The boys gradually lose their civilized qualities. In which ways does Golding let us know they are becoming more savage?

2 Answers | Add Yours

tpisano's profile pic

tpisano | Middle School Teacher | (Level 2) Assistant Educator

Posted on

This novel begins with the boys behaving in a very civilizied manner and follows them as they become more and more savage. This conflict, civilization vs. Savaagery, is the driving force of the novel. 

Golding exposes many aspects of society as the boys try to maintain order on an island without supervision.  Good  vs. evil, and right vs. wrong are exposed with each day that passes on the island. 

Golding uses the characters of Ralph (civilized, ruler follower) and Jack (savage, rule breaker) to illustrate these qualities.  Throughout the novel we see Ralph attempting to remain as "normal" as possible, while Jack, who prefers to be called by his last name (Merridew), slips further and further into savagery.  

As Ralph's civilized world disintegrates, Jack's savage society becomes more distinct and powerful. Jack separates his group from Ralph's when the group fails to dethrone Ralph and recognize Jack as leader.

accessteacher's profile pic

accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

This novel basically charts the descent into savagery of a group of boys (some of them choir boys no less - an ironic touch) through their abandonment on an island with no adults.

The central opposition in the novel is that between the forces of civilisation and savagery, or order and chaos. Golding explores the competing instincts that dwell within us all: to live by rules, obey morals and act for the greater good of society, and then the opposite side, which is the desire to dominate, enforce one's will and act immediately to gratify desires.

This conflict is explored throughout the novel through examining the boys' gradual slide into lawlessness as they adapt to life in a barbaric jungle away from the normal controls on their behaviour (law, parents, school etc). These two forces are represented by the two characters Ralph (civilisation) and Jack (savagery).

Golding's conclusion is that the instinct for savagery wins out in the end. It is far more primal and fundamental to us than the instinct of civilisation, which he sees as a result of social conditioning rather than any moral goodness within humanity. We can see this through the example of the boys: when left to their own devices without any external forces of control, the instincts for savagery win out, even in the defender of civilisation, Ralph. The concept of the innate evil within all of us is central to understanding this novel, and is symbolised by the beast and the sow's head on the stake.

If you are after specific examples, you need to look at the gradual decline into savagery - how Jack and the hunters start painting their faces in Chapter 3 and how pig hunting becomes more important to them than the signal fire, then how all the boys, even Ralph, become intoxicated by their savage instincts hunting the pigs and join in the slaughter of Simon.

We’ve answered 318,915 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question