Main Themes in Lord of The Flies
This novel takes place on a deserted tropical island somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. While the location for the island does contribute to the story, the interesting thing about how setting functions in this novel is that it’s what’s happening outside this isolated island that carries the most weight. We know that the plane-crashed boys were being evacuated from war-torn England in the midst of a heated global war sometime in the early 1950s.
Historically speaking, this is not long at all after the end of World War II, so the audience can either guess that WWII never ended in this fictional world, or that World War III broke out not long after. The global strife is reflected in the behaviors of the stranded boys who are trying to make a sort of makeshift society work for them while the world around them crumbles.
There are many motifs in The Lord of the Flies that help to support overall thematic elements: nature’s beauty, biblical references, bullying, and symbols of savagery. Each of these motifs serves to highlight an overarching dichotomy that exists as the action unravels—the conflict between human instincts to be wild and the more intellectual desire to overcome any type of savagery or will to act in a way that is at odds with human order/intelligence.
Lord of the Flies Themes
What are the major themes of Lord of the Flies?
- Civilization vs. Savage Nature
- Innate Evils of Humanity
- Loss of Innocence Through Struggle
Civilization vs. The Savage Nature
The central thematic element to this novel is the fight between civilization and savagery. Part of human nature involves a desire for organization, rules, contributing towards to society, and maintaining social order. However, a conflicting desire can often be noticed—sometimes in subtle behaviors and sometimes outright, like in the case of these boys living on a deserted island.
This conflicting desire is that of humanity’s wild instincts. When we are a part of a healthy society with order and every person is cared for, we are less likely to notice these wild impulses. The Lord of the Flies removes two things from humans that help us see this dichotomy most clearly—the presence of a well-established social order and way to maintain this social order, and the lack of age. Using children as the characters removes decades of learned behaviors that could impede the expression of the wild nature.
According to the author, William Golding, humanity contains vast evils just like it contains vast goods. This is how the terrors of war are able to spread unchecked, for example. Although the boys were probably “proper” English boys before their plane crash, they slip into savagery over time. Even the most cultured of the boys eventually succumb to the impulse to act wild and throw caution to the wind.
The Innate Evils of Humanity
The main characters of this novel being children is no mistake. It implies that we are each born with a certain disposition to behave in a hurtful or evil matter towards one another.
Social conditioning helps us to curb this impulse and focus more on acts of good. When the social conditioning is removed from the situation, anything could happen. Many of the boys struggle to maintain some level of order and civility amongst them, but eventually all relinquish the struggle and engage in acts of violence, chaos, etc.
For example, all the boys work themselves into a frenzy, even Piggy and Ralph. When Simon comes upon the scene, they perceive him as an outsider and rip him apart with their hands and teeth, no questions asked.
This shows the view that no matter who we are or where we come from, we each have the potential for good or evil within us (civilization or savagery). Ralph is devastated the next morning, when he realizes that despite all his efforts to remain civil, he has lapsed and let his innate evil out during the killing of Simon.
Loss of Innocence Through Struggle
Prior to the plane crash, it seems that these boys were well-behaved and cultured young men who were attending school and focusing on their education and social upbringing.
Over a matter of time, many become bloodthirsty and savage, desiring power and control above any type of meaningful social order. Any innocence these boys maintained at the beginning of the story is quickly lost, and the exploration of this concept is fascinating. With or without social structures, all children will eventually experience some sort of loss of innocence when they start to understand deeper, darker, more adult concepts about life.
However, they are able to do so with support and structure. On the deserted island, with no guidance or structure in place to navigate this loss of innocence, many of the boys rapidly turn wild—they obsess over hunting and killing and create rituals around this, for example.
The important thing to understand about the loss of innocence of these boys is not that is was done to them but rather a natural experience that they each have as a result of living in a wild environment. Nature symbolism is important to look out for when exploring this theme. For example, Simon’s loss of innocence happens when he is sitting in the forest glade that he admires for its natural beauty. When he is sitting there and reflecting on their situation one day, he realizes that there is no external monster posing a threat to the wellbeing of the boys. Instead, it’s what’s inside of them that torments them—their wild natures are screaming to be acknowledge and can only be fought off for so long.