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The central theme in the novel Lord of The Flies, by William Golding, is that all mankind is inherently savage and the only aspect suppressing mans primitive behavior is the moral influences of civilization. It is society that holds everyone together, and when rules, values, and consensus of right and wrong are absent, a moral surrounding no longer influences ones actions. Thus, values, reason, and the basic understanding of morality are lost, and the true essence of human nature is revealed. The regression from a civilized society to savagery is portrayed through Golding's characters and symbolized by the downfall of the conch, the extinguishing of the fire, and the concealing use of face paint. Through the symbol of the conch, the importance of stability, order, and civilization are established. When the boys first arrived on the island the conch was used to summon and unite the boys in order to form a civilization.
The conch also serves as a regulator of democracy, Well have to have hands up, like at school then Ill give them the conch [to speak] (Golding 31) said Ralph. This universal understanding that everyone would follow and respect the rules of the conch allowed every individual to speak his mind and to be a functioning member of society. However, as time progressed the mutual respect for authority and the power of the conch began to diminish. The assembly began to disrespect the conchs possessor and the rules of their society began to falter. As Piggy stood on the platform, the white conch gripped in his hands (141), the conch that was once vibrant in color and importance, was now faded and irrelevant.
As the walls of civilized society crumbled, the boys gave into their animal desires and disregarded the only element of order apparent on the island. The symbol of order and civilization continued to lose its value as Jack mocked its importance. The sound of the inexpertly blown conch interrupted them. As though he were serenading the rising sun, Jack went on blowing till the shelters were astir, (125). This furthermore shows the lack of respect for rules and civilization.
Finally, when the conch exploded into a thousand white fragments and ceased to exist, (193) it symbolized the end of moral civilization and authority. All of the strict rules, values, and morals of their previous lives were lost along with the destruction of the conch; thus, giving birth to a society of total anarchy and immorality. Another important symbol in Lord of The Flies is the symbol of the fire, which represented the boys will to be rescued from immorality and returned to the cultured world of civilization. In the beginning, maintaining the fire was the first priority amongst the boys. But, as time progressed the boys desire to return to civilization was replaced by the primal desire to seek, kill, and destroy, as seen when the boys chant, Kill the beast! Cut his throat!
Spill his blood! (186). Dont you understand? You painted fools? Sam, Eric, Piggy and me- we arent enough. We tried to keep the fire going, but we couldnt and then you, playing hunting (197) remarked Ralph. What one can gather from this quote is that Ralph doesnt realize that most of the boys have already accepted the fact that they will never get rescued and are content with their savage lives on the island.
Over time, even Ralph, the propagator of order, begins to lose faith in civilization when he says, we cant keep one fire going. And they dont care. And whats more, I dont sometimes (139). The importance of the signal fire changes a great deal in the novel when the boys attitude changes from longing to be rescued to accepting the beats within and not caring at all. One of the most vital topics of the novel remains the issue of the beast, which frightened the boys who viewed it as a real object. But, in all actuality the beast was something internal; a residing evil present in every individual awaiting for its chance to act upon mans true bloodthirsty nature.
The Beast within accomplished its goal with the use of face paint, which allowed the boys to mask their identities and excused them from their uncivilized actions. the mask was a thing on its own, behind which Jack hid, liberated from shame and self-consciousness (64). This thin layer of paint gave the boys confidence and justification to commit atrocious acts of violence; ultimately causing them to do things they would never in their rights mind do. After a while, Ralph could no longer see the humanity within the boys. He gazed at the green and black mask before him, trying to remember what Jack looked like, (178). The fact that Ralph could no longer identify the boys concludes that when civilization is destroyed man reverts to his most primitive nature, thus causing his identity to disintegrates as well.
Throughout the novel, Golding develops such symbols as the conch, fire, and paint to depict his solemn views of humanity. Contrary to the belief that man is innocent and society is evil, Golding points out that man is the one who makes up society, and thus man is the one who is inherently evil. Therefore, laws and rules of civilization are needed in order to suppress the darker side of human nature. However, like the boys in the novel, if one is no longer under the enforcement and influence of civilized structure and morality it is quite easy to give into the savage desire of the Beast within.
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