A continuing controversy surrounding the political message of the novel and its view of human nature has led some readers to challenge its status as a book suitable for children. The American Library Association thus positioned Lord of the Flies at number 70 on its list of the 100 most challenged books of 1990-2000. Among literary critics of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, however, Lord of the Flies has been revisited less as an allegory of human evil than as a literary expression of Cold War ideology. This historicizing does not do justice to the novel. But in terms of reception history, contemporary critics are right to note that the novel's position at the center of many English curricula across America and Great Britain during the Cold War illustrates how the pedagogy of literature has been used to bolster national identity and ideology.
The theme of Lord of the Flies has been questioned and speculated about for decades. To answer the critics, Golding said that the theme was to trace the problems of society back to the sinful nature of man. He wrote the book to show how political systems cannot govern society effectively without first taking into consideration the defects of human nature.
The defects of human nature are exemplified in Golding’s novel through the characters of Jack and his hunters. Here, Golding shows that men are inherently evil; if left alone to fend for themselves, they will revert back to the savage roots of their ancestors. This is seen in the novel near the end, when the tribe is hunting Ralph. Matters had become quite out of hand by this time. Even the naval officer who saves the boys knows their society has become savage.
Yet Golding’s last comment in his press release criticizes not only the boys on the island but also the society of adults in which the officer lives. Golding asks— while the ship saves the boys from killing each other, who will save the ship from killing other ships or being killed? In this way the society of the outside world mirrors the island society on a larger level. Remember that the novel takes place during World War II. Golding got the idea for the book because of his experiences in the war, where he served in the Navy and learned the inherent sinfulness of man. It’s interesting that the war is mentioned indirectly at the beginning and end of the novel but nowhere in between. This is a remarkable literary device of Golding.
After reading any significant portion of this site, it will become obvious that Piggy and Jack symbolize two opposite extremes of human behavior while Ralph is pulled between these philosophies. Piggy demands adherence to the rules of his auntie while Jack subscribes to the philosophy, "If it’s fun, do it." Ralph empathizes with parts of both sides; that is why he walks the tight rope. Eventually he seems to side with Piggy, but actually Ralph never changes his philosophy— it is Jack and the rest of the boys who become more extreme in theirs (hunting humans, forming their own tribe, etc.). In this way Ralph portrays the role of government in any modern society. While he wants to satisfy the wishes of the public, he must also realize that certain rules of behavior must be followed in order to prevent anarchy.
Unfortunately anarchy defeats order. This is the outcome because Golding believed that government is an ineffective way to keep people together. No matter how logical or reasonable, government will eventually have to give in to the anarchical demands of the public.
For alternate themes, see the character sections-- especially the Simon profile.
Lord of the Flies is an allegorical novel, and many of its characters signify important ideas or themes. Ralph represents order, leadership, and civilization. Piggy represents the scientific and intellectual aspects of civilization. Jack represents unbridled savagery and the desire for power. Simon represents natural human goodness. Roger represents brutality and bloodlust at their most extreme. To the extent that the boys’ society resembles a political state, the littluns might be seen as the common people, while the older boys represent the ruling classes and political leaders. The relationships that develop between the older boys and the younger ones emphasize the older boys’ connection to either the civilized or the savage instinct: civilized boys like Ralph and Simon use their power to protect the younger boys and advance the good of the group; savage boys like Jack and Roger use their power to gratify their own desires, treating the littler boys as objects for their own amusement.