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

Lord of the Flies

by William Golding

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Why do Roger and Maurice kick over the sand castles in chapter 4 of Lord of the Flies?

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In chapter 4 of Lord of the Flies, Roger and Maurice kick over the sandcastles of the younger children because they are embracing their primitive instincts and gradually transforming into savages. After being on the island for an extended period of time, the biguns are beginning to regress civilly and are becoming desensitized. They destroy the children's sandcastles simply because they can impose their will without any consequences or repercussions.

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Roger and Maurice are example of boys with aggressive, and in Roger's case, sadistic, impulses that have been carefully controlled because of social constraints. They obeyed the rules back home, not because of an inner empathic impulse but because they feared being punished.

Both boys are starting to test the boundaries of a new world that exists without adults who could impose restraints. They start off with easy targets, the smaller boys. Roger throws rocks at them but wide enough to miss, and both boys destroy the little boys' sandcastles because they know, even if the little boys fight back, they can't win. Roger and Maurice want to see how much they can get away with. They feel no sympathy or identification with the younger lads, who might be proud of the work they had put into the sandcastles (even though they would swiftly enough be carried away by the tide) or might have wanted to play with them. Instead, the older boys want to exercise power and control.

This is part of the beginning of the cracking of the civilized society Ralph and Piggy are trying to establish. Jack quickly enough identifies the furtive Roger as a kindred spirit aching to break free of civilized norms and approaches him with the idea of painting or masking himself to create a new identity allowing him to break the rules. Roger, especially, will show himself a sadistic member of Jack's new group once he realizes the constraints have been lifted.

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In chapter 4, several littluns build sandcastles on the beach and are absorbed in their game when Roger and Maurice purposely destroy their creations on the way to the bathing pool. The three littluns pause from their game, make "no protest," and continue playing. As Maurice runs away, he experiences the "unease of wrongdoing" and mumbles the "uncertain outlines of an excuse." Roger and Maurice destroy the sandcastles because they are gradually embracing their primitive instincts and transforming into savages. Since they can physically dominate the littluns, the biguns experience the desire to impose their will on weaker individuals and recognize there are no consequences.

At this point in the story, the boys are still influenced by their upbringing and conditioned by civilization to some extent, which explains Maurice's half-hearted excuse. In his former life, he would have received chastisement for filling a child's eye with sand and disrupting their game. Even though there are no adults to reprimand him, Maurice still feels guilty for his actions. Roger is also conditioned by civilization, which is why he does not directly aim at Henry when he throws stones in his direction.

Interestingly, two of the littluns keep their composure when Roger and Maurice destroy their sandcastles. One would expect children to burst into tears, but that is not the case. Their reaction reveals they have become comfortably numb to violence and destruction on the island. While the biguns gradually embrace their primitive nature by bullying the children, the littluns are also adapting to the hostile environment by becoming desensitized.

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Chapter four of William Golding's Lord of the Flies is titled "Painted Faces and Long Hair," and the long hair part of the title indicates that some time has passed. The painted faces aspect of the title refers to Jack's literal face-painting at the end of the chapter, of course, but it also indicates a more noticeable move from civility to savagery by the boys on the island.

The littluns, including Henry, have built an intricate and expansive sand castle, complete with complex railway lines and ornamentation, and Golding says the younger boys enjoy playing here. When Roger and Maurice appear, they have just been dismissed from signal fire duty and are simply going to the beach for a swim. They have no evil intentions and no particular motive for what they do next. 

Roger led the way straight through the castles, kicking them over, burying the flowers, scattering the chosen stones. Maurice followed, laughing, and added to the destruction. 

Clearly there was no specific motivation for these two older boys to destroy the sand castles as they walked by; what is noteworthy about the incident, however, is what happens afterward. Two of the boys just keep on playing, because the part which was destroyed was not the part they were playing with, indicating that in some ways violence and destruction are now acceptable occurrences on the island. The remaining boy, Maurice, gets a little sand in his eye during the fracas and Maurice hurries off. Golding explains it this way:

In his other life [his more civilized life before the island], Maurice had received chastisement for filling a younger eye with sand, Now, though there was no parent to let fall a heavy hand [punish him], Maurice still felt the unease of wrongdoing.

Maurice mumbles an excuse and heads off to go swimming.

The significance of this is that there is still something holding at least some of the older boys back from complete savagery. While there are no actual adults on the island to help maintain civility, their authoritative presence is still felt and serves as a restraint (or at least a sense of guilt) for hurtful activities. This is reinforced by the next story of Roger throwing stones at Henry. While he is throwing stones, which is not a socially acceptable activity, he does avoid getting too close to the boy. 

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. Roger’s arm was conditioned by a civilization that knew nothing of him and was in ruins.

The answer to your question is simple: the older boys ruin the sand castles because they are older boys and that is just something some older boys do; it is the reactions and responses to this act which deserve the most attention in this episode. These episodes are indications that, in chapter four, there is still some restraint on harmful acts among the older boys but the younger boys are already rather accepting of violence perpetrated than the older boys.

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