Civilization, Power and Moral Consequences in Lord of the Flies

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Order, leadership, power, and moral consequences are some concepts needed in society to maintain civilization. Lord of the Flies by William Golding explores these ideological struggles between two main characters: Ralph and Jack. With different perspectives about how one should rule, they both challenge each other from the start. The novel starts off with a plane crash in the middle of an unknown island where a group of young English boys are isolated without any adults, and are thus tested on survival and morality.

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Ralph, our protagonist, steps up right away after being elected leader. He is portrayed as a democratic character that is quick to enforce rules, and aid the group. He is the primary representative of civilization, order, and authoritative leadership from traditional school structures. Jack is Ralph’s antagonist who represents the savagery and dictatorship that a tyrant would have. His selfish desire to gain power and control over the group, makes Jack never think of the moral consequences to ruling the island. By the end of the novel, Jack morphs into that corrupt leader. Although Jack’s use of coercive power is accepted when the boys descend into their animalistic behavior, only Ralph’s referent power can be truly accepted as legitimate by civilization and society.

In the beginning of Lord of the Flies, the “mighty” conch is introduced which is the most valuable symbol from the novel and the first discovery. Although Ralph finds it, Piggy comes up with the plan to blow on it to find the others on the island (Golding 8). Piggy’s action shows his expert power; however, Ralph’s tool of referent power takes over and because of the conch, Ralph is elected as the leader of the group. The moment Ralph is elected leader it portrays not only the power the conch really possesses, but also shows that the boys are aware that electing a leader is the only way for things to work out; the boys believe in the civilization Ralph is forming.

Ralph gives the boys the idea of voting and the idea of freedom by raising the conch and saying they have to have a chief to decide things (Golding 11). This portrays Ralph’s intuitive understanding of order and law, a main characteristic of democracy, where the boys have the opportunity for choices. It is decided later on that whoever holds the conch in the boys’ meetings has the right to speak, and everyone else has to listen (Golding 33). This not only gives the conch power, but also gives the boys the power to be heard. Thus, the conch is what makes the island a civilized society from the start. Having the conch represents the order and law in the boys’ island, because of the right they are offered from this conch which, of course, is freedom of speech.

Throughout the novel, Ralph, through leadership, acts to build a civilized society. One of the most astonishing approaches he takes is when all the boys build the shelters. As the elected leader, Ralph is shown to be altruistic as he quickly thinks of the group’s safety before his. Ralph knows in order to maintain civilization and overcome their fear, the boys have to have something they can feel safe in and call home. Ralph gives the feeling of hope to the boys when he talks about the queen’s maps. The maps gave the assembly of boys a sense of safety by his words and the respect towards him bestowing even more legitimate power to Ralph (Golding 29). Without the feeling of hope that Ralph gave to the boys, the island would have formed in utter chaos. Furthermore, building the shelters didn’t just provide safety, but it also created a bond between the boys and that is teamwork which is needed to maintain a civilized society. Ralph’s authority over his legitimate power is what kept the island civilized and secure from the start.

The guiltless young boy named Jack starts to change into the enemy of the story after Ralph becomes gains legitimate power. In response to Ralph’s power, Jack paints on an undermining red and white face thickly striped with charcoal that connects backwards right ear to left of his jaw, and when he sees his reflection he begins laughing forebodingly around a pool of water (Golding 63). Jack sees the impression of his painted face in the pool, and he changes absolutely. Jack becomes aware that behind this mask, he is free from all the rules and doesn’t need to abide by the civilization that Ralph has created.

After Jack begins hunting with his mask, a beast appears on the island threatening the civilization that Ralph has created. The nonexistent monster that scares all the young boys represents the basic brutality inside every person in society. The young boys fear the beastie; however, just Simon acknowledges that the fear doesn’t exist in the monster, but it exists inside every one of the boys (Golding 114). As the young boys become increasingly savage, their confidence in the monster becomes more grounded. The boys conduct is the thing that brings the beastie into reality, so the more brutally the kids act, the more genuine the monster becomes. Simon, alone, understands how the “murkiness of man’s heart” influences every one of us, and his knowledge is the only challenge to the brutality.

The boys turn into the animalistic monster they fear when they murder Simon: the most civilized of them all. From this, Golding contends that individuals are on a excruciating basic level of savagery, and naturally find delight in brutality even at the cost of civilization. While the civic establishments that Ralph creates flourish, they are simply concealing the monster within. Ralph who is no longer the little church boy realizes this in the end of the novel when he is finally, rescued from the island. Instead of Ralph being happy he is grieving over the end of innocence and his wise friend called Piggy (Golding 225). This morphs Ralph into being a matured young English man, because now he knows a coerciveness exist in all people.

Although Ralph is imperfect like the rest of humankind, he is depicted as a moderately empathetic leader, who is a defender of civilization and wishes to build up an organized and agreeable life on the island where a great possibility of the boys being rescued is present. Without Ralphs order, leadership, power, and moral consequences the boys would have never been rescued. Therefore, only Ralph’s referent power can be truly accepted as legitimate by civilization and society.

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Civilization, Power and Moral Consequences in Lord of the Flies. (2019, Mar 12). Retrieved from