? I’m the reason it’s no go.” For Jack, the Beast becomes a convenient god. He implies that only he as chief knows how to keep it happy. Piggy argues rationally there can be no Beast, as it wouldn’t make sense, but Golding shows that the rational is powerless against the forces of unreason, symbolised by the Beast.