Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version | Barron's Booknotes
THEMES - THEME ANALYSIS
Lord of the Flies is a modern novel that can be read and interpreted at various levels.
Lord of the Flies as a fable
Golding has stated in his book The Hot Gates, that he used the fable form to present the truth as he saw it. A fable is defined as a story that uses symbolic characters to teach a lesson. In this novel, Golding certainly accomplishes this purpose. Through the boys, he clearly teaches man's inhumanity to man and mans inherent evil. In fact, Golding states that "man produces evil as a bee produces honey". Golding shows how civilization on the island breaks down and leads to anarchy and terror "because the boys are suffering from the terrible disease of being human".
Lord of the Flies as a religious tale
Since man is a fallen being who continuously pays for the original sin, his nature is characterized by base evil. Golding, in Lord of the Flies, is concerned about this evil and how it relates to mans soul and its salvation. Throughout the book, the author depicts the contrast between good and evil, kindness and cruelty, civilization and savagery, guilt and indifference, responsibility and anarchy. The rational good of mankind is represented by Ralph and Piggy, with the conch their symbol of authority; the evil savagery of mankind is represented by Jack and his hunters, with the beast, or "Lord of the Flies", as their symbol of savagery. The beast stands for the evil that is present in all human beings, and Simon and Piggy, or rationality, are almost helpless in its presence.
Fortunately, there is also Simon, a symbol of vision and salvation. He is able to see the beast as it really exists -- in the hearts of all mankind. Unfortunately, when he tries to bring the truth to the savage ones, he is sacrificed, much like Christ was sacrificed when he tried to bring truth to the unknowing. But the fact that Simon existed gives hope to all mankind; the truth about life, its goodness and its evil, is available to those who seek it.
Lord of the Flies as a symbolic novel
The novel functions throughout on a symbolic level. The boys, in their variety of personalities, symbolize mankind as a whole. Ralph is the symbol of rational, but fallible, mankind. He tries to establish an orderly society, based on rules, authority, and knowledge; but he struggles against the forces of evil (The Lord of the Flies) throughout the book. Jack, his counterpart, is the symbol of emotion and savagery. He lives for the hunt, rules as a dictator, and is guided by evil purpose.
Unfortunately, he knows the base level of human beings and successfully appeals to it through hunting, dancing, and fear. Each boy has a close follower. Ralph has Piggy, who is an intellectual and a true, wise friend; he is destroyed by the evil hunters. Jack has Roger, who in his sadistic nature has the power to destroy and he kills Piggy. Simon occupies a central position in the symbolic scheme, for he represents truth, vision, and moral understanding. Unfortunately, he is quiet and shy and has difficulty speaking out. When he does try to tell the savages the truth about the beast, they refuse to listen and literally tear him apart, as if to blot out his message.
Lord of the Flies as a Political Novel
The novel can be viewed as a contrast between democracy and anarchy. Ralph is elected by the boys to be their chief. Governed by rationality, he tries to be a democratic leader, listening to the concerns of all (even the fears of the littleuns), watching out for the good of all (building and maintaining the fire), and protecting them all (building shelters). To remind the others of his leadership, he wisely and sparingly uses the conch as a symbol of his authority. Jack does not like the democracy and its rules. He tries to convince the other boys to vote Ralph out of office and put him in the leadership role.
When they refuse to elect Jack, he reacts in anarchy. He deserts the democratic way of life, seizes a part of the island for himself, and gains followers through strong arm tactics. He and his savage hunters raid the democratic headquarters and steal the last vestiges of their civilization (the fire and the glasses) and break the conch (their authority). Then Jack begins to rule selfishly for his own good and pleasure.
Like a dictator, he makes his own laws regardless of the consequences, doles out punishment as he sees fit, encourages savagery amongst his followers, and demands loyalty to the point of servitude. Although democracy does not survive on the island, neither can anarchy.
Lord of the Flies as a psychological novel
The novel functions as a study of mankind's basic nature, and the picture that is painted by Golding is very negative. When children, as symbols of mankind, are away from authority (adults) and without any checks (laws and policemen), they revert to primitive behavior. They evolve their own undemocratic rules and savage behavior; they even create their own god, The Lord of the Flies. Golding provides valuable lessons about basic human behavior through the group of the children.