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Internal and External Conflicts in the Novel ”Lord of the Flies” by William Golding

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Conflict is not something that can be avoided, especially in fiction. In fact, conflict is the main purpose of how a story came to be – without conflict, there will be no story. As quoted from Peder Hill (n.d.), “Its the primary ingredient that weaves together all the other elements of a novel”. However, conflict can arise in a story in various forms and they alter the course of the story. For instance, a conflict of decision. What decision is made by the characters moves the story. This is called external conflict, which Rector (2002) defines as “a struggle between a character and an outside force”. On the other hand, conflict within a character may also arise, which is called internal conflict. Internal conflict means “a struggle that takes place in a character’s mind” (Rector, 2002). In the novel Lord of the Flies by William Golding, these two conflicts affect the course of events, an din the process moves the story.

Lord of the Flies tells the story of British schoolboys, who in attempt to be transported away from the ongoing atomic war, is instead stranded on an island after their plane crashed. In their attempt to survive, they of course need a leader. The need for a leader arises a conflict that in turn plays throughout the story in the form of the protagonist, Ralph, and the antagonist, Jack. Ralph, the protagonist, is portrayed by Golding as charismatic by appearance. This is apparent in the first chapter, in the lines “But there was a stillness about Ralph as he sat that marked him out: there was his size, and attractive apperance…” (pg. 22). Even though the boys could see that Piggy was the one with the knowledge and Jack with authority, the boys chose Ralph as their ‘chief’ because of his charismatic appearance. This instantly creates a conflict between Ralph and Jack, which Golding highlights in the first chapter as well; “…the freckles on Jack’s face dissapeared under a blush of mortification.” (pg. 23) The conflict will then heighten as the story progresses, creating not only external conflict between the two, but internal conflicts among the other boys as well.

The most obvious external conflict would be the conflict of interest between Ralph and Jack. Even in the first chapter, the interests of both boys differ. Ralph is intent on being rescued, as evident in the lines “If this isn’t an island we might be rescued straight away.” (pg. 23) while Jack is bent on creating an “army” or “hunters”. Their conflict of interest deepens in the third chapter in the lines “Rescue? Yes, of course! All the same, I’d like to catch a pig first – ” (pg. 53), indicating that Jack sees the catching of the pig as more important than getting rescued. On the other hand, Ralph wants to make fire so that “if a ship comes near the island” (pg. 38), they would get rescued. Gradually, the conflict between them progresses when Ralph suggests they build shelters, but Jack “wants meat” (pg. 51) and does not help with the shelters. However, the climax of their conflict happens in chapter four, where Jack collects all his hunters, including those who were on guard of the fire, to hunt with him. This causes the fire to flame out, resulting in a passing ship not notice them.

At this point, Ralph could no longer contain his disagreements with Jack when he bursts; “…You and your hunting! We might have gone home – (…) I was chief and you were going to do what I said.” (pg. 70) It was after this that the rift between Ralph and Jack begins to widen, and the appearance of ‘the Beast’ later gives Jack an advantage to turn everyone against Ralph as well. Jack uses the littluns’ fear of the Beast to create another tribe that hunts in chapter 8 when he said “We hunt and feast and have fun. If you want to join my tribe…” (pg. 140), while Ralph is still in his quest of being rescued by putting emphasis on the lighting of the fire to attract a passing ship’s attention, as said in the line “Without the fire we can’t be rescued.” (pg. 142)

The conflict between Ralph and Jack not only creates an internal conflict between the protagonist and the antagonist, but it also arises some internal conflict among some of the boys. Simon, for instance, battles with himself about the ‘beast’. When the discussion about the beast goes on in chapter five, Simon is hesitant on explaining about the beast. From his line “maybe there is a beast” (pg. 89), he struggles to explain to everyone what he thought the beast really is. Simon knows that the beast is not corporeal, but rather an evil within humankind. His conflict within himself regarding the beast’s identity moves the story when he ventures out to search for the beast. In result, he stumbles into the Lord of the Flies, who confirms his knowledge about the beast – that it is actually the evil within the boys. It also ends up in his death, when he wants to tell the boys about the ‘real’ beast. As for Piggy, he tries very hard to gain everyone’s approval, especially Ralph’s. His desire for approval is apparent since the first chapter, when he asked for Ralph’s name and expects Ralph to ask his in return (pg. 11).

But it is more apparent in the fourth chapter, when Piggy suggests to Ralph that they build a sundial (pg. 64). Ralph’s reaction towards Piggy’s idea was out of pity, but Piggy misinterpreted it as “friendliness” and “rejoiced” at Ralph’s smile. Piggy, however, did not seek Jack’s approval, as he always retaliated Jack’s abusive behaviour towards him. Jack kept on bullying Piggy physically – punching him and broke his glasses in the fourth chapter – and verbally – calling him Fatty now and then – that Piggy often sought protection from Ralph. This shows Piggy’s dependent state despite his cleverness. That is why Piggy is always seeking approval from Ralph, to prove that he is worthy of Ralph’s protection. Piggy’s constant need for Ralph’s approval moves the story in a way that if Ralph does not approve of him and feels no need to protect him from Jack, Piggy would be of no relevance to everyone. If Piggy were to be of no relevance, then there would not be fire and Ralph would not have someone who could remind him not to descend into savagery.

The protagonist, Ralph, and the antagonist, Jack, also deals with internal conflict. Ralph’s internal conflict would be to remain his civilized nature. In chapter five, Ralph sees the boys slowly losing themselves into savagery as they focus on the beast during the assembly. Then, during the hunt for the beast, Ralph experienced hunting for the first time, and his “desire to squeeze and hurt was over-mastering” (pg. 115). Finally, after Jack left to form his own tribe, Ralph considered joining in order to be safe and lose all the responsibility he’s been burdened as chief, as evident in the lines “…Ralph, (…), found themselves eager to take a place in this demented but partly secure society.” (pg. 152) Ralph did not join, but he was slowly losing his sense, as evident in the eleventh chapter, when he stutters to explain about the fire, but he managed to keep his civilized nature thanks to Piggy.

Ralph’s constant struggle to remain civilized is also the cause of his ongoing conflict with Jack, who has succumbed to savagery after he had his first kill. In the third chapter, Golding describes Jack talking about killing the pig with “madness in his eyes” (pg. 51). This shows that Jack has descended to savagery due to his bloodlust. Jack does not even struggle to remain civilized, instead he gave into savagery through his bloodlust and even formed his own tribe that focuses on hunting. Therefore, Ralph’s struggle to maintain civilized and Jack’s voluntary descend to savagery moves the story due to their difference in interest internally and externally, causing the events in the story such as the struggle of leadership among the boys, the separation of the boys and unintentionally, their rescue.

In summary, a good story is never without a conflict. If so, the story would not progress, and the characters would not develop. In William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, the external and internal conflict among the boys effects the course of events, and in turn moves the story. Externally, there is the conflict of interest between Ralph and Jack, the protagonist and the antagonist, leading to a power struggle. Their conflict results in a series of internal conflicts among the boys such as Piggy and Simon, as well as themselves. Without their conflicts, the events of the story would not take place. Therefore, conflict in any story is important, as without it, there would be no story to tell.

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