Why are group goals important in determining how individuals act within a group, as evidenced in Lord of the Flies?

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caledon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Group goals can have a significant impact on individual behavior because they determine where the individual's efforts will be focused; within the group, outside of it, or some combination of the two. A group goal can also be thought of in terms of the traditional forms of conflict (e.g. Man vs Nature, etc.). 

When we think of a group and its goals, we can generally categorize them in a few archetypal ways;

  • External conflicts include defense and attack against other groups, hunting and acquiring food, and finding shelter against nature
  • In-group conflicts including arguments of social hierarchy and responsibility.

We can further break down these conflicts in terms of the circumstances presented; for example, if there is ample food and it's easy to find, then skill in hunting is of little relevance. Considering that, in the course of the first few days or weeks of the group's habitation of the island, Jack's hunters only manage to catch a single pig, their role seems to be a frivolous and indeed expensive one, since it costs the group their unity and allows Jack and his hunters to enjoy a title that, until that point, they haven't earned. In fact, this was a political decision, originally intended to keep Ralph on Jack's good side, but ultimately it undermined Ralph's authority. 

A major impact on individual action in Lord of the Flies is the fact that the boys struggle with abstract thought and delayed gratification; a turning point in the illumination of their conflict is Jack's accusation in Chapter 8 that Ralph expects obedience, but offers nothing in return. In fact, Ralph is offering a better chance of rescue, which is the best of all outcomes, but the boys lack the foresight to appreciate this as a group goal. As seen many times, they would rather play, eat and otherwise avoid unfulfilling tasks whenever possible. The group goal of rescue is too abstract for the individual, and so Jack is able to appeal to their hedonism and demand their obedience because he rules through force and pleasure, which is more immediate and compelling. 

Thus, without force and reward to back up abstract rules and authority, group goals will fail to compel the individual, who will revert to a more hedonistic and selfish pattern of behavior.

Read the study guide:
Lord of the Flies

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