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In What Ways do the Boys Descend Into Savagery in the Novel “Lord of the Flies?”

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There are many steps, in which the boys descend into savagery. The boys, at times seem to become gradually more and more savage, as they adapt to living away from civilization for prolonged periods of time. At times, however, they seem to suddenly turn dramatically savage, usually when confronted by their fears.

At first the boys were unified after being summoned, or called by the call of the conch. They band together and delegate responsibilities within the group. They agree to have ‘rules, lots of rules’. They ‘have a vote’ and Ralph is elected the leader, and leaves Jack as leader of the choirboys. Ralph is much like a political leader in a country, and Jack like a military commander or general. This sharing and election of the leadership seems to be done in a very civilized manner, which seems uncharacteristic for young boys left on an island without any supervision. They are also very proud to be English. This implies that they feel that it is their patriotic duty, to act prudently, till help arrives, and may explain their behaviour.

Ralph, however, does not call himself the leader, but the ‘Chief’ and Jack calls his choirboys, not an army, but ‘hunters’. These words are not usually associated with civilization, and may indicate that they are already starting to descend into a frame of mind, that is becoming more uncivilized as they stay in an environment, away from civilization, with no adults to impose on their fun.

Savagery is often associated with totems, idols and the symbolism of things that were held in great importance of the tribe or clan. The conch may be viewed as one of those symbols-the symbol of the democratic leadership, which Ralph thinks is so important. It is also interesting to note that the fire, which started off as a signal fire, becomes a sort of ritual to keep it going after it went out, and this, while not savage, does mark a step back in time, and is again connected with symbolism. The importance attached to Piggy’s specs due to their ability to light a fire is yet another example of the symbolism that is now becoming evident in the ‘tribe’ at this point of the story.

Another step into savagery, towards the beginning of “Lord of the Flies” is the way the boys kill the pigs they hunt. These young boys, many of them under ten years of age, are about to hunt and kill a fairly large creature, with nothing but sharp sticks. While killing of livestock for food, is not uncivilized, the way the boys seem to enjoy the thrill of the hunt, and the blood and guts from the kill is quite barbaric, and their violent enthusiasm may be viewed as ‘savage’ behaviour. Before the first kill was made, Jack attempted to kill a pig in the forest.

However, he couldn’t, ‘because of the enormity of the knife cutting into living flesh; because of the unbearable blood.’ This implies, that the boys have gone against the principle-not to kill something that would have been taught to them when they were smaller. Another thing that exemplifies the boys’ barbarism, is the fact that they killed a nursing sow. This is something, even uncivilized tribes from thousands of years ago, would not do. It shows that they have lost some of the prudence they displayed at the beginning of the novel. As these are just young boys, who have never done anything like that before, this may have been overlooked by the reader, at that time. However, an example of this is shown again, when Roger tries to scare Henry, by throwing stones at him, however, Golding states that Roger’s ‘arm was conditioned by civilisation’ and that the ‘taboo of parents, school and the law’ still stopped him from hitting Henry directly.

Another instance when the boys are irresponsible is when they let the beacon fire out, in order to have fun and go hunting. This shows, a lack of commitment, irresponsibility, and disorganization, which would not have really been expected from the children, if it weren’t for the fact that they had displayed such uncharacteristic qualities at the very start of the story, when one, would expect them to be the least organized. However, when this incident happens, the ‘tribe’ seems to have lost a lot of the finer qualities they possessed at the start of the story, though it still is functioning as a group and remains responsive to the call of the conch- which is the symbol of their democracy.

When, Jack and the other ‘hunters’ paint their faces, in order to sneak up better on the pigs, one may be reminded of tribes who paint their bodies with natural paints such as ‘charcoal and clay’ that the boys used. The painted faces of the boys, also acts as ‘a mask’ and seems to entice them to leave the world of civilization.

Another thing that may be connected to tribes, and savagery is ‘The Beast’. While it may be thought that it is just a child’s imagined fear, many cultures that were considered barbaric, such as the Vikings and the Anglo-Saxons, also had mythical creatures that came at night to haunt those who roamed the darkness. These stories may have been a way of explaining why they were afraid of the unexplained things in the dark, and made offerings to creatures like the Grendel, or created mythical creature like dragons. The same way, the boys are afraid of the dark, and their fears of the Beast are only confirmed by their sighting of the dead paratrooper. It is due to this that they take a pig’s head, and place it upon a stake as a an offering to the Beast.

When the group stays on the island for a prolonged period of time, they seem to shrug off the restraints of the civilized world. The democracy, that Ralph struggles to hold together is frequently upset by Jack’s ideas of fun. The sense of English fair-play seems to have disappeared from many of the boys, as now Jack, who was barely civil to Piggy at the start, no calls him a ‘fat slug’. As the group disintegrates, the longest standing mark of civilization; democracy falls, and it becomes very clear that the boys are becoming increasingly savage.

The murders of Simon and Piggy are horrific and brutal. Simon is killed as result of frenzied dancing and shouting round a fire in imitation of savages, who become increasingly violent as they dance around. Piggy’s murder, however, is much more shocking as it was coldly deliberate. Roger, who was mentioned before, is no longer restrained by the constraints of civilization, and his murder of Piggy is just an example of how savage and brutal some of the boys have become. The beating of disobedient boys is also another example of this.

The final manhunt for Ralph, which concludes the story, shows the depth of savagery to which the boy have stooped to. After first being restrained by ingrained senses of sensibility, then the urge to have a semblance of civilization, the boys eventually gave way to their primal urges, namely to have fun. These urges, caused them, to deteriorate, through many steps, into a level of savagery astonishing for ones so young.

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