In the lord of the flies by William Golding the idea of savagery versus civilisation is explored. Stranded on an isolated island at the time of an imaginary nuclear war some British boys come to represent the struggle to maintain civilisation. On the island we see conflict between two main characters, Jack and Ralph, who respectively represent civilisation and savagery. This has effect on the rest of the boys throughout the novel as they slip further and further into savagery.
During the Second World War, Golding served in the British Navy, on several different ships, and was in charge of specially adapted landing craft for the D-day landings in Normandy, so he witnessed at first hand the horrors of war. He came to the conclusion that human beings are not naturally kind and that even children are capable of incredible cruelty if the circumstances demand or even simply allow it. That’s why in his book he depicted boys as humanity and shows throughout the book the notion of savagery versus civilisation. It was introduced to us through the symbol of the conch shell which we associate with ralph as he is the person who first uses it and becomes the elected leader of the boys. This symbolises authority among the boys. At the first assembly Ralph says “I’ll give the conch to the next person to speak…he won`t be interrupted” suggesting civilised behaviour as Ralph is allowing each boy to have an equal say and opinion. The boys have created the island to be a democratic place which shows a civilised side of them as they try to mimic the homes they have just left. Contrasting with the symbol of the conch is the symbol of the beast which comes to be associated with Jack as by the end of the novel he is almost devil worshipping it. The beast begins as a “snake thing” but by the end of the book it becomes “lord of the flies” showing that the beast is clearly evil. In western society considers snakes as bad omens because it was a snake that led eve to eat an apple from the tree of knowledge. However, at this stage of the novel the beast is quite insubstantial as it only a “thing”. As the boys’ fear of the beast grows so too does the beast itself until it has manifested into the devil- the ultimate and most powerful evil. He has a strong status as a lord although it is over something disgusting- the flies. The boys’ belief in the beast leads them to behave more like savages as they act out from their fear and they begin to lose hold of the rules, under the leadership of Jack, thus demonstrating the decent into savagery.
Golding shows conflict between savagery and civilisation when Jack and some of the other boys are killing the first pig. Jack chants “kill the pig, cut her throat, spill the blood”. This suggests savagery as the boys are being violent and aggressive when killing the pig and they don’t care about it. This particular clear through Golding’s word choice. Jack talks about cutting the pig’s throat which makes it sound like a savage action and spilling her blood which reinforces the lack of care and feeling shown towards the pug’s carcass. You can probably think of examples from your own childhood of situations that got out of hand. A typical ‘play fight’ can easily end up becoming more serious, and young children don’t always see the boundaries between play and reality. For many of the younger boys in the novel, this is exactly what happens: children’s games get out of hand and also shows that the boys are no longer feeling guilty about what they have done thus showing them becoming savages. We can see the conflict between savagery and civilisation developing further when Piggy’s glasses are broken. We are told “Piggy cried out in terror my specs!” this shows us that the boys’ savage natures are beginning to overrule their more civilized sides. At the start of the book Jack would never have dared touch Piggy, but here he actually snaps and goes for Piggy who he despises. We can tell that Piggy is really scared as Golding chooses words “cried” and “terror” to describe the scene. Piggy sounds like he is hurting and is genuinely terrified about what Jack might do with him and the loss of his sight. Piggy’s glasses have also come to represent intelligence on the island, with them breaking we see that path way to savagery is now completely open for the boys. This is the first true piece of violence between the two factions on the island and it will result in nearly all the boys becoming savages. A final way in which we see savagery versus civilisation demonstrated is when Ralph supports Piggy after he is attacked by Jack. Ralph says, “that was a dirty trick”. He is still attempting to impose himself as leader here as he says this in an aggressive and assertive tone. This suggests there is still some glimmers of civilisation on the island at this point as there is still someone with a sense of moral goodness ready to fight for justice.
In conclusion The Lord of the Flies is a novel in which savagery versus civilisation is shown through the character of Ralph, who represents civilisation and consultation, and jack who represents savagery as he rules over the boys and he is not interested in what they have to say. Through the boys’ actions Golding shows us that we need rules and to consciously impose them to make sure society functions properly. Otherwise society can descend into anarchy. The novel reflects in several ways Golding’s interest in the existence of evil, including the idea of the beast, the boys’ degeneration into savagery and the background of the war. The title of the book is meant to be a reference to the Devil or Beelzebub (the Hebrew word for the Devil), which is the God of the Fly (translated as Lord of the Flies), which is most clearly evident when the pig’s head appears to speak to Simon.