During William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, Ralph and Piggy have witnessed the destruction of those vestiges of civilization that they had hoped would enable the stranded boys to function in a relatively orderly manner. One of the novel’s main instruments toward this end, the conch shell, ceases...
During William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, Ralph and Piggy have witnessed the destruction of those vestiges of civilization that they had hoped would enable the stranded boys to function in a relatively orderly manner. One of the novel’s main instruments toward this end, the conch shell, ceases to represent authority and order as Jack and his group of budding militarists, the savages, increasingly defy the conch shell’s previous significance.
As the two factions, led respectively by Ralph and Jack, grow increasingly antagonistic, the decline of order and civilization seems irreversible, with the peaceable and wise Ralph seemingly doomed to death at the hands of his rivals. Ralph is literally hunted and is saved only by sudden appearance of a naval officer, who initially writes off the appearance of the savages who emerge behind Ralph as merely “fun and games.” When Ralph informs the officer that two of the boys have been killed, the officer begins to comprehend the situation into which he has entered. His comment upon discovering that civilization had dissolved and that the stranded children had devolved into a more barbaric form of humanity is interesting and telling:
"I should have thought," said the officer as he visualized the search before him, "I should have thought that a pack of British boys—you're all British, aren't you?—would have been able to put up a better show than that—I mean—"
"It was like that at first," said Ralph, "before things—"
"We were together then—"
The officer nodded helpfully.
"I know. Jolly good show. Like the Coral Island."
The Victorian-era refinement among the elitist class of British naval officers cannot counteract such a diminishment in the most basic rules of civility. A nation born to rule the world, after all, should comport itself better than this.
Why did Golding end his novel with the rescue of the boys and did this ending detract from the story’s realism? That’s entirely a matter of perspective. The central theme of Lord of the Flies is the tenuous nature of civilization, the fact that the introduction of adversity will readily bring order asunder. The naval officer’s comment and his expression of disappointment that these children should dare to allow themselves to socially degrade does not detract from the story’s realism. On the contrary, this scene on the beach is an appropriate denouement to the preceding narrative’s evolution.
A simple power outage in a major city can cause that city’s population to forget or ignore the basic norms that have governed society up to that point. The characters in Golding’s novel have experienced a far greater level of primitiveness, and the fact that Ralph’s faction has retained a sense of morality represents a victory of sorts. The judgmental attitude of the naval officer provides for a sense of irony while also capturing quite nicely the attitude of the British upper class regarding its expectations for those who were supposed to be raised to inherit the empire.