Lord of the Flies: Themes
The theme of hunting is recurrent throughout the novel, and is used to track the boy’s descent into savagery. It starts as a necessity and simply a means of getting food, a common need that the boys all share and benefit from. However, it soon turns into a cultish way of life which divides the ultimately kills members of the group. The restraints and rules of society are taken away from the boys quite abrubtly and without warning, and at the beginning it is apparent that they do not really know how to react to this sudden change of lifestyle.
However, as the book progresses the boy’s newfound freedom, paired with their immaturity and their fustration with being trapped on the island manifests in a primeval obsession to hunt. Golding portrays the desire to hunt and kill as a primitive urge which lies dormant in each of us, but can take over when in an unnurtured and unrestrained environment. It seems to pronounce itself in each of the boys at different points of the novel; at Simon’s death, even Piggy and Ralph found themselves “eager to take part in this demented but partly secure society”, where “the desire to squeeze and hurt was over-mastering.
I think this is one of Goldings main moral messages, not to let your primeval instincts or the mentality of the people around you to detract away from your moral sense of what’s right and wrong, and ultimately it is this fatal flaw and the “darkness of man’s heart” which led to the downfall of the island. This descent from civilization into savagery is tracked by the progression of hunting, and the transformation of characters in the novel.
While Ralph and Piggy remain civilized embassadors of law and order, Jack and the other boys progressively become more and more deranged with every hunt. At the beginning Jack and Ralph were morally and ethically much more similar, but he soon becomes obsessed with the violence and glory that hunting entails, and his appearance and behaviour mirror this descent into savagery. For example, Jack’s once innocently “freckled” face becomes obscured by a mask that “repelled them”.
This indicates a loss of identity, and sheilded by the mask he feels at ease to commit deeds of faceless malevolence against those with which he was once friends. In addition, Jack’s identity evidently disappears completely when he loses his name. He is now so far distanced from the life that he used to lead that he decides to not conform to the use of a forename, and instead answers only to “the chief” – a somewhat tribal phrase which suggests inferiority and submission.
This failure to abide by the standard expectations of society is suggested very early in the book, when on introduction Jack states “Why should I be Jack? I’m Merridew. ” The way each character reacts and responds to Jack and his growing tribe and hunting obsession, is key to how they will prevail in the novel, and it is around the motive of hunting and the unmaintainable equilibrium between it and “building shelters” that the main group division is formed.
For example, Jack as head of choir falls automatically into the position of head of the hunters. Unknowingly to him and the rest of the group, this initial taste of power and violence will lead to the formation of his savage tribe and the barbaric way of life they end up adopting. Opposingly, Ralph’s negative response to the idea of hunting is an indication as to how he will retain his level head and his sanity throughout the book.
The idea that Jack and his boys hunt to kill pigs is very indicative of how events will unravel, and when Jack’s thirst for violence can no longer be satisfied by the killing of a pig, they move onto who they deem as the most unhuman and unworthy member of the group, Piggy, who after weeks of being compared to a pig, is killed in the same manner as one. There are parallels drawn between most of the main characters and the progression of hunting, and Golding uses this to help the reader to track the development of them and the novel.