The Lord of the Flies Destruction of Society or Creation of a New Society Through Persecution






One common interpretation of Lord of the Flies is that it focuses on the breakdown of civilization and the underlying savagery in each individual human being, always ultimately reverting back to an evil nature with a focus on the survival of the individual. Without rules and norms to guide people, communities will fall into disarray. “Civilization is the shield that mankind uses to cloak itself from its savage, animalistic ways.” (Wheaton). However, their society doesn’t fall apart, they simply are forced to change that community to better suit their environment. The book may in fact be a focus not on the individual or the break down of society, but on the bonding together of a community through collective dispelling of perceived evil through scape goating. The focus should not be on the fact that the boys are inherently evil, but the fact that they are part of a community where scape goating is an elemental form of cleansing. The boys aren’t evil in nature, they are communal in nature. It is not that they are in a situation where each individual gives way to his own evil nature. It is, however, that the community gives way to its shared desire to focus attention on something or someone to blame. Through this blame, the society is held together in a common bond of violence. Rene’ Girard writes,
“...By collective persecutions I mean acts of violence committed directly by a mob of murderers...The persecutions in which we are interested generally take place in times of crisis, which weaken normal institutions and favor mob formation. Such spontaneous gatherings of people can exert a decisive influence on institutions and have been so weakened and even replace them entirely.” (12).

This is the exact case in the novel. The boys are thrust into a crisis when they are abandoned on the island. While normal institutions are originally adhered to, they are still weakened and eventually collapse and are completely replaced by Jack and his band of boys. Some may argue that the desire to become violent individuals is inherent in human nature, but it can be argued that it is in communal nature to bind together in their hatred for someone or thing to blame especially in a time of such upheaval. “Those who make up the crowd are always potential persecutors, for they dream of purging the community of the impure elements that corrupt it.” (Girard 16). Here, the “savage” boys abandon their weakened ruling system and join together in directing their anger towards Ralph and Piggy to create a new society.
Traditional interpretations state that when the confusion finally leads to a manhunt (for Ralph), the reader realizes that despite the strong sense of British character and civility that has been instilled in the youth throughout their lives, the boys have regressed and shown the underlying savage side existent in all humans. "Golding senses that institutions and order imposed from without are temporary, but man\'s irrationality and urge for destruction are enduring" (Riley 1: 119). However, Girard writes,

“No matter what circumstances trigger great collective persecutions, the experience of those who live through them is the same. The strongest impression is without question an extreme loss of social order evidenced by disappearance of the rules and ‘differences’ that define cultural divisions.” (12).

This is also true in the novel. Originally, the boys are voting, passing conch shells to speak, and behaving according to the rules of their former society. Ralph says, “I’ll give the conch to the next person to speak. He can hold it when he’s speaking....and he won’t be interrupted...We’ll have rules.” (Golding, 33). At one meeting, Ralph says, “...the rules are the only thing we got.” (Golding, 54). Eventually, however, these rules are abandoned. In one scene, Jack and his boys raid Ralph’s small camp.
“Ralph trotted down the pale beach and jumped on to the platform. The conch still glimmered by the chief’s seat. He gazed for a moment or two, then went back to Piggy.
‘They didn’t take the conch.’
‘I know, they didn’t come for the conch...’” (Golding, 194).

The boys instead come for Piggy’s glasses, the one thing that could create all important fire. They are