Two separate illustrations of an animal head and a fire on a mountain

Lord of the Flies

by William Golding

Start Free Trial

"We’ve got to have rules and obey them. After all, we’re not savages. We're English, and the English are best at everything." (42) What does this quote from Lord of The Flies reveal about Jack's character in terms of the theme or message?

This quote demonstrates that Jack believes that the English are "civilized," thus making the boys' descent into chaos more impactful. Further, this quote shows Jack attempting to regain control over the boys, illustrating his need to be an authority figure.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In chapter two, the boys are on the top of the mountain when Ralph declares that they should designate people to maintain the signal fire and states that there should be more rules. Ralph is attempting to establish a civil society, and Jack responds by saying,

I agree with Ralph. We’ve got to have rules and obey them. After all, we’re not savages. We’re English, and the English are best at everything. (Golding, 58)

Jack's comment underscores Golding's primary theme regarding civilization vs. savagery. Jack is under the impression that the boys are civil because they are English. Jack was taught that England is superior to other nations and his homeland is primarily responsible for spreading civilization throughout the world.

As an English man, Golding challenged this popular, prejudiced view regarding civility and superiority by illustrating the boys' descent into savagery. As the novel progresses, the boys begin to revert back to their primitive, savage nature and completely reject civilization. By depicting a group of English boys as ruthless, barbaric, and savage, Golding is commenting on mankind's inherent wickedness and suggesting that civilization is simply a thin veneer.

Jack's comment regarding the English being the best at everything also underscores the theme of power and authority. Jack is quick to agree with Ralph and believes that he is a superior leader. As the novel progresses, Jack attempts to usurp power and ends up establishing his own tribe of savages on the opposite end of the island, where he rules as a brutal tyrant.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

I'd like to suggest that the character of Jack symbolizes a mentality widely shared among the British upper classes at that time in relation to other civilizations. Jack unthinkingly expresses a certain jingoistic arrogance; the English are "civilized" whereas supposedly lesser races and cultures are "savage" and "backward." The boys on the island are members of the social elite and, as such, will one day be expected to form the governing class of their country. That being the case, they are different from the common herd and must live up to the standards of their class, race, and nationality, even when stranded on a remote desert island.

Jack's ultimate descent into savagery, however, exposes the hollowness of his self-image and the class he represents. His insistence on maintaining and obeying rules is little more than a sham. He simply wants to use the prevailing English standards and norms as a means to exploitation and control. Here we see a neat parallel with the way in which the British Empire was run. Colonial peoples were subjected to the often far from benign rule of the British, who nonetheless carried out their imperialist policies under the veneer of the rule of law.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Lord of The Flies , there is a struggle for control between Ralph and Jack. Jack feels that, because he is "chapter chorister and head boy" he should be the leader but, as Ralph has called the boys together using the conch, "the trumpet-thing",...

This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

and the boys are suitably impressed, Ralph is designated as leader. Jack is, however, assigned to lead the choir, his "hunters." The boys do rally together to get the fire going to the point of exhaustion and are annoyed when their efforts lead to an ineffective "beard of flame."

Despite not being leader, Jack does agree with Ralph about managing the fire and that there should be more rules and offers to be responsible for the fire. At this stage of the story, this quote reveals Jack's manipulative intent as he wants to be involved in leadership and he has seen an opportunity to get control of something very important. He also indicates that more is expected of them all, being "English" although he has previously told Piggy to "shut up," thus indicating his contempt for the authority of the conch which "doesn't count on top of the mountain," he states; thus, contradicting himself. Piggy, who has insight that the others lack, is, significantly, afraid of Jack.

The theme of appearance versus reality is prominent here as Jack's intentions are self-serving but the others see him as being co-operative at this stage. The relevance of this quote will become significant later when Jack shows his true character which is morally lacking and totally savage, revealing the irony in his words. The good versus evil theme will also resonate back to these words.    

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team