When the schoolboys first arrive on the island, they immediately look for a way to maintain law and order since there are no grown-ups. Civilisation cannot be an individual thing and therefore the boys want to belong to a group with social responsibility, with a leader. Ralph becomes leader, after being chosen by the boys in a democratic vote: Let him be chief with the trumpet thing (Chapter One, p24). The trumpet thing the boy refers to is the conch, which becomes an important symbol of authority giving whoever is holding it, the right to be heard. Ralphs society becomes an example of democratic society, where everyone has equal rights and can express their own opinions. In Ralphs ideal society everyone works for the benefit of the whole group with the most important issues being keeping the fire alight, building shelters and looking for food.
After a period of time, this society begins to break up. Chapter four of the novel is a turning point in the boys behaviour.
Roger leads the way straight throught the castles kicking them over¦scattering the chosen stones. Maurice followed laughing
and added to the destruction.
(Chapter Four, p65)
Later on in the chapter, Jack, (who exercises his leadership skills as head chorister in the beginning of the story) whilst still leader is now the head of the hunting savages. This is a significant point because it shows how easy it is to change from a civilised activity to savagery. Jack calls Roger away to watch him paint his face, as an important sign of the loss of civilisation and the change to savagery. Jacks painted mask represents a shield or cover which he can hide behind and frees him from all social responsibility. Jack says to Roger whilst painting his face: For hunting. Like in the war. You know dazzle-paint. (Chapter Four, p68). He compares his face paint to war camouflage, illustrating that being on a desert island is a war for him.
Death is a fundamental theme of the novel, both in its accidental form and violent form. The death of the mulberry-marked boy results from irresponsible actions by the other boys. His death signifies a weakening of the social structure and civilisation of the island and promises evil in the future. Death itself is uncivilised because there is no dignity in death. It is a frequent aspect of the book and a regular reminder of how easy it is to move from a civilised existence to a completly different state and how suddenly it can happen. The three deaths in the book occur in different ways and for different reasons, but they all end in the same result.
Piggy dies as a result of a brutal act of uncivilised human behaviour. With the death of Piggy and the destruction of the conch comes the end of authority and civilisation as they know it.
The accidental death of Simon is caused by the boys terror of the beastie. Their fear provokes savagery, and brings out the evil which Golding is implying is not so deep down in every man. Without any law and order, the behaviour of the boys turns to savagery, due to the frustration and evil within them: Kill the beast! Cut his throat! Spill his blood! (Chapter 9, p167)
Lord of the Flies illustrates how the veneer of civilisation can easily be broken when put under pressure. We see a group of school-children, mostly privileged, some of them angelic choristers, gradually deteriorate into a primitive lawless group. During this change, the novel shows all aspects of deteriorating society. We see examples of bullying and selfishness, and accepted forms of human behaviour lost. Towards the end of the novel, anarchy is the main theme until suddenly rescue appears in the form of the Navy, symbolic of true order and authority: No Sir (Chapter 12, p22) Ralph says immediately recalling how he needed in the civilised world to speak to a grown up.
As I have mentioned earlier, this book was first published in 1954, when Golding was 43 years old. He would have thought about it, planned it and written it over a period of worldwide confusion and war. He was bound to have a gloomy view of life. I think his vision of human nature and behaviour is too pessimistic. Golding was surrounded by tragic events, and I think his ideas were firmly influenced by some form of religious teaching that made him believe we are all born evil and it is only through the laws of Christianity and society are we temporarily saved.
Whilst I agree with the novels veiwpoint that civilisation is a society with a thin veneer which can be easily broken down when circumstances are difficult, I believe that we are divided between those who are good and those who are less good, but the number of people who are born evil is very few indeed. I have a much more optimistic view on civilisation compared to Golding perhaps influenced by the greater freedom of todays society and the absence of any personal experience of conflict.