Thomas Hobbes said, "Life in the state of nature is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short". In Lord of the Flies, William Golding examines the behaviour of british school boys when stranded on a tropical desert island without any structure of society. Throughout the novel the boys substantiate the idea that in a state of nature, humans will default to their inherent violent instincts. A chaotic and dangerous society will develop when no order, structure, or rules are in place. Changes in Ralph, Roger, and Jack are examples of this inborn violence.
When the boys land on the island, all they want to do is have fun. Ralph attempts to keep order and preserve the rules of society, but he does eventually capitulate to violent, physical instincts. He jumps in the water and plays like the other boys before he gets up and tries to organize the boys. When the boys vote him chief because of his leadership skills, he takes his role seriously and acts responsible. He stresses the importance of rules and order, "We ought to have more rules. Where the conch is, that's a meeting." (p. 42). Later in the novel however, even his good judgment and responsibility cannot stop him from being part of the primal savage dance. He also succumbs to violent tendencies when hunting. He joins in with the other boys when they, "leapt on the beast, screamed, struck, bit, tore" (p161). In general he becomes more vicious and violent. He does not hurt anyone with malicious intent but when fighting Jack he does respond violently. During the fight he, "hit Jack in the stomach and made him grunt" (p. 184). Ralph is a good leader and can act responsible. He wants to be good and act morally but sometimes even his good intentions cannot control his violent instincts.
In the beginning of the novel, Roger behaves like there is still structure and society. The boys only just landed on the island and he had not yet fully understood that they were alone with no adults or rules. From later in the novel we knows that he is vicious and violent, but in the beginning he shows how even horrible people can behave well when there are still rules and order. When the boys are faced with a leadership dilemma Roger says, "Let's have a vote" (p. 25). Later in the novel he is throwing rocks at one of the little boys. Some of the effects of society are still present however and, he throws to miss; "...there was a space around Henryâ€¦ in which [Roger] dared not throw" (p. 69). As the novel progresses Roger turns more and more vicious and violent. He has no sense of right and wrong and he revels in other people's pain. When making a spear, "Roger sharpened a stick at both ends" (p.133). With the rules and structure of society gone, he becomes a wild animal, capable of killing for the fun of it. He rolls rocks on top of unknowing victims with "delirious abandonment" (p. 193), enjoying the feeling of power. When there is no society or order, Roger becomes inherently violent.
Jack is conditioned by society to follow rules and keep order. When stranded on the island with nothing to keep society or upload those rules, he becomes a vicious animal capable of many cruelties. When stranded in the beginning, he shows he understands the importance rules, "We've got to have rules and obey them. After all, we're not savages" (p.35). He even shows support for society, "We're English; and English are best at everything. So we've got to do the right things" (p.36). Even though Ralph is fairly chosen as the leader, Jack is always jealous of his position and fights over how the boys are lead. He revels in his control over the hunters and is constantly in conflict with Ralph. Eventually he tries to overthrow Ralph and gather followers, "[Ralph] just gives orders and expects people to obey for nothing" (p. 126). Later in the novel his care for rules, reason and order completely fly out the window. He does not care about being rescued nor securing resources or shelters. With no society to restrain his violent instincts, he releases his savage violence on the other boys. He beats another of the boys in anger. Roger says, "Jack is 'going to beat Wilfred. He got angry and made us tie Wilfred upâ€¦for hours'" (p. 164). With no society present, Jack unleashes his inner animal and becomes dangerously violent.
Jack's violence is also present in his obsession of hunting. In the beginning he finds it difficult to kill another animal, "because of the enormity of the knife descending and cutting into living flesh" (p. 33). Even after he kills his first pig he tries to stay innocent but this is when his violent and brutish tendencies start to appear. As the rules of society fade, he yearns for more killing and violence. He wants it very badly and seems very casual and dispassionate about the act of killing, as if it is simply natural. When in a fight with Ralph he throws his spear at him, "viciously, with full intention" (p. 185). There is no society to uphold the rules and make Jack accountable for his actions so he has no problem with murdering Piggy or Simon. He becomes more and more savage, painting his face and inspiring hunting frenzies in his tribe. Without society he has lost all respect for other humans, and has become a savage monster.
All of the changes these character represent the violence and savagery that can develop in all humans when there is nothing there to control them. Many believe Lord of the Flies to be an anti-war novel because it shows what can happen if we have wars and destroy society. Humans are inherently violent animals and when placed in a state of nature, those instincts arise spreading chaos. Jack, Ralph, and Roger all show the potential for a dangerous society to develop if there are no rules and structure. By using a stranded group of boys and an deserted island, Golding shows the danger of life in a state of nature can in fact be "...nasty, brutish, and short".
* All page references are from the Penguin Pub Co. version of Lord of The Flies