Lord of the Flies is Golding's attempt to "trace the defects of society back to the defects of human nature" (p 204). Golding uses the case of a stranded group of school boys to examine the effects of the un-structured, secluded life. The boys demonstrate that humans in their most natural state will revert to their violent instincts. A dangerous society will develop if there are no rules or structure. Throughout the novel, the changes in Jack, Ralph and Roger demonstrate this inherent violence.
Roger is a terrifying character; the rules from the society that he left are the only things that keep him civil. It is shocking to remember the boys' first meeting when it was Roger, of all people, who suggested that they hold "a vote" (p 22). He demonstrates that even the most malicious people can be reasonable when there are rules and structure. Before the society of the island was too corrupted, Roger "[throws] to miss" (p 62) because he remembers that hurting little kids is bad. However, he becomes more and more savage until he completely loses his ability to distinguish between right and wrong. With no one there to control him, Roger becomes "a terror," (p 189) rolling rocks with "delirious abandonment" (p 180) onto unsuspecting victims. Roger becomes dangerous when there are no rules to control his violent instincts.
Ralph tries to maintain the rules that the boys came up with. The stresses of the island push him over the edge and he succumbs to his violent desires. Ralph wants to be like the rest of the boys- playing, having fun and not having a care in the world. However, the boys voted him as chief and he takes his role seriously. He argues with Jack about the importance of the rules saying, "You voted me for chief. Didn't you hear the conch?" (p 176) He was part of mob of boys that "poured down the rock, leapt on the beast, screamed, struck, bit, tore" (p 153). His morals and judgement could not contain his primal instinct to join the hypnotizing dance of the murderous savages. Ralph becomes more and more animalistic. "Ralph hit Jack in the stomach and made him grunt. Then they were facing each other again, panting and furious, but unnerved by each other's ferocity" (p 179). He never wanted to act violently but when provoked, he does retaliate. Ralph has good intentions and morals but even he cannot control his aggressive instincts; as time progresses on the island, his humanity diminishes.
Jack is trained by society to want rules and order; however, his true feelings come through when society is no longer in the picture. Fresh off the plane, Jack tells the other boys, "We've got to have rules and obey them. After all, we're not savages" (p 33). Almost as soon as the rules are made, he ignores them and revels in his role as leader of the hunters. Jack constantly argues with Ralph over the way the boys are lead. During the meeting in which he storms off to form his own tribe, Jack shouts, "He's not a hunterâ¦ [Ralph] just gives orders and expects people to obey for nothing." (p 126) Leading up to this breaking point, the confrontations had been increasing in number and volatility. When Jack has his own tribe, his rationality disappears completely and he does not care about doing things to increase their chances of getting rescued. Without a civil society to keep his violent instincts in check, Jack is free to unleash his brutal actions on his tribe. Roger tells Robert that Jack is "going to beat Wilfred. He got angry and made us tie Wilfred upâ¦for hours." (p 159) Jack's respect for the rules vanishes away when the boys are stranded on the island. The juvenile society liberates Jack from the rules of his former society and brings out the violent savage within him.
Hunting and killing is an important to Jack. These violent tendencies are present from the beginning but only become a problem after he starts to question the rules. He maintains his innocence and compassion until he kills his first pig. This act of brutality is the first sign that his murderous and violent instincts are revealing themselves. When Jack first encounters a pig, he can't kill it "because of the enormity of the knife descending and cutting into living flesh" (p 31). However, as time progresses, he longs for more bloodshed and treats death and violence with a nonchalance that seems only natural to him. He calmly tells Roger to "sharpen a stick at both ends" (p 136) so that he can display the "dripping sow's head" (p 136) on it. Without the structure of society there is nothing to stop Jack's inherent violence. During one conflict, he "viciously, with full intention" (p 181) throws his spear at Ralph. He can murder or attempt murder with a clear conscious because there is nobody there to make him take responsibility for his actions.
The changes in Jack, Ralph and Roger show that people in their most natural state will revert to their violent instincts. A dangerous society developed when there were no rules or structure to control the aggressive behaviours. Using a stranded group of boys and an isolated island, Golding creates an interesting picture of life in a state of nature.
Golding, William. Lord of the Flies. New York: Penguin Group, 1954