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Themes in Lord of the Flies

Instructor: Judith Dunkerly-Bean

Judith has taught university literacy and teacher education courses and holds a Ph.D. in Curriculum & Instruction.

This lesson examines two of the predominant themes in William Golding's 1954 novel, 'Lord of the Flies': Savagery vs. Civilization and Loss of Innocence.

Predominant Themes in Lord of the Flies

Have you ever been to a theme party? Or even planned one? If you have, then you know what it's like to look for ways to tie all the elements of the party together to make it interesting and give your guests something to talk about long after the party is over. Themes in novels work in similar ways. They give the author a way of creatively sharing their message while guaranteeing that readers will want to think more deeply about the book once they have read it. The themes in Lord of the Flies have been widely debated; however, there are two that are commonly accepted: the tensions between man's urge for savagery and the controlling nature of civilization, and secondly, the loss of innocence.

Savagery vs. Civilization

William Golding once said that he wrote Lord of the Flies as an allegory, or cautionary tale, to reflect his thoughts on human nature. Having endured the horrors of World War II, he believed that people are fundamentally attracted to brutality and are only kept relatively in check by society's rules and norms.

When the young boys of the novel are first stranded on the island, they attempt to recreate their home civilization (England) and live by the rules that have governed them throughout their lives. One of the main characters, Ralph, realizes this when he comes to the realization in chapter 5 that 'the real world, the understandable world is slipping away'. However, as time passes, many of the boys give into the darker side of their natures until any trace of their former civility has vanished and Simon worries that, 'Maybe there is a beast...maybe it's only us…'

This loss of civility ultimately leads to tragic consequences and the loss of their childhood innocence. It is not a coincidence that in the novel (as in reality), the world beyond the island is giving up its civility to the barbarism of world war. As the saying goes, life imitates art, or perhaps it is the other way around. In any case, the theme of human nature in Lord of the Flies indicates the belief that humans possess an internal struggle against brutality.

Loss of Innocence

If the dark side of human nature is at the forefront of Lord of the Flies, then the theme of loss of innocence could be seen as the consequence of succumbing to dark desires. Evidence of this theme abounds in the novel, and the character of Simon acts as our conscience as we watch the boys descend into barbarism. At first, the island may be seen as a Garden of Eden. However, just as in the biblical story, a beautiful place can be the setting of a great fall. Early in the novel we see Simon helping the smallest children gather fruit to eat:

'Then amid the roar of bees in the afternoon sunlight, Simon found (for the littleuns) the fruit they could not reach, pulled off the choicest from up in the foliage, passed them back down to the endless, outstretched hands.'

In this setting, innocence and civility are obvious. Simon is helping the smallest, most innocent survivors, and in turn this reflects his own innocence. As a good boy, what else would he do?

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