Two separate illustrations of an animal head and a fire on a mountain

Lord of the Flies

by William Golding

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Discussion Topic

Golding's portrayal of the loss and importance of civilization in Lord of the Flies and its implications for our world

Summary:

Golding's Lord of the Flies illustrates the loss of civilization through the descent into savagery by stranded boys, emphasizing how thin the veneer of societal norms is. The novel implies that without the structures of civilization, human nature's darker impulses can prevail, suggesting a cautionary tale about the importance of maintaining societal order and moral conduct in our own world.

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How does Golding portray civilization's loss in Lord of the Flies?

Throughout the text there are many ways Golding demonstrates the loss of civilization on the island. 

Initially, the boys abandon simple things like bathing regularly, their uniforms, and keeping themselves neat. But there are a couple of key moments that symbolize the loss of civilization on the island.

1. When the hunters kill the sow on the island and have a feast. This hunt is particularly brutal and gruesome. Until this point, the boys hunt because it is like a game, and they are hungry. But once the boys kill the sow, they enjoy the dominance they have over another being, and they thoroughly take pleasure in killing another living thing. When civilization was present on the island, this would not be possible. The hunters would feel too ashamed or responsible to take pleasure out of this event. 

2. When the boys cause Simon's death as they "dance." During Jack's feast to celebrate the hunt and his leadership, the boys (including Ralph and Piggy), begin to dance around the fire and chant, “Kill the beast! Cut his throat! Spill his blood!” They become more animalistic and primal as they dance, and the storm intensifies. Initially, they do not realize that Simon is coming out of the woods (ironically to report that there is no beast; it is a dead pilot that ejected from his plane). They surround and attack him relentlessly. When he tries to break free the group surrounds him once more and with "no words, and no movements but the tearing of teeth and claws" (219). Although they do not stop killing "the beast," they are aware that they are not attacking an animal but another human being. This is reiterated in chapter ten as Piggy and Ralph discuss the previous night's events. Because Simon symbolizes innate goodness, when Simon is murdered, all good leaves the island. This is one step closer to an island devoid of civilization.

3. The final scene that represents a total loss of civilization is when Piggy is killed. Piggy symbolizes a connection to the logical society the boys left behind. He is constantly relying on "rules and order" to maintain a semblance of his former life and to protect him from the bullying of the other boys. Piggy depends on items like the conch (an item that he finds and instructs Ralph how to use), in order to help maintain order and a hierarchy on the island. This is illustrated when Piggy decides he will go to Castle Rock to fetch his glasses back from Jack. 

“I’m going to him with this conch in my hands. I’m going to hold it out. Look, I’m goin’ to say, you’re stronger than I am and you haven’t got asthma. You can see, I’m goin’ to say, and with both eyes. But I don’t ask for my glasses back, not as a favor. I don’t ask you to be a sport, I’ll say, not because you’re strong, but because what’s right’s right. Give me my glasses, I’m going to say—you got to!” (246)

Unfortunately, Piggy will meet his demise at Castle Rock. While standing at the base of Castle Rock, Piggy argues with the hunters, “Which is better—to have rules and agree, or to hunt and kill?” (259). These are the final words that Piggy will utter. Ralph with "delirious abandonment" hurls a boulder that kills Piggy and crushes the conch. When Piggy dies and the conch is crushed, all logic and ties to the former civilization are destroyed. The island is now a savage place with savage boys.

From this point on Ralph is alone. The hunters are "in charge" and will hunt Ralph. They are only saved by accident: the fire they begin to "smoke out" Ralph burns out of control. It destroys most of the island and signals a ship. But when the boys approached by the sailor, they are barely recognizable as proper English boys. The sailor remarks, "I should have thought that a pack of British boys—you’re all British, aren’t you?—would have been able to put up a better show than that—I mean—” (290).

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In what ways does Golding portray the downfall of civilization on the island in Lord of the Flies?

I agree with the previous post that the boys' own disintegration from proper, well-meaning young British citizens into a tribe of murderous hunters is the primary example of the downfall of civilized behavior in William Golding's Lord of the Flies. Certainly the symbols of the conch and the beast play a part in the breakdown of normal, human reactions, but many of the boys themselves revert into an animal-like view of survival. The fight for control between Ralph and Jack; the obsessive hunts; and the final decision to murder those in opposition seem to be the most obvious examples of the boys' negative change.

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In what ways does Golding portray the downfall of civilization on the island in Lord of the Flies?

I do think you are right that the "presence" of the beast helps cause the downfall and that the downfall is shown by what happens to the conch.  However, to me, the main way that the downfall is shown is by having Jack and his hunters win out over Ralph.

Ralph, to me, represents civilization and Jack represents more savage impulses.  As the book goes along, Ralph loses control over the boys.  They stop being interested in things like huts and signal fires and come to care mostly about hunting and violence.

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How does Golding present troubled communities in Lord of the Flies?

It helps, in this case, to define exactly what a "troubled community" is. From a literary perspective, we can say that this is a group of people sharing some common identity, facing a conflict that affects all of them or the abstract concept of the group itself. For example, troubled communities could face an external conflict that threatens to kill them, an internal conflict over leadership, or an ideological conflict that fractures the group. All of these troubles are present in "Lord of the Flies".

There are at least two communities in the book; the boys on the island, and the "outside world", or at least, Britain. These communities are mirror images of each other, because both are embroiled in survival conflicts; the boys are struggling to make sense of the island and stay alive, while the adults are in the middle of a war. It is also significant that the adult's conflict is what brought the boys to the island in the first place, and the war antagonizes the boy's conflicts further with the arrival of the dead pilot's body. It's ironic that the pilot's body could have been a chastising reminder to the boys, telling them that the community they were so desperate to rejoin was no less deadly than the island; I could imagine Piggy seeing this as a sign that they should reconsider the meaning of their culture. Instead, superstition and hysteria drove the boys deeper into the same madness that, in its more harnessed but no less deadly adult form, began this cycle of conflict. 

It's also ironic that the naval commander who greets the boys at the end of the story gives a scoffing, brow-beating tone of disapproval to their conduct, having "expected better of British boys". Despite his tone and appearance, as if he and all other culturally stereotyped British citizens had had their inner Beasts conquered through sheer force of civilized will and habit, we have to remember that the boys were brought here by war, and they're about to be "rescued" and sent right back to it; how is death by atom bomb any better or worse than a spear? 

Other points Golding focuses on include the role of discipline and force, and the role of emotion. It seems pretty clear by the end of the story that part of why Jack's tribe is more cohesive and unified is because they see immediate results (meat, emotional fulfillment) whereas Ralph only provided the abstract hope of rescue and the "reward" of obeying his directions. Jack is also willing to back up his rulings with physical punishments, including death, whereas we need only look at the "conch rule" to see Ralph's relatively feeble power; while the conch rule was violated at every single meeting, no one was ever punished for it. Jack's success seems to suggest that troubled communities, if they wish to succeed and maintain their identities, must "harness the Beast" so to speak, identify and punish their enemies and transgressors, and reward their comrades. Note that there is no morality in this equation.

Thus, Golding seems to portray that, regardless of the scale or scope of the troubles in which communities find themselves, the great majority of them are barely any better than the feral state the boys arrived at by the end of the story, and humans are plagued by inherent corruption and hypocrisy, and yet we always tell ourselves that what we're doing is good and right.

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How does Golding emphasize the importance of civilization in Lord of the Flies? Would the same happen in our world if we lose focus on civilization?

There's a lot of truth to what you're saying.  Golding puts civilized boys on a deserted island, and they quickly become barbaric in their survival mode.  The boys who hold on to the idea of rescue as a real possibility are also the boys who represent some of the best parts of civilization:  intelligence, logic, innocence, and friendship for the sake of friendship rather than necessity.  Jack's "friends" aren't true friends...they are afraid of him and they find safety in numbers. 

Ralph is the first to be chosen as leader by the boys.  He represents logic and reason.  He is the one who orchestrates the shelter, the food, the water, and the signal fire.  He is also the first to initiate a friendship with Piggy, whom the other boys make fun of due to his weight and his glasses.

Piggy represents intelligence.  He and Ralph make a great team as far as leadership and keeping the boys grounded in their civilization.  Ralph and Piggy are the last to lose all their clothing items as well, whereas the others almost immediately have shed all that makes them civilized British boys on the outside, so the slippery slope to barbarism on the inside is a much easier transition.

Simon represents innocence.  Although he is also very sensitive and intuitive, he is the innocent on the island and the first to die.  Ironically, he dies the same day he spent so much time in the forest face to face with the pig head and where he came to understand that the only danger on the island is within the boys themselves...the dark and evil side of human nature.

These three boys are the ones who are targeted as the first to die--Simon, then Piggy, and if the fire set to draw Ralph out hadn't been so large bringing the Navy ship, Ralph would have been next. Without civilization, there is complete chaos, and yes, it could happen in our world if we lose focus on civilized discourse.  However, without being stranded on a deserted island, it would take a much longer time since there are so many who remember "the rules".

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