Is the island in Lord of the Flies considered a microcosm?

Expert Answers
mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The island of Lord of the Flies is, indeed, a microcosm, or a little world. In the first chapter, Ralph delights in the freedom and beauty of this island, alluding to it as "Here was a coral island." This allusion is very significant because Golding wrote his novel in answer to the idealistic work of R. M. Ballantyne:

Lord of the Flies challenges the unrealistic outlook expressed in The Coral Island: A Tale of the Pacific Ocean (1858), by Robert Michael Ballantyne. That Victorian adventure novel features three boys marooned on an island with pirates and cannibals. The boys cheerfully maintain their Christian moral outlook and gentleman's manners until they are able to escape. [Enotes]

On an island, away from all the restrictions of society, the boys of Golding's allegory, however, do not maintain their civilized outlook as in Coral Island. Instead, they descend into savagery. Despite Ralph's efforts to maintain British civility and discipline, without the reinforcement of society, the boys' conditioning erodes and their inherent natures emerge. Perhaps, Roger best exemplifies this erosion.

In Chapter Four, little Henry plays on the beach at the water's edge where he is fascinated by tiny transparent creatures who come "questing in with the tide onto the sand." As the little boy plays innocently on the shore, Roger gathers a handful of stones and throws them at Henry, careful to have them land nearby, but not hit him because

[H]ere, invisible yet strong, was the taboo of the old life. Round the squatting child was the protection of parents and school and policemen and the law. Roger's arm was conditioned by a civilization that knew nothing of him and was in ruins.

It is later in the narrative in Chapter Eleven that the innately sadistic nature of Roger, now long away from British society, overrides the restraints of his former conditioning. In a moment of “delirious abandonment,” born of his innate sadism and love of violence, Roger tips a boulder onto Piggy, killing him and hurling him into the sea.

Jack Merridew, once the leader of the boys' choir and a disciplinarian of the others in this group, finds that by painting his face he can be "liberated into savagery." Later, he wins most of the boys over to his group of hunters. Even Ralph exhibits innate savagery as he participates in a hunt later on, and he becomes part of the circle that forms around Simon as the boys chant, "Kill the beast! Cut his throat! Spill his blood! Do him in!"

After Simon and Piggy are killed, Jack and his hunters come after Ralph, setting the island on fire in an effort to burn him out of his hiding spot. Finally, Ralph finds his way onto the beach, where a British naval officer stands. When he sees the condition in which Ralph and the others who appear are in, the officer scolds,

"I should have thought that a pack of British boys...would have been able to put up a better show that that--I mean--"

Yet, the warship from which the officer has disembarked belies his words.

Thus, William Golding has employed a pristine island as an environment removed from the restrictions of a civilized society in order to depict the inherent evil--"the beast"--that lies within man's basic nature.

gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Yes. A microcosm is essentially a smaller version of something much larger. William Golding uses the uninhabited island as the setting for his novel Lord of the Flies to represent a microcosm of civilization at large. The events that transpire on the island mimic the moral demise of society which is a result of humanity's inherent wickedness. Similar to society at large, the boys attempt to organize themselves by electing a leader, establishing rules, prioritizing tasks, and holding assemblies. As the novel progresses, tensions develop between Jack and his band of hunters, and Ralph and his supporters. Ralph and Jack have drastically different agendas, and the majority of the boys wish to satisfy their carnal desires instead of maintaining a structured society. The "moral fabric" of their society gradually diminishes, and they develop into savage barbarians.

Golding introduces aspects from the "adult world" to compare how the problems with society on the island are similar to civilizations' larger issues. While the children are stranded on the island, a World War is simultaneously taking place around them. The immoral behavior and savagery taking place on the island is a microcosm of the ongoing World War.

The fate of the boys on the deserted island is representative of society's ills. Golding's message is clear; Humans are inherently evil, and their immoral behavior will eventually lead to the demise of civilization.

Read the study guide:
Lord of the Flies

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question