The Role of Government in “Lord of the Flies” by William Golding
Politics seems to always have savagery involved, and sometimes savagery has politics involved. William Golding’s novel, Lord of the Flies, may be set on a remote island sparsely populated with young boys who have become stranded and who are trying desperately yet ineffectively to establish and maintain order; however, the lessons that Lord of the Flies holds for the reader about the purpose and peril of government remain relevant as metaphors of modern politics. The naive, inexperienced boys who have unexpectedly found themselves dropped into a place where there are no adults, no social institutions, and no order try to mimic the social organization that they think would reflect the adult world accurately. The author, William Golding, used his experiences in WWII that showed him the true evil of man to further the integration of the theme of civilization vs. savagery of man into Lord of the Flies. Golding uses a political allegory to show the theme of civilization vs. savagery of man.
One of the main things that hinders the boy’s time on the island is their inability to make important decisions. The boys elect a leader, Ralph, who has already shown his creativity by blowing into a conch shell and calling the boys together. Although it is true that Ralph does show particular promise at this point, the boys fail to evaluate whether Ralph possesses the leadership qualities that will be necessary to function effectively in his role for an indeterminate period of time. They make their decision to elect him as their leader based on a single act.They obeyed the summons of the conch, partly because Ralph blew it, and he was big enough to be a link with the adult world of authority.” (50). Another example of poor decision making is when some of the littluns start following and receiving orders from Jack. The deadly weapon in most societies is when the masses start to act like sheep (Telgen). The boys of the island see Jack as a better option than Ralph because of how Jack manipulates them. Jack plays with their emotions in order to brainwash them. Ralph and Piggy represent reason and rational thinking in the story by preaching about the importance of the fire and the unlikelihood of there being a beast. The boys see Jack and one by one they start forming a separate group headed by Jack. However, Jack, as the symbol of emotion and instinct is ultimately more effective in the end, as we see in the breakdown of civilization upon the island (Gale). The emotions that Jack focuses on most is excitement and fear. He uses excitement by leading the choir boys into a hunting party because hunting is fun. It is primal and makes the heart pump. The boys relish the adrenaline and in turn make the wrong decision to follow Jack. Overall, the many cases of poor decision making led to the ultimate change from civilization to savagery.
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Another extremely important thing that takes place in Lord of the Flies is that of how each boy contributes to the overall outcome of the plot. Each of the boys has a role to play in the construction of a utopian government in Lord of the Flies. Jack is appointed to all tasks related to food gathering, while the rest of the boys are expected to play citizen roles and in the division of labor. Each is to participate in building the infrastructure of the society, however temporary they expect it to be, and to support the activities that will promote their survival.According to Gale, one of the failures of the boys’ system, though, is that the leaders fail to evaluate the abilities of the citizens and make resources available to them which will help them fulfill the roles expected of them(Gale 7). The youngest boys, referred to as littluns,” do little to support the concrete work of society building; instead, they busy themselves with play, aimless and trivial” (Golding 49). The shortcoming of this political system becomes evident almost immediately. The boys who have been told to keep a signal fire burning get distracted and the fire goes out of control. The fire is a loss in more way than one. The raging fire kills one of the boys, but when it finally burns out, the boys have lost an important symbolic and practical resource.The fire was the last piece of civilization that was still present on the island and it slipped through their fingers. This event creates conflict and divisiveness among the boys, starting their slow descent into social chaos. What Golding seems to be saying with this episode is that mistakes or oversights which are preventable in governments are common, but that these seemingly insignificant episodes tend to mark a tipping point. Inattentiveness to small issues like leadership will escalate matters until they become unmanageable and the consequences much more dire. In summation, the lack of ability to fulfill each role convincingly ultimately allows the boys to devolve into savagery.
The fire marks a turning point in the evolution to savagery for another reason. Some of the boys are so disappointed by the fire keepers’ oversight that they begin to split into competing groups; in doing so, they lose sight of the need to maintain a commitment to the good of the entire group, rather than the petty needs or interests of individuals (Telgen). The already loose social order begins to unravel; boys who were assigned to certain tasks failed to fulfill them and began to pursue their own interest. The competing groups become suspicious of one another and thus begin to act in ways that do not promote the strength and survival of the community. The boys begin to become petty with one another, and act out in violent ways. It is at this point that the more mature boys recognize that The world, that understandable and lawful world, was slipping away” (Golding 79).It is not only the survival of the social system, the loose optimistic form of government that the boys have established that is in question, but the very survival of the boys themselves. Golding is pointing out that the structure of government has the power to protect and sustain when each individual in the society plays the role that has been assigned to him; however, when the responsibility is avoided, the government cannot rescue them.The boys recognize that their government, their society in Lord of the Flies, is falling apart, but their recognition of this fact does not help them determine how they can restore order. Some of the boys attempt to do so by insisting upon adherence to a strict code of conduct. The rules are the only thing they have to keep order or at least attempt to (Gale 9). Golding appeals to any remaining attachments and memories that the boys might have of the adult world by asking, What are we? Humans? Or animals? Or savages? What’s grown-ups going to think?” (Golding 79). The boys are not convinced by the speech, however. They continue to pursue their own individual or small group interests and their society loosens its grasp on any semblance of normality and functionality. The boys do indeed become savages, inconsiderate of each other and more so, inconsiderate of the idea of the society building enterprise, the central work of which involves establishing a functional government.
In Lord of the Flies, the boys enthusiastically pursue the project of developing a government that will help them establish and maintain social norms and expectations, and which will provide for their basic needs. However, the project is doomed for the outset. They choose a leader based on a single criterion rather than a thorough evaluation of his capacities. They assign roles without assessing citizens’ abilities and resources. They have no checks and balances to compensate for social unrest. For all of these reasons, the boys’ society-building project fails. One can read Lord of the Flies as a cautionary tale. While the novel is about children with limited insight striving to establish a society, the same challenges and threats they confront are common today.