How does Lord of the Flies by William Golding convey the importance of individual responsibility?

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Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The characters in Lord of the Flies, by William Golding, are all young English schoolboys who have been stranded on an island because of a plane crash. There are no adults to wield authority, and the only rules the boys have are those they create. One of the first things they do is elect a leader, but almost immediately they ignore every rule they enact and refuse to take any responsibility for their actions. 

When the signal fire goes out and a ship passes without realizing anyone is on the island, Jack does not want to take responsibility for allowing the fire to die, though he and his hunters were in charge of keeping it lit. Because Jack failed to follow through on his responsibility, the boys missed an opportunity for rescue and the animosity between Jack and Ralph worsens.

When the group decides to build shelters "as a kind of...home" to dispel some of the boys' nighttime fears, the littluns work for only a few minutes before running off, and Jack refuses to help because he is consumed with hunting. The hunters do not even consider helping. No one but Ralph and Simon take any responsibility for maintaining the group's living space, so there is only one semi-sturdy shelter. This lack of a common "home" makes it easier for the boys to separate into two tribes; this division ultimately results in a savagery which causes several deaths. 

When Simon is killed by all the boys in a kind of frenzy, no one but Ralph feels any personal responsibility for the murder; most ignore it or are ashamed but Piggy tries to explain and justify the act. As a result, killing becomes more acceptable and, ironically, Piggy becomes the next victim. 

In this novel, Golding demonstrates that less personal responsibility results in less order and discipline. Without order and discipline, these proper English schoolboys quickly devolve into savages who only obey when they are threatened with punishment--or worse. The boys on this island take no responsibility for their own actions, and the result is chaos and savagery. 

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Lord of the Flies

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