How accountable are the boys for their violent actions in the context of their situation on the island in William Golding's Lord of the Flies? How could they be justifiably punished upon their...

How accountable are the boys for their violent actions in the context of their situation on the island in William Golding's Lord of the Flies? How could they be justifiably punished upon their return to England?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The above is actually a very complex question deserving a very complex answer. We must first take into consideration the fact that, in Lord of the Flies, William Golding chose to use children as characters, rather than adult men, for a reason. Children, who are still growing both mentally and physically, are much more vulnerable and more easily influenced than adults. Since they are so vulnerable and easily influenced, in Western courts, children are never held accountable, tried, and punished as adults. It can be said that Golding used children as characters to show just how easily human beings can be influenced to yield to our evil natures and also to show how little we are accountable for our evil actions.

The majority of the children are influenced to behave immorally by Jack, but even Jack is not without his influences. The novel is set during a war, and prior to the children's plane crash-landing on a deserted island, an atomic bomb had apparently wiped out all of England, as we learn when Piggy asks Ralph, "Didn't you hear what the pilot said? About the atom bomb? They're all dead" (Ch. 1). Golding wrote Lord of the Flies soon after serving in Great Britain's Royal Navy during World War II. Golding sets the novel during a major war, probably a world war, in order to show just how much war influences us to act upon our evil natures. He uses the boys' decay into wild, immoral behavior to show that all, even children, have good and evil natures, and our good natures can only be cultivated by civilization. In Golding's view, in the absence of civilization, such as during a war, mankind will naturally yield to its evil nature, just as millions became so easily influenced by and yielded to the Nazis, leading to the Holocaust.

In this sense, the only thing the children, even Jack, are truly guilty of is being deprived of civilization, leading to their moral depravity, which according to Golding, is a very natural consequence of being deprived of civilization. To punish such vulnerable children could be seen as yet a further fall from civilization. Just as the juvenile justice system does not punish children who commit crimes but rather, ideally speaking, strives to educate and mentor children into better behavior, it can be argued that the boys on the island also require the same education and mentoring, not necessarily punishment. Jack, above all, requires the most education and mentoring.

Hence, though we can, like Ralph and the rest of the boys, including Jack, weep "for the end of innocence, the darkness of man's heart, and the fall through the air of the true, wise friend called Piggy," it can be said we should not rally for the boys' punishment because such a call for revenge would only further yield to the "darkness of man's heart" (Ch. 12).

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Lord of the Flies

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