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Civilisation versus savagery is a major theme in Lord of the Flies. It is explored consistently through the book. The author, Golding uses this theme to criticise the growing cruelty and destruction mankind is able to inflict on each other. He uses this to criticise WW2 and the use of nuclear weapons. On the island we see conflict between Jack and Ralph who represent civilisation and savagery. This has an effect on the rest of the boys throughout the novel.
The theme of civilisation versus savagery is first introduced in the first chapter through the symbol of the conch shell. The conch shell conveys the idea of how the boys are trying to create their own world similar to the world which they are a part of. This is shown through ‘we can use this to call the others.’ However, they want to have control over it- as they picked Ralph as their trusted leader, it shows the distribution of authority between the boys. The idea of distributed authority is again highlighted when Ralph says ‘I’ll give the conch to the next person to speak’. As everyone is given an equal say and opinion- it emphasises the civilised society which they have created. The shell’s power is apparent, and the boys immediately embrace the idea of democracy. The conch instantly becomes a symbol of civilisation for the reader. The boys have attempted to create the island to be a democratic place trying to mimic the homes they have left. “We’ll have rules… lots of rules!” Ralph announces. The boys’ initial enthusiasm for the democratic process shows the reader that the island is becoming civilised. Golding uses the conch to show the reader that civilization forced them to act responsibly and rationally, as boys like Piggy and Ralph do in Lord in the Flies. This shows the theme of civilisation vs savagery as we see how the boys try to fight the savagery within them by trying to make rules. However, as we got through the novel the conch begins to become less important as the boys begin to drift further away from the civilised world. Jack says, “we don’t need the conch anymore. We know who ought to say things.” This shows the reader that the civilised world is slipping away and they are turning into savages. The conch which was keeping them civilised was now becoming less important. Eventually the conch is destroyed showing the final loss of civilisation and authority the boys had.
Golding uses the symbol of the beast to show the theme of civilisation vs savagery. At the beginning the beast is described as a “snake thing.” Golding describes it as a snake because snakes are considered to be bad omens showing the theme of savagery. But at this point the beast is still seen as a “thing” showing that it wasn’t a big threat. Golding uses the word “thing” to show the reader that at this point it is not seen as dangerous and savage. The way Ralph and Jack ignore it and ridicule it suggests it is not important. However, As the boy’s fear for the beast grows so does the beast as by the end of the novel where it is described as “the Lord of the Flies.” The boy’s belief leads them to behave more like savages as the act out of their own fear causing them to lose their civilised side and to forget the rules. This shows Goldings key idea that evil in inherited in mankind and it is “mankind’s essential illness.” This shows the reader how evil and savagery is in everybody but the civilised society is conditioning us to obey the rules. It shows the reader that savagery arises when civilization stops suppressing “the beast” inside us. Golding uses the beast as an extended metaphor of eternal threat and how fear turns us savage.
Golding shows the battle between civilisation and savagery through the character Roger. Roger at first is “conditioned by society” to act civilised and not savage. This is shown at the beginning when Roger is throwing stones at the littluns. “threw it at Henry – threw it to miss.” Golding uses Roger to show the reader how he deliberately misses hitting the littluns because he is still remembering the civilised world which is stopping him turning savage. Golding comments that Roger’s arm was conditioned by the “taboo of the old life.” It shows the reader how all the boundaries that were put in place in the civilised world is stopping Roger from turning savage. Golding uses the word “taboo” to show the reader how it was protecting everybody on the island from turning savage. However as the novel progresses Roger forgets his conditioned civilised responses and becomes the most ruthless savage on the island reinforcing Goldings idea that evil is inherited in mankind and is mankind’s “essential illness.” We see Rogers savage side near the end of the book when he murders Piggy. When Roger is releasing the rock to kill Piggy, Golding describes his feeling as a “sense of delirious abandonment” which shows the reader how Roger has become fully savage. Roger kills Piggy because he can as he is not conditioned by society and nobody can limit his cruelty. Golding uses the word “delirious” to show the reader that Roger was out of his mind as he was away from civilisation. The word “abandonment” is also used to show the reader how Roger left all the civilisation and rules behind which he possessed in the outside world and the beginning of the story.
Overall Golding uses the theme of civilisation versus savagery to show the reader that evil is inherited in everybody and civilisation is stopping us from turning savage.