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The Scrivener: Lord of the Flies - 4

…William Golding is making the point that the shape of society does not depend on systems and rules but on the people who make them. Defects in society arise from defects in human nature…

Brian Barratt’s astute explanation of Golding’s great and imperishable novel goes to the very heart of how we humans organise, or fail to organise, our communal affairs.

To read the first three of this series of eight articles, and lots of othr literary treats by Brian, please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/the_scrivener/

For a brisk bout of mental calisthenics visit Brian’s Web site The Brain Rummager www.alphalink.com.au/~umbidas/

The Conch, Pigs, And The Fall

Soon after they first emerge from the crowded trees and prolific undergrowth after their plane has crash-landed, Ralph and Piggy find a conch shell on the sandy shore of the lagoon. Ralph inspects it, intrigued. Piggy tells him what it is and what they can do with it. One of his friends had a conch shell, and:

...He used to blow it and then his mum would come.
...We can use it to call the others. Have a meeting. They'll come when they hear us.

Later on the same day, after the boys have made their first explorations, Ralph blows the conch to call a meeting. He tells the group that they are on an island, with no sign of houses, smoke, boats, or people. Because there are no grown-ups, they will have to look after themselves.

Ralph now speaks with confidence, as the elected chief and holder of the conch. It becomes a symbol not of his authority but of democracy. If someone wants to say something at a meeting, he must put up his hand and wait to be given conch shell to hold. Jack, however, interrupts:

'We'll have rules!' he cried excitedly. 'Lots of rules! Then when anyone breaks 'em—'

The boyish response is immediate and is an ominous portent of the mindless violence that is yet to come:





Rules are indeed soon broken. The bloody murder of Simon, the dreamer, comes first. Then Piggy, the wise one, falls through the air to his death when Roger heaves a rock onto him. The conch is smashed "into a thousand white fragments". Jack rushes forward and shouts at Ralph:

'See? See? That's what you'll get! I mean that! There isn't a tribe for you any more! The conch has gone... I'm chief'

The head boy of the choir, who once wore a robe bearing a silver cross and who had said, "Bollocks to the rules!", has now broken the rules and demolished democracy. William Golding is making the point that the shape of society does not depend on systems and rules but on the people who make them. Defects in society arise from defects in human nature. "Bollocks to the rules!" is not a cause but a symptom of something deeper.

While democracy still existed, albeit shakily, the split between Ralph and Jack had widened when they disagreed over priorities and duties. For Ralph, it is rescue:

'... sooner of later a ship will put in here. It might even be daddy's ship. So you see, sooner or later, we shall be rescued.'

They do least agree to build and light a fire so that a passing ship might see its smoke. Jack promises that his hunters will take turns watching the fire, so that it will not go out. However, while they are on a blood-thirsty pursuit of a pig, the fire does go out. Ralph berates Jack:

"Don't you want to be rescued? All you can talk about is pig, pig, pig!"

In the end, Jack prevails. With just a few exceptions, the boys join his tribe or are eventually coerced into joining. Ralph is left with only four close friends, Piggy, Simon and Samneric (the twins Sam and Eric).

Simon and Piggy are murdered. Sam and Eric are captured by Jack. Ralph is now alone. After Piggy's fall, Jack hurls a spear at him. The final terrifying pursuit is about to commence. As an allegory, the whole train of events gives rise to questions — were the boys, and are we as a society, innocent from the beginning, such that innocence can be lost? Is the darkness in the hearts of all of us? Or do we make the excuse, as some of the boys might have done after their rescue at the end of the story, that we were only following orders?

© Copyright Brian Barratt 2009


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