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

Lord of the Flies

by William Golding

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What does Jack's slashing of the green candle buds reveal about him in Lord of the Flies?

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The boys are exploring the island at the end of the first chapter when they begin scrambling down a rocky slope. They pause to note the curious bushes that grow here, and Simon says they look like candles. Native to the island, unlike the boys, the bushes seem to cower from the intrusion of humanity:

The bushes were dark evergreen and aromatic and the many buds were waxen green and folded up against the light.

Jack "slashes" at one with a knife and then notes that the boys can't eat them.

The reader learns two things about Jack here. First, he is solely focused on obtaining things from the island for human consumption, no matter the cost. Even though the bushes are not consumable, he still feels the need to destroy them. This quest for destruction will intensify throughout the novel.

The flowers also look like candles, which are typically used to provide light. Light is equated with knowledge and goodness, and Jack lashes out to destroy this. Symbolically, he therefore seeks to live in darkness, eliminating all sources of knowledge and goodness from the island. Again, this theme will continue to develop as the plot progresses.

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Toward the end of chapter one, Jack, Ralph, and Simon are heading back to the platform after exploring the island when they come across mysterious flowers that resemble candle buds. As the boys approach the candle buds, Jack slashes at one of them with his knife and contemptuously remarks that they could not eat them. This gesture may initially seem insignificant, but it happens to foreshadow Jack's affinity for violence, contempt for nature, and obsession with hunting.

Unlike Ralph, who mentions that they could not light the candle buds, Jack immediately thinks about eating them. Their statements foreshadow their different ideologies regarding their time spent on the uninhabited tropical island. Throughout the story, Ralph will remain focused on lighting the signal fire in hopes of being rescued, while Jack will only concern himself with hunting the wild pigs. Overall, Jack's violent gesture and comment regarding the candle buds reveal that he has a propensity for violence and is primarily concerned with feeding himself. These character traits foreshadow Jack's bloodthirsty personality and obsession with hunting pigs.

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What we learn from this episode is that Jack has no respect for any living thing. Whether it's a green candle bud or a pig or another boy, he has no real connection to anything vital. Where someone like Simon might see something beautiful to be cherished, venerated, and valued for itself, Jack treats this feature of the natural world as an object that gets in his way.

Again, the parallels with how he treats the other boys are disturbing, to say the least. Jack wants absolute power and is prepared to remove anyone who stands in his path. He has no more compunction about wiping out anyone who gets in his way than he has in slashing away at green candle buds.

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The reader learns that Jack has a curious, but also destructive side to him when he slashes the green candle buds.  Unlike Simon, who feels a connection to nature and views the candle buds reverently, Jack has no such connection.  He views nature as a commodity to be controlled and used:

"Green candles," said Jack contempuously. "We can't eat them.  Come on" (30).

Shown here, Jack's contempt for nature and living things seems a small concern, but his act with the knife and the quickness with which he discounts the value of the green candle buds foreshadows that Jack would be equally quick to use the knife on something he could eat.  Interestingly enough, Jack catches a piglet only a page later in the chapter and is unable to kill it the way he did the candle bud.  The boys all understand "very well why he hadn't: because of the enormity of the knife descending and cutting into living flesh; because of the unbearable blood" (31). 

Jack's performance with the candle bud is his first act of destruction on the island, quick and deadly, foreshadowing his eventual descent into a savage hunter.

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In Lord of the Flies, what does the reader learn about Jack when he slashed the green candle buds?

First of all, this is one of the first, if not the first, times we see Jack in action with his knife.  The slashing of the green buds could also indicate Jack's violent tendencies, since Simon and Ralph are simply content to look at them.  He also complains that they wouldn't be able to eat them, which could possibly foreshadow Jack's use of his knife to hunt for food.  In the very next moment, the three boys come across a pig for the first time and Jack cannot bring himself to kill (yet), although he does brandish his knife.   

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In the book Lord of the Flies, what does the reader learn about Jack when he slashed the green candle buds?

I generally agree with the answer already given.  This episode with the candlebuds is the first time we see these three boys together, and their reactions to seeing this plant are indicators of their behaviors for the rest of the novel.

Simon, the more sensitive one, sees the flowers and appreciates their beauty.  He doesn't want anything from them; he simply sees them and takes them at face value.  They are beautiful, and he appreciates that about them.  This is the same attitude he has toward the other boys on the island.

Ralph, on the other hand, looks at the plant and sees neither beauty nor usefulness.  He is dismissive of them--just as he was of Piggy down on the beach.  Ralph is practical and rather self-absorbed; he sees things only in terms of their usefulness to him. 

Simon has the most extraordinary reaction.  He lashes out at the flowers, as if beauty were evil and must be destroyed.  His pride has recently been wounded by the vote for leader, and clearly this is a response born of that hurt and frustration.  His behavior is a precursor of things to come--wounds both big and small with little or no thought for how his actions might impact others.

This is a simple incident packed with implications and foreshadowings for the rest of the novel.

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