How does Golding use characterization to present the theme of power in Lord of the Flies?

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omconnelly eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Throughout Golding's Lord of the Flies the boys on the island struggle with power both internally and externally. He uses the characters and the dynamics between the boys in order to illustrate how a society that is dominated by negative authority and devoid of positive authority cannot be fruitful.

In order to accomplish this, Golding creates conflicts between several of the main characters. These characters are designed to be foils to one another and to reveal more about human nature and power through their interactions.

Ralph versus Jack: 

This conflict the characters of Ralph and Jack battle over who will be "in charge" on the island. Although Jack seems like a natural leader as head of the choir boys (who later become the hunters) and his lack of fear in their new environment, his desire to rule is stunted by Ralph's affability and logical nature. When the boys are first gathered on the island, it is due to Ralph's ability to blow the conch shell (but it is important to note that Piggy is the one who instructed Ralph on how to use the conch shell). He is viewed as the leader from this point forward by Piggy, Simon, Sam n'Eric, and the littleuns. Ralph's approach to survival is also more logical than Jack's: Ralph wants to build shelter, start a signal fire, and survive in order to be rescued. Jack wants to hunt. His desire to hunt is a result of his need to be powerful and this turns into a bloodlust. Eventually we see that power unchecked can corrupt even the most innocent. 

Piggy versus Jack:

Piggy and Jack are foils. They are opposite characters designed to highlight their contrasting elements. In this text Piggy symbolizes logic and reasoning. He is constantly calling for "rules and order." It is Piggy who determines that the conch shell symbolize leadership and order by suggesting that whoever has the conch shell is allowed to speak. Piggy's desire for logic and order is derived from his own insecurities. Piggy is chubbier than the other boys, he is not athletic, he wears glasses, and he has asthma (or "ass-mar"). In the real world, these qualities do not equate with weakness, but in the literary world they do. Jack is physically dominant: he is taller than the others, he can sing a high "C", he can hunt, he is athletic, and he is more intimidating. Jack dislikes Piggy because of Piggy's external appearance, but his hatred grows out of Piggy's allegiance with Ralph. Though Jack never admits it and it is never recognized (until Piggy is killed), Piggy is a driving force in the text. He provides Ralph with a reason to lead because Piggy is more of a victim than a leader. Jack ostracizes Piggy on several occasions. A prime example is when the hunters kill their first pig and Jack tells Piggy he cannot have any meat because Piggy did not hunt. Piggy points out that neither did other boys, but they are eating, and this infuriates Jack to the verge of violence. Piggy's logic diminishes Jack's authority or power, and Jack hates him for it. 

Roger versus society:

Roger is a hunter in the text, yet he doesn't even fit in well with that group. Although Jack is driven by his desire to lead, Roger is driven by his desire to dominate. Roger is unlike any of the other boys because he has an evil quality about him. He is a foil to Simon because Simon symbolizes the innate good in human beings. Roger's darkness is illustrated in two distinct episodes in the text:in chapter four when Roger throws stones at the littleun Henry. Roger purposely throws stones around Henry demonstrating to the reader that he is able to inflict pain if he wanted but he chooses not to. The narrator describes Roger as held back by the rules and order of a former society, but it is evident that society is losing its grip on him. The second example of Roger's evilness or inhumanity is when he launches the boulder that kills Piggy. Roger has no justification for killing Piggy; in fact he is defending Castle Rock from Ralph at the time. He kills Piggy because he can, and he kills Piggy because Piggy symbolizes any remnants of the former society's rules and order. This illustrates how power is checked by logic. Power unchecked leads to destruction.

These are just some examples of how characterization and the dynamic between the characters illustrates the theme of power in Golding's Lord of the Flies.

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Lord of the Flies

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