What is the role of family and community in the novel Lord of the Flies by William Golding?

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Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Lord of the Flies, by William Golding, is set on a tropical island where a group of English schoolboys has landed after a plane crash. It is soon evident that most of them did not know one another before their arrival, (Jack and his choir are a notable exception), so they have to figure out how to survive together on this island from which they may never be rescued.

Things are rocky for the boys from the beginning. It seems as though they may have a chance when they elect a leader; however, it is a meaningless gesture which sets up a rivalry between two of the oldest boys, Ralph and Jack. In the first days after the crash, all the boys seem to be living in a community, though it is not a particularly united community. Ralph complains:

“Meetings. Don’t we love meetings? Every day. Twice a day. We talk.” He got on one elbow. “I bet if I blew the conch this minute, they’d come running. Then we’d be, you know, very solemn, and someone would say we ought to build a jet, or a submarine, or a TV set. When the meeting was over they’d work for five minutes, then wander off or go hunting.”

Everyone does not do his share of the work, but they all sleep in one place at night and regularly gather to hold meetings (though they accomplish nothing). it is at least the semblance of a community.

Soon, however, Jack and his hunters begin to live on the mountain. This move divides the pseudo-community into the more peaceful and more aggressive members of the group. Eventually Jack and his hunters, along with nearly all the others, will be known as a tribe. Ralph and his few remaining followers, those who are not interested in Jack or his violent ways, become a kind of family, huddled rather pathetically on the beach. They hope to talk reasonably with the tribe, but that seems more unlikely every day they are on the island; instead, the animosity between the two groups grow stronger.

They do have a moment of tragic togetherness when they inadvertently kill Simon one stormy night, but the next morning the two factions are divided even more deeply. While Ralph and the twins feel some remorse for their actions, Jack and his tribe appear to feel nothing. Eventually the boys are all united in their goal to kill Ralph. 

Family and community are terms which imply a sense of loyalty and working together for a common cause. If that is true, there is little evidence that either of these things exists on this island. This absence supports Golding's theme that when human nature has no boundaries, restrictions, or authorities (all of which exist in families and communities), it devolves into savagery. 

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Lord of the Flies

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