The Descent Into Savagery In Lord Of The Flies
Civilization is what keeps people in order within a society. Civilization is a set of rules that people obey but these rules are not written. Civilization deals with matters such as manners and social interaction, as well as the obvious things like law and order. Although the majority of people on the planet could be reasonably considered civilized, people are not civilized at their core. Civilization is something that is taught, is is not natural human instinct. Since civilization is not natural, it can be forgotten. The book Lord of the Flies clearly demonstrates that given enough time away from civilization any person will revert to savagery.
Initially the boys are very civilized because have not yet had enough time for them to forget about civilization. A proof of this is when Jack cannot bring himself to kill a pig, “There came a pause . . . and the blade continued to flash at the end of a bony arm. The pause was only long enough for them to understand what an enormity the downward stroke would be. Then the piglet tore loose from the creepers and scurried into the undergrowth” (28). This is near the beginning of the book where the boys are still civilized. Jack cannot bring himself to stab the pig but vows that he will the next time he is given the chance. This event signifies the beginning of the descent to savagery when Jack says he will kill the pig next time.
The first indication that the boys are forgetting civilization is when the boys get too excited about creating fire and they forget the safety of their peers. This is the beginning of the boys’ descent to savagery. At this point in the novel Jack mentions that they are going to start a fire and all of the children run up the mountain and light the fire. The boys disregard the fact that some of the other children are still scattered around and start the fire anyways. This fire burns part of the island and consequently kills one of the children. The book reads, “ ‘That little ‘un-’ gasped Piggy – ‘him with the mark on his face, I don’t see him. Where is he now?’ The crowd was silent as death” (46-47). This shows that the boys have forgotten part of the civilization they used to live in. If they had acted civilized they would have organized all the boys first and then started the fire to reduce the risk of anyone burning.
Furthermore, the boys stop being helpful because they realise nobody is forcing them to be. When Ralph was trying to get the other boys to help build huts only Simon helped him. The civilized thing to do would be to help Ralph build huts but at this point they have lost their manners and politeness because nobody has been enforcing the rules that they should follow. The novel reads, “The shelters were in position, but shaky. This one was a ruin. ‘And they keep running off. You remember the meeting? How everyone was going to work hard until the shelters were finished?” (51). The one speaking during this quote is Ralph. He is ranting about how the children are running off constantly and won’t help him construct the shelters. This shows that the boys have stopped being helpful because they only care about themselves. An element of savagery is only caring about oneself, a trait the boys are demonstrating.
Afterward, Jack talks about almost killing a pig, indicating that he has almost had enough time to descend into savagery. The text says, “The madness came into his eyes again. ‘I thought I might kill’ ” (51). This is demonstrative of the fact that Jack is almost at the point where he would kill a pig. The madness in his eyes is his savage side coming out. He is almost a savage at this point.
The point in the book where Jack finally makes the transition to utter savagery is when he uses face paint. Civilization can be described as a thin layer around oneself and the face paints negates this layer, freeing the inner savage. What stops people from committing horrible deeds is responsibility. The face paint covers the person and shields them from such responsibility. The point at which this happens in the book reads, “He looked in astonishment, no longer at himself but at an awesome stranger” (66). Since Jack sees himself as a stranger with this paint, he also assumes that the stranger takes all the responsibility, letting Jack become a savage with no consequences.
An additional proof that the boys are turning savage is when Jack punches Piggy. This shows his disregard for civilization in favor of doing whatever he wants. This part of the text says, “The bolting look came to his blue eyes. He took a step, and able at last to hit someone, struck his fist into Piggy’s stomach . . . Ralph made a step forward and Jack smacked Piggy’s head” (75). This occured after Jack let the signal fire out and possibly prevented the boys from being rescued. When Ralph confronts Jack about this he becomes angry. The civilized way to handle this anger would be to find a solution to their problem and apologize, but Jack has almost completely lost his ties to civilization at this point and instead chooses to take his anger out on someone, who happens to be Piggy because he cannot fight back.
Another indication that anybody will revert to savagery is when even Ralph shows signs that he is slowly but surely descending into savagery. The point at which this happens goes, “ ‘I hit him,’ said Ralph indignantly. ‘I hit him with y spear, I wounded him” (125). In this short segment Ralph is ecstatic about striking a pig with his spear. When Ralph first arrived on the island he wanted nothing to do with killing and hunting but now he is excited by it, indicating that he is progressing towards savagery and away from civilization.
A proof that many of the boys have become savage is when the kill Simon. The boys had become so riled up from the chanting and the killing of a pig that they lose themselves in the chaos and murdered their own peer. The novel reads,
‘That was Simon.’
‘You said that before.’
‘That was murder.’ ” (172).
This is after the boys killed Simon and Ralph is just realising what they did. It was like his savage side took over. Ralph even says, “ ‘I wasn’t scared,’ . . . ‘I was – I don’t know what I was’ ” (173). Ralph is trying to remember what he was feeling but it is like someone else was controlling him, he had briefly become a savage.
The climax of the conflict between civilization and savagery is when Ralph’s group is composed only of the children who have not yet descended into savagery and Jack’s group is composed of all of the children who have become savages. Ralph’s civilized group attempts to be reasonable and asks for Piggy’s glasses back. Ralph blows the conch, trying to call an assembly but the savages have no respect for authority. Ralph says,
“ ‘You pinched Piggy’s specs,’ . . . ‘You’ve got to give them back.’
‘Got to? Who says?’ ” (195).
After this Ralph calls Jack a thief and Jack responds by attempting to stab Ralph with a spear. The two boys themselves represent savagery and civilization. Ralph communicates with words and tries to resolve the conflict while Jack uses brute force and is controlled by his own anger.
The conclusion of the fight between civilization and savagery is when the boys come in contact with normal civilization again by meeting the naval officer and his troops. The naval officer was not just the first person the author could think of, it was a naval officer for a reason. The naval officer serves as proof that every person is savage at their core. The officer is participating in a war, which is essentially a larger scale version of what the boys are doing on the island. When the boys see the naval officer they remember what life was like before the island and cry because of what they have done in the context of civilization.
Therefore, as illustrated by Lord of the Flies, every human will unleash their inner savage if they are given the time to. Although this book was written in the 1950’s, its core meaning is still important today. In parts of the world now, such as Syria, civilization is fading away and people are becoming savages. Civilization is what keeps people orderly but it is not human nature to stay civilized forever.
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