Lord of the Flies

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Themes and Colors
Human Nature Theme Icon
Civilization Theme Icon
Savagery and the "Beast" Theme Icon
Spirituality and Religion Theme Icon
The Weak and the Strong Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Lord of the Flies, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Civilization Theme Icon

Although Golding argues that people are fundamentally savage, drawn toward pleasure and violence, human beings have successfully managed to create thriving civilizations for thousands of years. So that disproves Golding's theory about human nature being savage, right? Wrong. The famous psychologist Sigmund Freud argued that without the innate human capacity to repress desire, civilization would not exist. In Lord of the Flies, Golding makes a similar argument. He depicts civilization as a veil that through its rules and laws masks the evil within every individual. So even while civilizations thrive, they are merely hiding the beast. They have not destroyed it.

The Lord of the Flies is a chronicle of civilization giving way to the savagery within human nature, as boys shaped by the supremely civilized British society become savages guided only by fear, superstition, and desire. And even before the boy's become fully savage under Jack, Golding shows hints of the savage beast within society by showing Piggy's love of food, the way the boys laugh when Jack mocks Piggy, and all the boys' irrational fear of the "beast." And as the boys on the island shed civilization for savagery, the adults of the supposedly "civilized" world outside the island are engaged in a savage and brutal worldwide nuclear war.

Civilization ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Civilization appears in each chapter of Lord of the Flies. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Civilization Quotes in Lord of the Flies

Below you will find the important quotes in Lord of the Flies related to the theme of Civilization.
Chapter 1 Quotes
"Aren't there any grownups at all?"
"I don't think so."
The fair boy said this solemnly; but then the delight of a realized ambition overcame him. In the middle of the scar he stood on his head and grinned at the reversed fat boy.
"No grownups!"
Related Characters: Ralph (speaker), Piggy (speaker)
Related Symbols: Adults
Page Number: 8
Explanation and Analysis:

The premise of the novel is that a group of young boys has been marooned on a island. Their plane has seemingly crash-landed nearby, and every adult has been killed in the wreck. Right away, the boys are delighted by the absence of adults, whom they associate with order, discipline, and punishment (as any British schoolboy might). Notice that Ralph, the boy with the fair hair, is at first solemn, then happy about the absence of adults. Ralph has a natural instinct to feel sympathy and compassion for the dead and the wounded. But because he's also a child, Ralph's sympathy is quickly replaced with delight.

The quotation is important because it sets up the plot of the book: a group of boys on an island, without any grownups around. On a more metaphorical level, Golding intends his scenario to be a metaphor for human society--a society in which people are free to do as they please. In short, Golding wants to ask us, What would unlimited human freedom look like? The fact that Golding chooses children for his microcosmic view of human society suggests that he sees children as really being no different from adults--equally foolish, equally destructive, equally clueless about how to be good. Or perhaps Golding is trying to make a more complicated point by choosing to write a dark, sinister novel about children and society: if even children (pure, innocent children) are capable of falling into murder and bloodshed, then what hope do adults have?

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"We can use this to call the others. Have a meeting. They'll come when they hear us—"
He beamed at Ralph.
"That was what you meant, didn't you? That's why you got the conch out of the water."
Related Characters: Piggy (speaker), Ralph
Related Symbols: The Conch Shell
Page Number: 16
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Piggy and Ralph find a strange object, a large sea shell called a conch. Ralph is immediately attracted to the conch because of its beautiful, patterned shape. Although he doesn't quite seem to know what to do with the shell, Piggy suggests using it to "call" other children on the island--Ralph can blow into the shell to make a loud sound.

The conch is one of the most famous symbols in the novel, and it's worth discussing a little here. One could say that the conch is a symbol of civilization at its best and most orderly: the conch is an almost religious symbol, designed to unite people together and make them respect one another. It's also worth noting that Piggy, not Ralph, is the one who first considers using the shell to call the other boys, and yet Piggy wants Ralph to blow the shell. Piggy, we could say, is the intellectual advisor--wise, intelligent, but not really a leader. Ralph, on the other hand, is the principled leader--not particularly brilliant, but smart enough to listen to his advisors.

Chapter 2 Quotes
"He says he saw the beastie, the snake-thing, and will it come back tonight?"
"But there isn't a beastie!"
"He says in the morning it turned into them things like ropes in the trees and hung in the branches. He says will it come back again tonight?"
"But there isn't a beastie!"
There was no laughter at all now and more grave watching. Ralph pushed both hands through his hair and looked at the little boy in mixed amusement and exasperation.
Related Characters: Ralph (speaker), Piggy (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Lord of the Flies (the Beast)
Page Number: 36
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, one of the small boys who's been trapped on the island asks Ralph--who's just been elected the leader of the island--what he's going to do about the "beastie." The small boy--probably no more than 5 or 6 years old--is terrified of the beastie, and wants Ralph to fight it.

It's important to note a few things. First, the passage sets a clear contrast between order and civilization, symbolized by Ralph and his conch, and anarchy, symbolized by the fear of the vague, formless beastie. For the time being, the boys either don't believe the beastie exists (Ralph, the rationalist, dismisses it altogether), or they think of it as an external thing--a literal monster to be avoided or slain. As we'll see later on, however the beastie is actually a more abstract, psychological opponent.

Finally, it's interesting to note that the little boy isn't speaking directly--he's actually using Piggy as a correspondent when addressing Ralph. Piggy, the intellectual of the group, is something of a spokesman for society's problems: it's his job to listen to the "little guy" and plead his case before the authorities (i.e., Ralph).

Ralph waved the conch.
"Shut up! Wait! Listen!"
He went on in the silence, borne on in his triumph.
"There's another thing. We can help them to find us. If a ship comes near the island they may not notice us. So we must make smoke on top of the mountain. We must make a fire."
"A fire! Make a fire!"
Related Characters: Ralph (speaker)
Related Symbols: Fire
Page Number: 38
Explanation and Analysis:

Here, Ralph--newly elected the leader of the boys--proposes a solution to the boys' most important problem. Trapped on the island, the boys need a way to escape. Thus, Ralph proposes building a large fire that can send out a smoke signal, visible for miles in every direction.

Notice that while every one of the boys seems enthusiastic about building the fire, most seem more interested in the fire itself than in using it be rescued. Fire itself is a complex symbol of both order and chaos. Fire is the quintessential human invention (see the legend of Prometheus, for instance), but it's also the quintessential symbol of destruction and chaos. Ralph and his peers on the island have the potential to use fire for good--to make a smoke signal--or to use it to destroy each other and the entire island. It remains to be seen how the group will use fire, but the boys' overly enthusiastic, mob-like attitude doesn't bode well.

Chapter 4 Quotes
Roger stooped, picked up a stone, aimed, and threw it at Henry — threw it to miss. The stone, that token of preposterous time, bounded five yards to Henry's right and fell in the water. Roger gathered a handful of stones and began to throw them. Yet there was a space round Henry, perhaps six yards in diameter, into which he dare not throw. Here, invisible yet strong, was the taboo of the old life. Round the squatting child was the protection of parents and school and policemen and the law.
Related Characters: Roger, Henry
Related Symbols: Adults
Page Number: 62
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, we meet a boy named Roger, who becomes one of the novel's antagonists. Here Roger picks up a handful of stones and begins throwing them--he's just blowing off steam; in short, being a kid. Roger then notices a younger boy named Henry. Although Roger is throwing stones and trying to scare or intimidate Henry, he's careful not to actually hit Henry. As Golding makes clear, Roger doesn't try to hit Henry because he's been well-trained by civilization: all of society is built on the idea that people are supposed to not be able to hurt each other with impunity.

It's important to note that Golding never once mentions Roger's natural inclination to be respectful and kind. While some people argue that humans are naturally good and loving, Golding suggests just the opposite. As he sees it, the only thing than can keep human destructiveness in check is civilization: precisely the combination of "parents and school and policemen" that the passage mentions.

His mind was crowded with memories; memories of the knowledge that had come to them when they closed in on the struggling pig, knowledge that they had outwitted a living thing, imposed their will upon it, taken away its life like a long satisfying drink.
Related Characters: Jack
Page Number: 70
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Golding offers us a window into Jack's inner thoughts. Jack is a violent, bullying boy, who seems to savor any opportunity to dominate other people. In this passage, we learn that Jack enjoys hunting the pig--not because he wants to eat, but because he enjoys the feeling of dominating another being and taking away its life.

Jack's thoughts might seem violent or brutal, and yet they're an undeniable part of what it means to be a human being. In other words, Jack exemplifies the dangers of civilization. There will always be people like Jack leading society: people who pretend to be calm, rational leaders, but who in reality enjoy leadership because it allows them to control others. (It's worth remembering that Jack was a prefect at his school in England--it's easy to imagine him sadistically disciplining other students and enjoying every minute of it.)

Chapter 12 Quotes
His voice rose under the black smoke before the burning wreckage of the island; and infected by that emotion, the other little boys began to shake and sob too. And in the middle of them, with filthy body, matted hair, and unwiped nose, Ralph wept for the end of innocence, the darkness of man's heart, and the fall through the air of the true, wise friend called Piggy.
Related Characters: Ralph, Piggy
Related Symbols: The Island, Fire, Adults
Page Number: 202
Explanation and Analysis:

In the final chapter of Lord of the Flies, the boys are faced with a surprising rescue. Confronted with a grown-up for the first time in weeks, the boys suddenly realize how far they've fallen. In no time at all, the boys have become bloodthirsty murderers, savoring murder and violence of all kinds. The evidence of their barbarism is visible everywhere--their island itself is in ruins, burning to ashes by fire.

Confronted with the misery of his situation, Ralph has no choice but to cry. He can see very clearly what has gone wrong: Piggy has been killed; his peers have tried to murder him, etc. But Ralph goes further, weeping for the general savagery of humankind. The quotation is important, then, because Golding uses it to make explicit what he'd previously implied: the children's experiences on the island are a metaphor for humanity itself. If innocent, "pure" children, left to their own devices, are capable of murdering each other, then humanity as a whole is hopelessly destructive, too. The fact that children are capable of such destruction suggests that there is always innate evil in the human soul--the only thing that can save the human race from its own "heart of darkness" is civilization, grounded in reason, law, and respect.