In the Lord of the Flies, how do the "painted faces" liberate the boys?
The "painted faces" liberate the boys by allowing them to engage in savage behavior without feeling self-conscious or guilty about their actions. Initially, Jack paints his face to blend in with the environment in order to camouflage himself while hunting pigs. In Chapter 4, Jack uses white and red clay, along with charcoal, to paint his face. Golding describes Jack's reaction after he looks at his reflection in the water and writes,
"He looked in astonishment, no longer at himself but as an awesome stranger...He began to dance and his laughter became bloodthirsty snarling. He capered toward Bill, and the mask was a thing of its own, behind which Jack hid, liberated from shame and self-consciousness." (Golding 64)
The face paint allows Jack to let his inner beast loose without feeling ashamed. The other boys follow suit and descend further into barbarism. Face paint is described as a mask. A mask covers the identity of the individual wearing it, essentially altering their physical appearance. However, in the novel, this change in external appearance is paralleled internally. As the boys begin to paint themselves, they lower their inhibitions, and become increasingly savage.
The boys' face paint correlates with native African warriors who were described as barbarians by early European colonists. This association with barbaric warriors adds to the unnerving imagery surrounding the boys' masks. Golding mentions that the boys were "freed" by paint, which meant they had the liberty to do anything their primitive human instincts desired. Behind the cover of face paint, the boys felt unrestricted.
Later on in the novel, when Ralph and his followers are discussing how they will approach Castle Rock, Eric mentions that the boys will be "painted." Golding writes, "they understood only too well the liberation into savagery that the concealing paint brought." (Golding 172) Golding continually addresses the savage tribe of boys as the "painted group," and Ralph refers to them as "painted fools." (Golding 178) The unrecognizable and unidentifiable boys engage in primitive tribal rituals and oppose Ralph's attempt to solidify a civilized society.