In Lord of the Flies, what causes the deterioration of civilization?  

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In another post World War II novel, A Separate Peace, the main character, Gene Forrester discovers that his private evil which has led him to harm his friend Phineas, is the same evil that results in war: seemed clear that wars were not made by generations and their special stupidities, but that wars were made instead by something ignorant in the human heart.

It is this "evil that men do," as phrased by Shakespeare, that the Lord of the Flies personifies. When he talks to Simon in the clearing, the Beast asks the intuitive boy,

"You knew, didn't you? I'm part of you?  Close, close, close! I'm the reason why it's no go? Why things are what they are?"

With poetic prose, Golding here suggests a relationship between violence and beauty. Certainly, the pristine island on which the boys have become stranded possesses a primitive beauty with its lagoon, sand, and pink granite. However, beneath the beauty lies the opportunity for the violence of Jack and the hunters.  For, without the conditioning of a society that has rules, anarchy begins as Jack and his hunters usurp the power from Ralph by stealing the fire.

The dissension of the boys is closely connected to the desire to control and to have power. This envy and jealousy of the boys--that "something ignorant in the human heart"--is, indeed, the divisive factor that causes the deterioration of the little civilization that Ralph has begun with his leadership. For, as Jack desires more power than Piggy and Ralph has, he employs brutal force against those he perceives as his enemy. This "evil that men do," this "something ignorant" is what becomes the nemesis of those desiring a true society.

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Lord of the Flies

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