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Savagery in Lord of the Flies: Analysis & Quotes

Instructor: Jennifer Mallett Smith

Jennifer has taught high school English for eight years and has a master's degree in curriculum and assessment.

This lesson will explore the thematic topic of savagery in ''Lord of the Flies'' and how it relates to the characters in the book. The primal instincts of fear, hunger, and sacrifice are what lead the boys to become savages in the novel.

Savagery as a Thematic Topic

Some of us watch nature documentaries and grimace at the brutal and savage killings that animals engage in on a daily basis. This is because we have empathy, an emotion that we learn by interacting with our society. If our society did not regard killing as a negative behavior, we would probably kill freely and show no remorse.

Savagery and civilization are common thematic topics in William Golding's novel Lord of the Flies. Thematic topics are universal ideas in a story that the author wants to make a statement about.

Lord of the Flies

Golding focuses the primitive instincts of man such as hunting, fear, and sacrifice. By depicting childrens' descent into savagery, even referring to them as such, it is clear that Golding is warning us of the dangers of the absence of a civilized society.

Hunger

When a group of English boys become stranded on an island, they start off trying to maintain the structure of civilization. They hold meetings, distribute jobs, and work cooperatively. It is only after Ralph is elected as leader that Jack is drawn toward a more savage lifestyle, and begins to get other boys on his side.

Jack is often described in a dark manner, and compared to an animal: 'Jack himself shrank at this cry with a hiss of indrawn breath, and for a minute became less a hunter than a furtive thing, ape-like among the tangle of trees.' Jack provides the boys with the temptation of meat.

Simon initially provided the boys with fruit and vegetation, but it proves to be less fun and tasty as hunting pigs. Even Ralph is drawn to the hunting and engages in one of the hunts with Jack's group: 'Ralph too was fighting to get near, to get a handful of that brown, vulnerable flesh. The desire to squeeze and hurt was over-mastering.' This demonstrates the power of the instinct of hunting to primal man.

Though the boys could have focused on keeping the fire going and sustained themselves on fruits and vegetation, they allow themselves to become distracted by hunting.

Ritualistic Sacrifices

The boys engage in rituals, something often associated with primitive man. Initially, the rituals are harmless. Simon witnesses the boys brutally murder a sow and stake her head as an offering to a beast that the boys think is hunting them. It is later that we discover this event foreshadowed the death of Simon himself.

Simon emerges from the woods and finds himself in the center of a group of boys, chanting in a ritualistic manner. They have recently fed on a pig that they slaughtered, and they are reenacting the hunt. When Simon appears, they continue the chanting and ritual and eventually kill him: 'Kill the beast! Cut his throat! Spill his blood!' Now out of the terror rose another desire, thick, urgent, blind.' This quote demonstrates that the boys are motivated by primal urges and their humanity is no longer part of their decisions.

The boys eventually sacrifice one of their own in a primitive dance.
Human Sacrifice

Simon's death is frightening and disorienting. The boys have murdered one of their own, demonstrating the dangers of people existing without ordered society.

Fear

Fear is a very instinctive emotion; many of us cannot logically explain our fears. The boys are no different. Their eyes are playing tricks on them and they think that they have seen a dangerous creature in the shadows. Simon finds the truth when he discovers that the beast is nothing more than a dead parachuter, but Jack uses instinctual fear to continue to rule over them. Their fear also contributes to their transformation into a tribe of primitive beings.

Jack promises protection from the beast in exchange for loyalty. With this promise, Jack keeps a majority of the boys on the island under his rule. When the boys speculate on the existence of the beast, Golding points out this savage fear: 'Half-relieved, half-daunted by the implication of further terrors, the savages murmured again.' Jack quickly puts aside any doubt of the existence of the beast and keeps his rule until they are rescued.

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