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

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The importance of individual responsibility is shown in William Golding's Lord of the Flies through failure more than success. Everything on the island that will help the boys survive requires each boy to contribute to the common good (be responsible); when they do not, the result is death, destruction, and savagery.

In order to get rescued, the boys much maintain a signal fire; however, none of them is particularly interested or motivated to keep it lit. When the boys (the hunters in particular) shirk their responsibilities, the fire goes out and they miss at least one opportunity to be rescued early in the novel.

In order to have shelters, the boys need to be responsible and work together to build them; however, only Ralph and Simon follow through with their responsibilities. Instead of working on the shelters, the boys do whatever they choose and then suffer the consequences when they have no safe place to be at night when they have nightmares. Ralph expresses his frustration:

“[The littluns are] hopeless. The older ones aren’t much better. D’you see? All day I’ve been working with Simon. No one else. They’re off bathing, or eating, or playing.”

Ralph demonstrates individual responsibility and encourages it in the other boys, but what he offers is not as appealing as what Jack offers--the chance to do anything that suits them. The irony, of course, is that being responsible and following Ralph would have made their lives easier and gotten them off the island more quickly; following Jack seems to offer more freedom but results in a tribe of savages forced to follow their chief by threats and force. 

Golding makes it clear, through the failures and deterioration of civilization on the island, that a civilized community requires individual responsibility. Without it, savagery reigns. 

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