Death and Social Collapse in Lord of the Flies

Oscar Hammling has said, “We die ourselves every time we kill in others something that deserved to live.” Man’s relationship with death from the hour of his birth and his inherent concern for himself above others are themes often used in literary works to depict mankind’s mental, spiritual, and social weaknesses. Death is a prominent motif in William Golding’s Lord of the Flies and specific events throughout the novel are important in the development of the story and in expressing the tragedy that ultimately results from manifestations of evil in mankind. The demises of the mulberry-marked boy, the sow, Simon, Piggy, and the attempted murder of Ralph are among the most important events used by Golding as catalysts in the expansion of the plot.The death of the mulberry-marked boy is the first of several events that ultimately leads to the destruction of society in the novel. He is the first of the boys to introduce the beast and is also the first to die. His death results from irresponsible actions on the part of the other boys and foreshadows evil to come. The boy’s untimely end serves as a reminder of guilt for Ralph, who does not even notice that the child is missing until Piggy notifies everyone. Ralph also feels remorse because of his earlier ridicule and humiliation of the boy. The mulberry-marked boy’s demise signifies a weakening of the newly formed societal structure on the island and predicts further instability.The sow’s death is instrumental in several ways. First of all, it demonstrates Roger’s true self; he is an evil, uncompassionate individual who simply enjoys inflicting pain in others. The pig’s death also indicates a further weakening of the structure of civilization on the island. Meat is not necessary for the boys’ survival, yet Jack and his hunters become obsessed with killing pigs. They enjoy having the power of life and death over another living creature and sadistically torture the sow while they slaughter her. This pleasure in malevolence further epitomizes Golding’s idea that evil exists in everyone. The sow symbolizes motherhood and nurturing, and the boys’ murder of her signifies their acquisition of savage and barbaric characteristics and their lessening concern for life. The boys’ insufficient exposure to society prevents adequate comprehension of the power of death; it simply comes naturally to them. Jack is the primary symbol of the longing for power. “He [seeks], charitable in his happiness, to include them in the thing that [has] happened. His mind [is] crowded with memories; memories of the knowledge that Ö come[s] to them when they [close] in on the struggling pig, knowledge that they [have] outwitted a living thing, imposed their will upon it, taken away its life like a long, satisfying drink.” Jack’s feelings toward the kill as satisfying and enjoyable facilitate the evolution of plot and theme in the novel. Again, evil gradually appears.Simon is the silent, solid listener and the symbol of hope in the boys’ island society. He recognizes the decline that is occurring with increasing velocity in the social structure and in the peaceful beauty of the island. Simon is one of the few on the island with the capability to understand the danger in such degeneration. The decline of Jack and the choirboys from angels to torturing hunters is similar to the fall of Lucifer; because Simon, one of Jack’s original choirboys, does not “fall” with them, he remains an angel in a civilization of sinners. His death, almost martyr-like, signifies a tremendous deterioration of humanity and the disappearance of hope for the boys.Piggy’s death illustrates the complete collapse of humane society on the island. He is a scholar, secretly responsible for everyone’s survival on the island and he counsels Ralph in all matters. When the boys kill Piggy, they basically destroy their only hope for extended survival on the island. His death further typifies the destruction of social order and the increasing influence of evil. Roger kills Piggy purely for entertainment, once again illustrating wickedness in humanity. The attempted murder of Ralph, a direct result of the complete collapse in societal structure on the island, exemplifies the loss of reasoning and rational thinking. The fact that the boys hunt him with the intention to kill him and place his head on a stake is the final illustration of the evil that has overcome the island like a cloud of volcanic ash, eating away at humanity like acid. William Golding further enhances his theme by his portrayal of death and the crumbling structure of civilization on the island. The correlation between malevolence and complete social collapse is evident in the paired symbolic and literal uses of death and evil in the boys’ isolated community; indeed, each of the deaths in the novel is instrumental in the author’s depiction of inborn evil and effectively acts as a catalyst in the chain of events culminating in the complete destruction of society on the island.

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