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In William Golding's novel Lord of the Flies, the boys create masks as camouflage for hunting. Jack originally comes up with the idea:
"For hunting. LIke in the war. You know-- dazzle paint. Like things trying to look like something else" (65).
Jack quickly begins to realize that the masks have an advantage beyond hunting; his mask allows him to reinvent himself. After creating his first mask, Jack is pleased to see that his appearance has changed to that of "an awesome stranger" (63). The mask frees Jack from his inhibitions, empowering him to act bolder, fiercer:
"He capered toward Bill, and the mask was a thing on its own, behind which Jack hid, liberated from shame and self-consciousness" (64).
This freedom from self will give Jack the power to make his first kill and overcome his aversion to blood. Later, Golding will utilize the masks as a manifestation of the boys' savagery, their willingness to hide their faces as a symbolic turn from the goodness of civilization.
In addition to the quotes given in the other answers, here are three more.
When Jack has left Ralph's group to form his own tribe, he begins to wear face paint as a sign of his authority. When Roger comes up to Castle Rock after passing the checkpoint:
The chief was sitting there, naked to the waist, his face blocked out in white and red. ... The newly beaten and untied Wilfred was sniffing noisily in the background.
Face paint, or the mask, allows Jack to perform a violent act against Wilfred that does not need to be explained to the boys. Roger recognizes it as "the possibility of irresponsible authority."
Later Jack informs his tribe they will hunt again and have a feast, but one of the boys asks how they will get fire.
The chief's blush was hidden by the white and red clay.
Jack's light complexion predisposes him to blushing, which gives away his insecurities. The mask allows him to hide his emotions that are too often betrayed by his normal skin shade. Thus the mask allows him to don a facade of self-confidence.
In chapter 11, Ralph staunchly refuses to give in to the temptation to wear a mask when he goes to confront Jack.
"But they'll be painted! You know how it is."
The others nodded. They understood only too well the liberation into savagery that the concealing paint brought.
"Well, we won't be painted," said Ralph, "because we aren't savages." ... Ralph shouted. "No paint!"
Here Golding clearly states the link between the masks and savagery. By concealing themselves behind paint, Jack's tribe found it easier to forsake their morality. Refusing to wear a mask, Ralph holds on to the standards of civilization. "We must go as we are," he says. They have lost the grooming and clothing that had identified them as civilized beings in the past, yet Ralph is not willing to forfeit his upbringing and his sense of right and wrong. By not allowing his group to hide behind masks, he asserts his commitment to civilization and morality.
This is a good request. The novel explores the power of masks. In fact, according to Golding, the mask enabled the boys to be someone else and therefore do things that they would not ordinarily do. For example, Jack takes on a new persona.
He capered toward Bill, and the mask was a thing on its own, behind which Jack hid, liberated from shame and self-consciousness. The face of red and white and black swung through the air and jigged toward Bill. Bill started up laughing; then suddenly he fell silent and blundered away through the bushes.
Jack rushed toward the twins.
“The rest are making a line. Come on!” “But—”
“Come on! I’ll creep up and stab—” The mask compelled them.
Here is another example of the idea of a mask covering up shame to allow the boys to do whatever they want.
He paused and looked round. He was safe from shame or self-consciousness behind the mask of his paint and could look at each of them in turn.
Beside the pool his sinewy body held up a mask that drew their eyes and appalled them. He began to dance and his laughter became a bloodthirsty snarling
In short, masks transformed boys into beasts. This shows the conflict within all of our hearts between savagery and civility.
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