William Golding presents the idea that individuals inserted into a situation where there is no society and no law will establish a society and laws. There is a natural desire for humans to create order. Golding makes it clear that without order, there is a risk that the evil side of human nature will take hold. Golding states the following:
The theme is an attempt to trace the defects of society back to the defects of human nature. The moral is that the shape of a society must depend on the ethical nature of the individual and not on any political system however logical or respectable.
Humans have an innate desire to survive. The boys in the novel can choose to follow the rules of society in order to survive or follow their savage animal instincts in order to survive. Both of these choices show the adaptability of human beings. Golding further explains that the society formed will depend on the morals of the citizens. In this novel, the boys who are depicted as savages are suspected of moral failing. On the other hand, the boys who follow the rules made by the community are seen as good and just.
"We can use this to call the others. Have a meeting. They'll come when they hear us—"
He beamed at Ralph.
"That was what you meant, didn't you? That's why you got the conch out of the water" (chapter 1).
Piggy suggests that the boys use the conch shell that Ralph finds as a way to announce and organize meetings. The boys are showing adaptability by finding and using objects on the island for a civilized purpose. The conch itself is considered a symbol of civilization in the novel. When the conch is broken later in the story, it becomes a symbol of the loss of civilized society and order.
"Aren't there any grownups at all?"
"I don't think so."
The fair boy said this solemnly; but then the delight of a realized ambition overcame him. In the middle of the scar he stood on his head and grinned at the reversed fat boy.
The adults symbolize rules, law, and order to the children. With no adults, the children have no rules to follow and are free to do what they want. The children must adapt to life without adults. They soon begin to form their own rules and societal structure in order to survive.
Ralph waved the conch.
"Shut up! Wait! Listen!"
He went on in the silence, borne on in his triumph.
"There's another thing. We can help them to find us. If a ship comes near the island they may not notice us. So we must make smoke on top of the mountain. We must make a fire."
"A fire! Make a fire!" (chapter 2).
Ralph has just been elected the leader of the boys. The boys continue to adapt and form their own society. They realize they can make a fire to send smoke signals to any nearby ships in order to alert them of their whereabouts. Fire is a human construct. Fire can be used for good, as a smoke signal, or evil, as when they burn the island later in the story. Ralph establishes the rule that someone must always attend the fire to make sure that it never goes out.
Roger stooped, picked up a stone, aimed, and threw it at Henry—threw it to miss. The stone, that token of preposterous time, bounded five yards to Henry's right and fell in the water. Roger gathered a handful of stones and began to throw them. Yet there was a space round Henry, perhaps six yards in diameter, into which he dare not throw. Here, 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.
Survival of the fittest is relative to all animals. Roger is adapting by establishing himself as someone who should not be messed with. He is a bully and a villain in the novel. Roger's stones, however, do not hit Henry. It is as if it is ingrained in him by society that people should not hurt others. Even though there are no parents or rule enforcers around, it is ingrained in Roger that he can intimidate but not hurt.
"Kill the pig! Cut her throat! Spill her blood!" (chapter 4).
The boys must find food in order to survive, so they unite as a hunting party to satisfy a basic human need. The boys must hunt, kill, and cook their own food to live. These boys are from an English boarding school, where they are not required to hunt and gather for their meals.
His voice rose under the black smoke before the burning wreckage of the island; and infected by that emotion, the other little boys began to shake and sob too. And in the middle of them, with filthy body, matted hair, and unwiped nose, Ralph wept for the end of innocence, the darkness of man's heart, and the fall through the air of the true, wise friend called Piggy.
In the end of the novel, Ralph is faced with the end of his innocence; this is something all people are eventually faced with and must adapt to. The adults who find the boys symbolize a return to civilization and law and order after the fall and destruction of the island to the savage nature of man. Once again, the remaining boys will adapt. They will have to reacclimate themselves to life in civilization with new knowledge of the world and the nature of man after going through the events on the island.