The Loss of Innocence:
A Theme Analysis in Lord of the Flies
Nurul Kamilah Mat Kamil
Mr. S. Wise
6th September 2010
The loss of innocence is a prominent theme in The Lord of the Flies, as it prevails from the beginning to the end of the story. Innocence is defined as the state of being unsullied by sin or moral wrong; lacking knowledge of evil (“Innocence”). In the context of this novel, loss of innocence occurs when the boys discover the innate evil within themselves. This knowledge causes a change in the boys’ behaviour and thinking. Some succumb to bloodlust, while some gain an insight of the natural evil in man that enables them to somehow resist yielding to it. The theme is portrayed in the protagonist, Ralph, the other boys on the island, as well as the antagonist, Jack. This loss of innocence is not learnt or moulded from social conditioning; rather, it is the direct consequence of the deterioration of civilisation that exposes the boys to the darker side of the human nature.
The first analysis is in the protagonist himself, Ralph. At the beginning of the story, Ralph still had a carefree attitude; still remotely unaware of the seriousness of the situation. Before coming to the island, Ralph is used to a world of obeying rules and adults. The “realized ambition” of not having any grown-ups on the island delighted Ralph (12), instead of distressing him as Piggy was. According to Michael Gelven, it seems an almost natural disposition of the human race to trivialize the possibility of evil when time or circumstance affords us any distance from it, which is why, at this state of innocence, Ralph has yet to suspect any presence of evil among them . However, as the story progressed, Ralph acquires a new sense of responsibility as he was elected chief, advocating the importance of having rules to establish a society and keeping a signal fire to increase their chances of being rescued. He also starts to think differently-“He found himself understanding the wearisomeness of this life” (95). To him, rescue was no longer a game, and they had to put serious effort in doing so- “We’ve got to make smoke up there-or die” (101). He also criticized Jack’s hunting, “The smoke is more important than the pig, however often you kill one” (101). This shows the conflict that is taking root among the boys, which is the competing impulses that exist within all human beings: the instinct to live by rules, follow moral commands, and value the good of the group against the instinct to gratify one’s immediate desires and act violently to obtain supremacy over others (“Themes”). In the end, most of the boys lose out to the thrill in hunting and rejects order and civilisation. At this point, Ralph realizes the capacity of evil in man. Even at their tender age, they were still susceptible to turn evil. With this new knowledge, he weeps at what they’ve become. In the end, Ralph also loses hope for rescue. This is a stark contrast from the carefree little boy with wishful thinking at the beginning of the novel as opposed to the boy with a more wary and pessimistic outlook on life that Ralph becomes at the end of the novel.
The second analysis is from the group of boys, namely, the supporting characters: Roger, Samneric and Simon. The four of them each experience different transformations in losing their innocence. Roger started off as a quiet boy, but he ended up being the most demoralized of the boys. In Chapter Four, Roger and Maurice were throwing stones at Henry, but they purposely missed because of the “taboo of the old life” (78). Taboos are temptations (Holland), and this is what drives Roger to become savage. Roger was brought up with the social norms of right and wrong, but now in the absence of adult authority, what could stop him from yielding to that temptation? As an example, after hunting, the boys made a new ritual of dancing as a recreation of their hunt. They have someone to pretend to be a pig, at first, it started off as a sort of children’s game, but when people started to get hurt, that shows a loss of innocence, because children only pretend to be violent (“Mockingbird”), but later on, their games were no longer child-like and were actually violent. The climax of Roger’s violence was when he caused Piggy’s horrific death of being crushed by a boulder. Meanwhile, Samneric began as supporters of Ralph, but towards the end, they were pressured to betray Ralph. They were aware that savagery was a force that was growing more dominant on the island, and later on, they eventually give in to it- “They understood too well the liberation into savagery that the concealing paint brought” (212). In this way, Samneric represents the weakness of human nature, when pressured, the twins decided to join the dark side (“Character”). Simon, on the other hand, seems to retain his goodness. Even from the beginning he was very helpful and generous as he helped Ralph build the huts when everybody went to play, and he was deeply connected to nature. Simon also experiences a loss of innocence when he stumbles upon the revelation of the darker side of the human nature after he encounters the ‘lord of the flies’, who said, “You knew didn’t you? I’m part of you” (177). He is aware that the irrational fear of the beast is causing the boys to act dangerously and that the only thing they should fear is themselves as they have developed the capacity to kill (Ebdon). At his loss of innocence and discovery of the nature of evil, Simon had wanted to warn the other boys. However, this insight had cost Simon his dear life as he was killed by the boys as he was mistaken for the beast. It was ironic in a way that he himself became the evidence of his own discovery. Here, it is apparent that civilisation is the lacking key element causing the new erratic behaviour among the boys (“Loss”).
Lastly, this loss of innocence is eminent in the antagonist, Jack Merridew. Jack seems to be the justification of a quote by Rhodes Boyson, “Children are not born good; they have to be disciplined; otherwise they are a threat to the rest of society” (Holland). Jack, at first, couldn’t bring himself to kill the piglet he found when he, Ralph and Simon were exploring the island. “The enormity of the knife descending and cutting into flesh” and the blood was unbearable for him (41). At this time, Jack was still held back by the morals and proper behaviour that society has instilled in him. When he started painting his face, he feels liberated from self-consciousness and he is able to behave as someone else and not worry about consequences (Ebdon). Hunting gave him a sense of power, and somewhere along the line, the line between animals and human beings were blurred in Jack’s perception as long as he can “impose his will on a living thing” (88). Simon was beaten to death like the boys would to a pig. Jack does not feel any remorse for this. This is because his numerous hunting trips have refined his skills to kill, until at a point, he no longer feels remorse for the lives he takes, and his innocence is lost (Chowdurry). Later on, Jack rejects order and refuses to cooperate with Ralph. In trying to get Ralph impeached, he uses his rhetorical skills to twist Ralph's words. In defense, he offers to the group a rationale that "He'd never have got us meat," asserting that hunting skills make for an effective leader. (“Jack”). His high opinion of hunting skills, over practicality and intelligence, in a leader shows how savage he is becoming. Jack was also a strong influence in transforming the other boys as well. According to Christiaan Hind, Jack’s almost godly presence rationalizes anything, and everything he orders them to do is done. That is the reason the fear-stricken boys easily give in to Jack’s order, no matter how immoral it may seem, even to the extent of hunting Ralph. Jack’s desire for power and manipulative ways often causes friction with Ralph and eventually breaks up the community. Jack has transformed from a boy who was once the head of the choir and head boy a school into a morally-depraved and violent savage in the loss of his innocence.
As a conclusion, the loss of innocence is indeed the direct consequence of the deterioration of civilisation that leads to the discovery of the evil nature in man. In a society, where there are rules and order, the society is disciplined and conditioned, but in a situation where civilisation is deteriorated and the society rejects order, the true nature of evil in man is uncovered. If one is not aware of this nature, one might easily be succumbed by it, but if one is aware of it, one would have the capability to suppress it, as what Ralph had done, and achieves a sort of moral victory to restore humanity in a society.
Word count: 1516
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