In his first novel, William Golding used a group of boys stranded on a tropical island to illustrate the malicious nature of mankind. Lord of the Flies dealt with changes that the boys underwent as they gradually adapted to the isolated freedom from society. Three main characters depicted different effects on certain individuals under those circumstances. Jack Merridew began as the arrogant and self-righteous leader of a choir. The freedom of the island allowed him to further develop the darker side of his personality as the Chief of a savage tribe. Ralph started as a self-assured boy whose confidence in himself came from the acceptance of his peers. He had a fair nature as he was willing to listen to Piggy. He became increasingly dependent on Piggy's wisdom and became lost in the confusion around him. Towards the end of the story his rejection from their society of savage boys forced him to fend for himself. Piggy was an educated boy who had grown up as an outcast. Due to his academic childhood, he was more mature than the others and retained his civilized behaviour. But his experiences on the island gave him a more realistic understanding of the cruelty possessed by some people. The ordeals of the three boys on the island made them more aware of the evil inside themselves and, in some cases, made the false politeness that had clothed them disappear. However, the changes experienced by one boy differed from those endured by another. This is attributable to the physical and mental differences between them.
This was a Jack who was proud to be British, and who was shaped and still bound by the laws of a civilized society. The freedom offered to him by the island allowed Jack to express the darker sides of his personality that were repressed by the ideals of his past environment. Without adults as a superior and responsible authority, he began to lose his fear of being punished for improper actions and behaviour. This freedom along with his malicious and arrogant personality made it possible for him to quickly degenerate into a savage. He put on paint, first to camouflage himself from the pigs. But he discovered that the paint allowed him to hide the forbidden thoughts in his mind that his facial expressions would otherwise show: "The mask was a thing on its own behind which Jack hid, liberated from shame and self-consciousness" (p. 69). Through hunting, Jack lost his fear of blood and of killing living animals. He reached a point where he actually enjoyed the sensation of hunting a prey afraid of his spear and knife. His natural desire for blood and violence was brought out by his hunting of pigs. As Ralph became lost in his own confusion, Jack began to assert himself as chief. The boys realizing that Jack was a stronger and more self-assured leader gave in easily to the freedom of Jack's savagery. Placed in a position of power and with his followers sharing his crazed hunger for violence, Jack gained encouragement to commit the vile acts of thievery and murder. Freed from the conditions of a regulated society, Jack gradually became more violent and the rules and proper behaviour by which he was brought up were forgotten. The freedom given to him unveiled his true self under the clothing worn by civilized people to hide his darker characteristics.
Ralph was introduced as a fair and likeable boy whose self-assured manner made him feel secure even on the island without any adults. His interaction with Piggy demonstrated his pleasant nature as he did not call him names with hateful intent as Jack had. His good physique allowed him to be well accepted among his peers, and this gave him enough confidence to speak out readily in public. His handsome features and the conch as a symbol of power and order made him stand out from the crowd of boys and led to his being proclaimed Chief: "There was a stillness about Ralph as he sat that marked him out: there was his size, and attractive appearance; and most obscurely, yet most powerful, there was the conch" (p. 24). From the quick decisions he made as Chief near the beginning of the novel, it could be seen that Ralph was well-organized. But even so, Ralph began repeatedly to long for and daydream of his civilized and regular past. Gradually, Ralph became confused and began to lose clarity in his thoughts and speeches: "Ralph was puzzled by the shutter that flickered in his brain. There was something he wanted to say; then the shutter had come down." (p. 156) He started to feel lost in their new environment as the boys, with the exception of Piggy, began to change and adapt to their freedom. As he did not lose his sense of responsibility, his viewpoints and priorities began to differ from those of the savages. He was more influenced by Piggy than by Jack, who in a way could be viewed as a source of evil. Even though the significance of the fire as a rescue signal was slowly dismissed, Ralph continued to stress the importance of the fire at the mountaintop. He also tried to reestablish the organization that had helped to keep the island clean and free of potential fire hazards. This difference made most of the boys less convinced of the integrity of Ralph. As his supporters became fewer and Jack's insistence on being Chief grew, his strength as a leader diminished. But even though Ralph had retained much of his civilized personality, he too was not spared from the evil released by the freedom from rules and adults. During the play-fight after their unsuccessful hunt in the course of their search for the east, Ralph for the first time had an opportunity to join the hunters and share their desire for violence: "Ralph too was fighting to get near, to get a handful of that brown, vulnerable flesh. The desire to squeeze and hurt was over-mastering." (p. 126) Without rules to limit them, they were free to make their game as real as they wanted. Ralph did not understand the hatred Jack had for him, nor did he fully comprehend why their small and simple society deteriorated. This confusion removed his self-confidence and made him more dependent on Piggy's judgement, until Piggy began prompting him on what needed to be said and done. Towards the end of the novel, Ralph was forced into independence when he lost all his followers to Jack's savagery, and when Piggy and the conch were smashed by Roger's boulder. He was forced to determine how to avoid Jack's savage hunters alone. Ralph's more responsible behaviour set him apart from the other savage boys and made it difficult for him to realize and accept the changes they were undergoing.
Piggy was an educated boy rejected by the kids of his age group on account of his being overweight. It was his academic background and his isolation from the savage boys that had allowed him to remain mostly unchanged from his primitive experiences on the island. His unattractive attributes seperated him from the other boys on the island. He was not welcomed on their first exploratory trip of the island. "We don't want you," Jack had said to Piggy (p. 26). Piggy was like an observer learning from the actions of others. His status in their society allowed him to look at the boys from an outsider's perspective. He could learn of the hatred being brought out of the boys without having to experience the thirst for blood that Ralph was exposed to. Although he was easily intimidated by the other boys, especially by Jack, he did not lack the self-confidence to protest or speak out against the indignities from the boys as the shy former choirboy Simon did. This self-confidence differed from that of Ralph's as it did not come from his acceptance by their peers nor did it come from the authority and power Jack had grown accustomed to. It came from the pride in having accumulated the wisdom that was obviously greater than that of most of the other kids at his age. Piggy not only knew what the rules were, as all the other boys did, but he also had the patience to at least wonder why the rules existed. This intuition made Piggy not only more aware of why the rules were imposed, thereby ensuring that he would abide by them even when they were not enforced. When the boys flocked to the mountaintop to build their fire, Piggy shouted after them, "Acting like a crowd of kids!" (p. 42). Piggy was a very liable person who could look ahead and plan carefully of the future. He shouted at the boys' immature recklessness, "The first thing we ought to have made was shelters down there by the beach... Then when you get here you build a bonfire that isn't no use. Now you been and set the whole island on fire" (p. 50). Like Ralph, his sense of responsibility set him apart from the other boys. The author used the image of long hair to illustrate Piggy's sustenance of his civilized behaviour. "He was the only boy on the island whose hair never seemed to grow" (p. 70). The author's description of his baldness also presented an image of old age and made Piggy seem to lack the strength of youth. The increasing injustice Piggy endured towards the end of the novel was far greater than any that he had encountered previously. In his fit of anger, Piggy cried out, "I don't ask for my glasses back, not as a favour. I don't ask you to be a sport, I'll say, not because you're strong, but because what's right's right" (p. 189). This new standard of harshness brought tears out of him as the suffering became intolerable. For a brief moment, Piggy's anger at the unfairness and his helplessness robbed him of his usual logical reasoning, which returned when he was confronted with his fear of the savages. Piggy was an intelligent boy with a good understanding of their situation on the island. He was able to think clearly and plan ahead with caution so that even in the freedom of their unregulated world, his wisdom and his isolation from the savage boys kept him from giving into the evil that had so easily consumed Jack and his followers. The resulting cruelty Jack inflicted upon him taught Piggy how much more pain there was in the world.
Lord of the flies used changes experienced by boys on an uninhabited island to show the evil nature of man. By using different characters the author was able to portray various types of people found in our society. Their true selves were revealed in the freedom from the laws and punishment of a world with adults. Under the power and regulations of their former society, Jack's inner evil was suppressed. But when the rules no longer existed, he was free to do what he desired. Ralph had grown so used to the regularity of a civilized world, that the changes they underwent were difficult for him to comprehend. He became confused and less capable of thinking clearly and independently. Although he too had experienced the urge for violence that had driven Jack and the hunters to momentary peaks of madness, his more sensitive personality and his sense of obligation saved him from complete savagery. These two traits also helped to keep Piggy from becoming primitive in behaviour. He was made an outcast by his undesirable physique and his superior intelligence. This isolation and wisdom also helped Piggy to retain his civilized behaviour. As well, he was made painfully more aware of the great amount of injustice in the world. From these three characters, it could be seen that under the same circumstances, different individuals can develop in different ways depending on the factors within themselves and how they interacted with each other. Their personalities and what they knew can determine how they would interpret and adapt to a new environment such as the tropical island. Not everyone has so much evil hidden inside themselves as to become complete savages when released from the boundaries of our society. Some people will, because of the ways they were conditioned, remember and abide by the rules they had depended on for social organization and security.