Savagery and the “Beast” Theme in Lord of the Flies

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The Oxford Dictionary defines savagery as the condition of being primitive or uncivilized. Savage and uncivilized behavior is the last thing you would expect from a group of english boys privately schooled; however, author William Golding thought otherwise. Lord of the Flies is a fictional novel written by William Golding in 1954, Golding used his experiences during WWII and as an English teacher teaching ill-behaved boys to develop the idea that people aren’t innately good. After his time as a naval officer during the war, he began to see that people were capable of committing horrible acts of violence and terror without regard for one another.

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He put this to the test when he wrote the controversial novel, Lord of the Flies, that depicts a group of poorly behaved english boys’ fight for survival on an uninhabited island in the middle of the ocean and their desire to fall towards violent and savage-like tendencies. Throughout the text, Golding expresses the idea that people struggle with civility and savagery through his use of symbolism, light and dark imagery, and man versus society conflict.

William Golding uses symbolism numerous times throughout the novel, an important symbol in the text is the rescue fire. The fire represents a beacon of hope for the boys; however, the fire goes along to create a major conflicts between Jack and Ralph over the priorities of the tribe in order to survive. The fire creates conflict between Jack and Raph when Jack let the fire go out while a ship passed by the island because Jack believed that hunting and food was a priority over being rescued, ‘There was lashings of blood, said Jack laughing and shuddering, you should have seen it We’ll go hunting everyday- Ralph spoke again, hoarsely.

He had not moved. You let the fire go out ‘ (Golding 75). This conflict between Jack and Ralph foreshadows the future conflict between the two over Ralph’s idea of civility and democracy and Jack’s idea of savagery and anarchism which later leads to the separation of the tribe. The rescue fire is also ironic because at the beginning of the novel, it is symbolic of civilization and hope that the boys would be rescued and towards the end of the novel, it is symbolic of death and destruction which ironically later leads to their rescue by the naval officer after Jack tried to use the fire to flush out Ralph and kill him and indirectly signaled the ship. In relation to the theme, Golding uses symbolism of the signal fire to express the conflict between Jack and Ralph and their opposing views of civility and savagery and how the lack of authority of adults on the island causes Jack and the hunters to fall into savage like behavior.

What Does the Beast Symbolize in Lord of the Flies

Aside from symbolism, William Golding also uses light and dark imagery to express the main idea and theme of Lord of the Flies. The use of light and dark imagery is most commonly prevalent during Simon’s death. Simon is seen as the outcast or Jesus Christ-like figure who represents the goodness of mankind and the island the boys are trapped on. Due to the boy’s irrational fear of the beast on the island, they accidentally beat Simon to death. After Simon made the discovery that the beast was actually a dead paratrooper from the war. Simon stumbled out onto the beach, where he was met by the boys, The beast was on its knees in the center, its arms folded over its face. It was crying out against the abominable noise something about a body on the hill (Golding 175).

This use of dark imagery is used to show how the boys abandoned all thoughts of civilization and fell towards their violent tendencies based on their irrational fear of the beast. After Simon was inadvertently murdered, Golding uses light imagery to contrast his use of dark imagery, Toward midnight the rain ceased and the clouds drifted away, so that the sky was scattered once more with the incredible lamps of stars (Golding 176). This use of light imagery is used to symbolize Simon as the Christ-like figure, similar to Jesus Christ’s crucifixion, symbolizing new life and beginning for the boys in hopes that they would recognize their violence and stop resorting to savagery. Golding’s use of light and dark imagery help convey the idea that the boys are struggling with internal conflict whether to work towards civilization and get off the island or live in constant violence and anarchism.

Conflict is present within almost all works of literature and it is especially prevalent in Lord of the Flies. More specifically, Golding uses man versus society conflict to display Ralph’s final stand against the savages after Piggy’s murder, ‘Suddenly Jack bounded out from the tribe and began screaming wildly. See? See? That’s what you’ll get! I meant that! There isn’t a tribe for you anymore! The conch is gone- He ran forward, stooping. I’m chief Viciously, with full intention, he hurled his spear at Ralph ‘ (Golding 209).

The Theme of Savagery in Lord of the Flies

This quote from the text exemplifies how after Jack and the hunters split from the tribe, they took the other kids with them leaving Ralph and Piggy by themselves and after Piggy’s death, Ralph is left alone against a society that practices savagery rather than civility. Piggy is symbolic of intelligence and reasoning so his death is symbolic of the fall of civilization and the rise of savagery. This is relevant to the main idea of Lord of the Flies because when Jack separated from the tribe, the littluns, the hunters, and the remaining bigguns went with him and fell into savagery which is symbolic towards the theme that people struggle with civility and savagery.

Lord of the Flies conveys the idea that people struggle with civility over savagery though the use of multiple literary devices including symbolism, light and dark imagery, and man versus society conflict. Throughout the text, the boys struggled with internal conflict whether to fall into savagery or unite into civility. In the end, the lack of authority on the island leads to the downfall of all the boys into savagery and anarchism and the death of several other boys. The themes represented in Lord of the Flies stem from William Golding’s life outside a successful author, throughout his time in WWII, he saw the capability of mankind and developed the idea that mankind isn’t innately good.

This idea that people aren’t innately good is present in society today. Imagine if people were innately good and didn’t struggle with civility over savagery, there wouldn’t be wars, or discrimination towards race, ethnicity, or gender. Our governments wouldn’t be full of corruption and people might not be so selfish. William Golding’s Lord of the Flies in many ways is symbolic of our society today and speaks the concerning truth that mankind isn’t innately good and that people struggle with civility over savagery.

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Savagery and the "Beast" Theme in Lord of the Flies. (2020, Apr 22). Retrieved from