Critical Essays Major Themes


Consider the emotional basis of the boys' choice of leaders: Initially they vote for Ralph not because he has demonstrated leadership skills but because of his charisma and arbitrary possession of the conch. Later they desert him — and the reasoned democracy he promotes — to join Jack's tribe because Jack's way of life, with the war paint and ritualized dance, seems like more fun. Choosing Jack's "fun" tribe indicates a dangerous level of emotionally based self-indulgence. By relying on emotion to decide the island's political format, the boys open themselves up to the possibility of violence because violence lies in the domain of emotion.

Yet Jack's mentality on a larger scale is not fun and games but warfare, a concept made clear at the end: When Ralph encounters the officer on the beach, he notices first not the officer's face but his uniform and revolver, which are the markings of the officer's tribe. The decorative elements of his uniform symbolize his war paint. His ship will be enacting the same sort of manhunt for his enemy that Jack's tribe conducts for Ralph.

Effect of Fear

Golding addresses the effects of fear on the individual and on a group. For individuals, fear distorts reality such as when Samneric's terror at spotting the dead paratrooper magnifies their experience from merely seeing movement and hearing the parachute to being actively chased down the mountain as they flee. When the other boys hear Samneric's tale, the group dynamic of fear comes into play. The boys do not band together to overcome this fearful situation through unity but allow their own worst impulses to surface and dominate, fragmenting into opposing groups and killing one of their own in a frenzy of fear and savagery.

Speech and Silence

Golding gives a more subtle treatment to the theme concerning speech's role in civilization. He repeatedly represents verbal communication as the sole property of civilization while savagery is non-verbal, or silent. Despite the animal noises in the jungle, as an entity, the jungle emanates a silence even the hunter Jack finds intimidating. In fact all the boys find silence threatening; they become agitated when a speaker holding the conch in assembly falls silent.

The conch plays a key role in this theme because it symbolizes not only to the power to speak during assembly but also the power of speech, an ability that separates humans from animals. Following the death of Piggy and destruction of the conch, "the silence was complete" as if Piggy provided the last bastion of human intellect — or humanity itself — on the island.

Verbal communication is crucial to the development of abstract thought. "If only one had time to think!" Ralph laments. Civilization provides institutions where the individuals can devote themselves to mental activities. Simon created such a place in his hidden spot in the jungle. He found silence necessary to contemplate his vision of the beast. He was the only boy to understand the true identity of the much-feared beast and the only boy to whom the Lord of the Flies speaks. To bring about that conversation, the sow's head had to break the ultimate silence of death. Golding may depict silence as tremendously threatening because death does signify absolute silence, and the end of all hope.

While the conch's symbolic power remained alive to the boys, there was hope that they could continue with their small society peacefully and productively. With the loss of regulated discourse came the end of Ralph's humane influence on the boys.

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