Lord of The Flies': Civilization Vs Savagery in William Golding's Novel

About this sample

About this sample


Words: 1921 |

Pages: 4|

10 min read

Published: Aug 14, 2023

Words: 1921|Pages: 4|10 min read

Published: Aug 14, 2023

Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Civilization vs Savagery in the 'Lord of the Flies'
  3. Conclusion
  4. References


“It is a fine line between civilization and savagery. To any who thinks they would never cross it, I can only say it, you have never known what it is to be utterly betrayed and abandoned, you cannot know how close it is.” Powerful words spoken by Jacqueline Carey, a well-known American writer. The human mind is often occupied by two diametrically opposed instincts, both of which demand attention at various points in a person’s existence. Through reading the novel, Lord of the Flies by William Golding, the audience is challenged to take notice of this often-fierce dance of civilization vs savagery, which is the focus of this essay. The impulsive conflict which often exists between the two emerges as a significant underpinning in the novel, driving some of the boys to insanity while on the island. Perhaps, in direct contrast to this perspective, the author may have rather intended to present, not an examination of civility vs savagery, but rather an opportunity to merely examine the childish behaviours of young boys growing up in a new and unfamiliar neighbourhood, filled with antics and superficial alliances. With innumerable points of reference throughout the novel, the author has used the island as an isolated setting to dramatically portray the struggles amongst boys. The boys who then must choose between the benefits of civility or the victories of savage behaviours. The establishment of agreed upon rules quickly became eroded by a large proportion of the boys who originally worked to establish them. The ensuing chaos and savagery resulted in the seemingly senseless act of killing two innocent young boys while on the island. Symbolically, this maniacal desire to choose the road of savagery was ultimately manifested in the barbaric killing of the third pig.

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Civilization vs Savagery in the 'Lord of the Flies'

Savagery vs. Civilization is clearly illustrated through the establishment of rules that quickly become eroded by a large proportion of the boys who originally worked concertedly to establish them. The boys created rules to help them see eye to eye and to facilitate agreement and cooperation with reference to each boy expressing his ideas and opinions. This is confirmed by the words of Ralph, “‘And another thing. We can’t have everybody talking at once. We’ll have to have ‘Hands up’ like at school …. I’ll give the conch to the next person to speak. He can hold it when he’s speaking.’” (31) Throughout the novel the conch comes to symbolize order, authority, and civility among all the boys. The boys are elated to have rules and the conch’s indefinable power to maintain civility amongst its followers is clearly evident. Having set these rules in place demonstrates how civilized some of the boys are and how Ralph and Jack are allowing the boys to have an equal say. If one of the boys has the conch, no matter the situation, that person may speak. In addition, after only a few hours after having the established the power of the conch we begin to notice a change in Jack, observing his detachment from its strangulating hold on his desire to extinguish all need for civility. “‘I got the conch’ said Piggy indignantly ‘You let me speak’ ‘The conch doesn't count on top of the mountain’ said Jack ‘so you shut up.’” (42) Later in the novel, Jack continues with this theme of defiance by stating, “‘we don’t need the conch anymore. We know who ought to say things … it’s time some people knew they’ve got to keep quiet and leave deciding things to the rest of us.’” (110,111) Jack, initial desires for rule following with the conch is now suggesting something totally different. The use of the word ‘shut up’ shows that Jack is losing interest in adhering to the established rules of civility. The author thereby is foreshadowing how Jack will act later in the novel. The sentence ‘we know who ought to say things’ shows that Jack does not want the boys to share the power equally, which in the long term could lead to fierce competition amongst the boys. Having rules leads to a peaceful community and allows people to know what should and should not happen. If the system collapses, that is when all chaos breaks loose, and delinquent response patterns begin to manifest themselves.

Savagery vs. Civilization is also shown through the ensuing chaos and savagery which results in the killing of two innocent boys and the disappearance of a third. While the hunters finish a feast with dancing and chants till sundown we watch as they evolve into reckless savages while killing Simon. “At once the crowd surged after it, poured down the rock, lept on the beast, screamed, struck, bit, tore. There were no words, and no movements but the tearing of teeth and claws.” (169) Jack and his hunters mistaken Simon for the beast as a result of him crawling out of the forest on all fours. After this horrendous act, they think nothing of it; this shows what little civility Jack and his hunters have ruminating inside of one another. Completely contrary to this reaction, Ralph realizes that something bad happened that night, something that could never be erased from their memories. The readers see this unfold in Ralph’s conversation with Piggy where these two characters discuss the night of Simon’s murder, “‘Piggy.’ ‘Uh?’ ‘That was Simon.’ ‘You said that before.’ ‘Piggy.’ ‘Uh?’ ‘That was murder.’” (172) Since Ralph is still civilized, he was one of those who realized that someone was killed, and everyone should be at fault for it -- For one of their friends was now dead. In addition, Jack and his hunters also killed Piggy in a horrifying way. “High overhead, Roger, with a sense of delirious abandonment leaned all his weight on the leaver. …. The rock struck Piggy a glancing blow from chin to knee. …. Piggy, saying nothing, with no time for even a grunt, travelled through the air sideways from the rock, turning as he went.” (200) Piggy was killed out of complete savagery; his death was deliberate, and Jack had no regrets doing it. Jack’s exasperation and frustration with Piggy’s need for civility, in all its forms, inevitably led him to destroy Piggy in a savage rage. This is evidence of Jack’s diminishing ability to maintain the level of civility he initially demonstrated at the onset of his time on the island. Before Piggy was killed, he and Ralph are the only two civilized boys on the island who took a stand and said what was necessary and needed to be said for a long time. “Piggy shouted again ‘Which is better -- to have rules and agree, or to hunt and kill?’ Again, the clamor and again -- ’Zup’. Ralph shouted against the noise ‘Which is better, law and rescue, or hunting and breaking things up?’” (200) Ralph and Piggy are the faces of civility on the island, trying to prove that the expectation of civility is far better than raw savagery, much to the dismay of Jack and his entourage. They point out that it is not always about going out and hunting but rather more about essential things that the boys could be doing on the island--such as building shelters and keeping a fire. Most importantly Ralph is still attempting to impose himself as leader as he expresses his argument in an aggressive and assertive tone. This is then suggesting that there are still some glimmers of civilization on the island at this point given that there is still someone with a sense of moral goodness ready to fight for justice. The use of the two completely different arguments show the division between the two groups of boys and what they both believe in and how they have developed into two completely different tribes.

Lastly, Savagery vs. Civilization is also shown through the barbaric killing of the third pig. After the killing of the first two pigs, readers can see how the hunters have become less civilized as the killings became more gruesome. Through the change of Jack’s personality, it is clear that his actions were definitely becoming more atrocious when he killed the third pig. “Jack was on top of the sow stabbing downward …. Then Jack found the throat and the hot blood spouted over his hand …. He giggles and flinked them while the boys laughed at his reeking palms. Then Jack grabbed Maurice and rubbed the stuff over his cheeks …. ‘Right up her ass!’ ‘Did you hear?’” (149) Verification is given to the reader that Jack has now become a complete savage and there is no turning back for him. During the killing of the pigs, Jack also enjoys chanting “Kill the pig! Cut her throat! Spill the blood!” (72,125,168,206) This is suggesting savagery as the boys are being violent and aggressive when killing the pig and not caring at all. This is particularly clear through Golding’s word choice. Jack talks about cutting the pig’s throat and rubbing his hands on the other boys which makes it sound like a savage act and the ‘spilling her blood’ which reinforces the lack of care and empathy towards the pig’s body. This shows that the boys are no longer feeling guilty about what they have done, thus it is suggesting them to be savages. Jack has always been about the hunting, his killings only becoming more and more violent. While Jack and his hunters were in the forest slaughtering the pig, Ralph and Piggy, on the other hand, were debating how they were going to be saved. “‘We ought to get some more word. We’re out of green branches! … ‘We’re going to get buckets of rain.’ ‘What about the fire?’ “(115) Unlike Jack, Ralph and Piggy are two civilized boys who do not fixate on hunting as a priority but rather they focus on being rescued by a passing boat. This division is clearly shown amongst the characters Jack, Ralph, and Piggy and how different their priorities are, and ultimately predicting dark things to come in the future.


In conclusion, throughout the novel, Golding used the theme of Civilization vs. Savagery to show conflict and the difference between the two main characters, Ralph and Jack. Ralph being the protagonist, representing order and civility, while Jack on the other hand, the antagonist, representing savagery and tyranny. Through the actions of the boys, Golding clearly demonstrates to us that we need rules and to consciously impose them upon ourselves in order to make sure society functions properly. Given the division between Civilization vs. Savagery, the question begs to be asked: what are we? Humans? Or animals? Or savages?   


  1. Golding, W. (1954). Lord of the Flies. Faber & Faber.

  2. Palmer, A. (2019). Literary Themes for Students: Civilization vs. Savagery. Gale.

  3. Hynes, S. (2003). The Tribe of Lord of the Flies. Michigan Quarterly Review, 42(1), 71-81.

  4. Huntley, J. (2007). Understanding Lord of the Flies: A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historical Documents. Greenwood Publishing Group.

  5. Segel, H. B. (1986). A Psychoanalytic Study of the Double in Literature. Routledge.

  6. Sweeney, L. A. (2014). From Imaginary to Savage: Rereading Golding's Lord of the Flies. Interdisciplinary Literary Studies, 16(2), 166-191.

  7. Coles, R. (1992). William Golding's Lord of the Flies. Modern Critical Interpretations, 19-33.

  8. Wilcher, R. (2011). Golding's Lord of the Flies: A Sourcebook. Routledge.

  9. Zimbardo, P. G. (2017). The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil. Random House.

  10. Widdowson, P. (2015). Golding and the Quest for Human Nature: A Study of the Novels. Routledge.

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  11. Kinkead-Weekes, M. (2007). William Golding: Lord of the Flies. Faber & Faber.

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Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

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Lord of the Flies’: Civilization vs Savagery in William Golding’s Novel. (2023, August 14). GradesFixer. Retrieved March 1, 2024, from
“Lord of the Flies’: Civilization vs Savagery in William Golding’s Novel.” GradesFixer, 14 Aug. 2023,
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