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

Lord of the Flies

by William Golding

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The boys' descent from civility to savagery in Lord of the Flies

Summary:

In Lord of the Flies, the boys' descent from civility to savagery is marked by their gradual abandonment of societal norms. Initially, they attempt to establish order, but as fear and primal instincts take over, they become increasingly violent and chaotic, ultimately leading to the complete breakdown of civilized behavior.

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In Lord of the Flies, how do the boys transform from civilians to savages?

At first, the boys are used to looking for and obeying authority and maintaining order. We can see this clearly in the way the choir responds to Jack, their leader. When they are first spotted on the beach, they are "marching approximately in step in two parallel lines and dressed in strangely eccentric clothing." Their marching in step is most assuredly a sign that they are still obeying old rules and looking to traditional leadership. Moreover, the fact that the boys are all wearing extremely inappropriate clothing for the climate in which they've now found themselves is another nod to their continued obedience and adherence to old modes of authority.

There is something, however, about the act of hunting, about the immediate gratification of their desires and the emotional catharsis of acting in such a way that would absolutely have been prohibited at home that seems to pose too much of a temptation to resist. Without repercussions, why not break the former rules? Early on in the first group hunt, one boy screams out that they ought to "'Ram the spear up [the pig's] ass," and the other boys seem so shocked, at first, by the curse word. Then they all take up the chant, realizing that there are no adults to punish them. Unlike Jack and the choir, however, Ralph maintains his hold on traditional modes of order and authority. He even says, "I'd like to put on war-paint and be a savage. But we must keep the fire burning." He knows they must do certain things to survive and to increase their chances of being rescued. He can see how it is so much more fun to play hunter and break all the old rules, but the rules exist to keep order, and order exists to prevent injustice and accidents (i.e. to prevent exactly what happens to Piggy and almost to Ralph, too).

So, the boys transform from civilized to savage when they toss out their old ideas about order and leadership and authority. As long as Ralph, and the traditional ideas are in place, things go relatively smoothly. But when Jack gains the upper hand, the lack of order he keeps leads to a total breakdown of civility among the boys.

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In Lord of the Flies, how do the boys transform from civilians to savages?

Immediately following the plane crash that has stranded the boys on the island, the narrator describes Ralph as being dressed in a gray shirt, pants, belt, stockings with an elastic garter, and black shoes. After he blows into the conch, boys start appearing on the beach

"dressed, in school uniforms, grey, blue, fawn, jacketed, or jerseyed. There were badges, mottoes even, stripes of color in stockings and pullovers."

Also, when Jack arrives with the choir, 

"each boy wore a square black cap with a silver badge on it. Their bodies, from throat to ankle, were hidden by black cloaks which bore a long silver cross on the left breast and each neck was finished off with a ham-bone frill."

Through their garb, Golding emphasizes that the boys have come from a highly civilized, formal society with expectations for unity and conformity.

As the boys realize that they no longer have to answer to authority in the form of parents, teachers, police, or adult society's expectations, their collective Id takes over.  The choir becomes Jack's band of savage hunters, and their appearance changes.  The school uniforms and choir robes disappear, and "some of the boys wore black caps but otherwise they were almost naked."  Their hair grows long and unkempt, and as they lose their civility, they paint themselves with clay and smudges of blood.  

The delight with which the hunters first pursue and kill a pig reflects a troubling savagery.  After they hunt and butcher her, their rehashing of the event and re-enactment that includes dancing and chanting "Kill the pig, cut her throat, bash her in" demonstrates that their hunting goes beyond what is necessary to supplement their diet of fruit. This savagery is deepened with the death of the second pig, whose head they cut off and impale on a stick as as offering to the Beast. The savage death of Simon, whom the crazed boys believe to be the Beast, is the precursor to the overt act of murder when Piggy is killed. 

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In Lord of the Flies, how do the boys transform from civilians to savages?

In the novel, Lord of the Flies by William Golding, the boys begin the novel as civilized British school boys and end the novel as savages.  The novel is set in the future and the boys are fleeing the war when they end up on the island with no adults.  Ralph tries to keep the meetings democratic by using the conch for those who speak and setting up the signal  fire to signal anyone looking for them.  The descent begins when Jack and the hunters start hunting and enjoy the killing.  They begin to dress as hunters by painting their faces with mud, think as hunters, and convince many of the others to follow them.  The conflict between Ralph and Jack adds to the tension as Jack advocates hunting as the solution to their problems and lets the signal fire go out. They kill a pig in a very savage way, cut off the head and put it on a stick.  Eventually, the hunting of animals becomes the hunting of humans with the death of Piggy  so that at the end of the book, Ralph is saved from death only by the arrival of the naval officer from the outside world of war.

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In Lord of the Flies, when do the boys lose their civility and what events lead to this?

In Lord of the Flies, it is dubious whether Roger has possessed any civility at all.  For, in Chapter One, he is described as a

slight, furtive boy whom no one knew, who kept to himself with an inner intensity of avoidance and secrecy.

Roger, the"dark boy," then appears in Chapter Two to say that there has been no trace of a ship. "Perhaps we'll never be rescued," he says.  Then, in Chapter Four he and Maurice come down out of the forest and he leads the way through the sand castles that the littl'uns have made

kicking them over, burying the flowers, scattering the chosen stones....Only Percival began to whimper with an eyeful of sand and Maurice hurried away.  In his other life Maurice had received chastisement for filling a younger eye with sand.  Now, though there was no parent to let fall a heavy hand.  Maurice still felt the unease of wrongdoing....He muttered something...and broke into a trot...Roger remained, watching the littluns.

When Henry wanders off along the beach, Roger follows him, hiding beneath the palms.  Henry goes to the beach and busies himself along the water's edge, playing with the "creatures that lived in this last fling of the sea."  Roger waits, at first hidden, then he comes out in full view.  Then, he looks along the beach and sees that the others have moved on.  From above he

stooped, picked up a stone, aimed, and threw it at Henry--threw it to miss.....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.

When Jack returns, Roger sees him, and "a darker shadow crept beneath the swarthiness of his skin."  Jack does not notice his ominous appearance and tells Roger about the mask that he has made to disguise himself from the pigs.  "Roger understood and nodded gravely."

At best, society conditioned Roger somewhat, but his innate nature is sadistic and given free rein, Roger is soon cruel and deadly.

Jack degenerates into savagery rather early on. In Chapter Two as the boys build the fire on the mountain, Jack and Ralph work together piling the branches and leaves.  When they finish Ralph and Jack

looked at each other while society paused about them.  The shameful knowledge grew in them and they did not know how to begin confession.

And, even Ralph, who realizes that the boys fall silent at the sight of the new rescue fire, feels the beginnings of

awe at the power set free below them.  The knowledge and the awe made him savage.

Shortly after this, when the fire goes out of control and Piggy scolds. Jack turns on Piggy, "You shut up!"  He wants to silence the voice of civilization.  In Chapter Three, Jack hunts and the imagery of his description is that of animals:  He breathes with "flared nostrils"; his eye seem "bolting and nearly mad"; when he rouses a bird who sends "echoes...by a harsh cry that seemed to come out of the abyss of ages," Jack shrinks with "a hiss of indrawn breath," and for a moment, Golding writes,

and for a minute became less a hunter than a furtive thing, ape-like....He passed like a shadow under the darkness of the tree and crouched....

After he returns to camp, Jack squats and Ralph peers into "Jack's fierce, dirty face."  When he does kill a pig, he "hacks at it."  In Chapter Four, Jack smacks Piggy's head, knocking off his glasses with an opaque look in his eyes.

In Chapter Five Jack takes over the meeting about the beast, shouting "Bollocks to the rules!  We're strong--we hunt!  If there's a beast, we'll hunt it down!...."  He Jack exhibits no rationality; he suggests just brute, primitive force.  Certainly after he and the hunters steal the fire in Chapter Eight, the descent into savagery accelerates as in Chapter Nine, the boys reveal in an feast described in terms of Roman orgiastic feast where Jack sits "painted and garlanded like an idol" and "piles of meat on green leaves near him."

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In Lord of the Flies, when do the boys lose their civility and what events lead to this?

I think this happens in chapters 11 and 12. In chapter 11, Roger dislodges the boulder that kills Piggy and crushes the conch shell. The conch shell is the symbol of civilization and when it is destroyed, the boys lose their civility. Roger is a bully from the beginning and has an uncontrollable lust for power and control. When the boulder comes loose, Roger is full of "delirous abandonment". Also, Roger is the one that forces Samneric to go over to Jack's gang. In Chapter 12, Ralph, the most civilized of all the boys, destroys the Lord of the Flies "totem" and after this, he is left all alone and at the mercy of the hunters. When the hunters go after Ralph, they have totally lost all semblance of civility.

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When did the boys descend into savagery in Lord of the Flies?

I would argue that once the boys go off on a pig hunt, then it's pretty much downhill from there. It's not so much the hunting that's the problem; after all, the boys do need to eat. It's that they actually seem to enjoy inflicting suffering on a harmless animal. There's a real sense of bloodlust involved, as if the boys are not so much concerned with the mundane business of finding something to eat, but killing pigs just for the sheer fun of it. The irony is that one certainly can't imagine so-called savages—the insulting term given by the white man to indigenous people—acting this way.

It doesn't automatically follow that once the boys develop a taste for pig's blood they'll descend into outright savagery, but in retrospect that's exactly what appears to have happened. Once the boys have established in their own minds that the shedding of blood is an enjoyable activity, then it's almost inevitable that the time will come when killing animals won't be enough to satisfy their sadistic cravings. Only human blood will do.

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When did the boys descend into savagery in Lord of the Flies?

In Lord of the Flies, Golding deliberately develops the boys' descent into savagery slowly, as to reveal the dangerous and seductive nature of giving over to base urges and animalistic desires.  The boys arrive on the island as proper English school boys, complete in their privage school uniforms and choir togs, but even during their first day on the island, the reader can see how the environment of the island challenges the boys' former preconceptions of proper social behavior.  For example, the oppressive heat immediately has the boys stripping out of their school clothes to be more comfortable; in normal society, running around naked would be strictly taboo, but on the island, of course, the boys begin to accept their nudity as a practical matter. 

The boys' shedding their clothes is the first major indicator of their transformation into savages, but perhaps the most shocking example of true savagery occurs in Chapter Eight, "Gift for the Darkness," as the hunters ruthlessly and violently hunt and kill the sow.  Hunting in itself is not an indicator of true savagery, but the boys' violent actions, exultation, and sheer enjoyment of the brutality during the act suggests that they have completely transformed into violent savages.  The boys feel an inherent thrill as they stalk their victim during the hunt and work themselves practically into a frenzy as they jab their spears at the sow.  Roger, particularly, derives enjoyment from the sows' shrill squeal as he drives his spear in further.  The shocking blood-lust demonstrated by Jack, Roger, and the other hunters not only reveals their true savage natures, but also foreshadows future scenes of death, such as Simon's tragic end.

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