What does life on the island tell us about society?

Expert Answers

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

The manner in which Golding begins the novel reminds readers that human beings are social animals who create societies to avoid facing the world alone. The first conversation between Ralph and Piggy focuses on their wondering if they are alone in this strange place, and the first action they undertake together is to sound the conch to contact others who might be nearby. Hearing the sound, the young survivors slowly come out of the jungle and join Ralph and Piggy on the beach; Jack Merridew appears with his choir of school boys, who have already reassembled. Until Jack challenges Ralph’s authority, fails to gain support, and declares that he is striking out on his own, the boys live, work, and play together, with the littluns forming their own society within the larger one. Human nature being what it is, Piggy predicts that Jack will return; Jack’s returning, however, proves to be unnecessary when some of the boys gravitate to him, creating a third society on the island.

The boys’ powerful need to live in proximity to other human beings and the distress of being rejected are seen most clearly in Piggy and Ralph. The physically unattractive and socially inept Piggy, despite the ways he is ridiculed and the number of times he is rebuffed, persistently attempts to function within the boys’ society on the island, often while complaining bitterly about the injustices he suffers at their hands. Piggy’s happiness and gratitude when he finds a friend in Ralph emphasize how much Piggy needs to be accepted as a member of the human community; even belonging within a society of two provides him with comfort and a sense of security.

Piggy’s pervading sense of isolation before Ralph befriends him is painful, but it is minor compared to Ralph’s fear and desolation when Jack succeeds in ostracizing Ralph, and Ralph’s only allies, Piggy and Simon, have been killed. Bereft of all human companionship, Ralph cannot endure the loneliness and isolation of the deserted beach. Despite his deadly confrontation with Jack and Jack’s tribe, Ralph is compelled to return to the Castle Rock where other human beings reside.

Ralph’s learning that Jack intends to unleash his hunters on him doesn’t mitigate Ralph’s need for human contact to avoid facing alone the unknown terrors of human existence. Instead of fleeing from the Castle Rock, Ralph chooses to remain, staying “not far from the tribe, so that if the horrors of the supernatural emerged one could at least mix with humans for the time being ….” Pursued by Jack and his tribe the following day, Ralph does not attempt to reestablish a relationship with the boys he had known; recognizing their murderous intent, he runs for his life. Only the instinct to survive, the novel suggests, overrides man’s nature as a social animal.

.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial