The savage tribe
The schoolboys become savage hunters

Although the boys in the novel come from a civilised background, it is not very long before the savagery inside them begins to take hold and drive events forward. From a group of playful schoolboys they become violent hunters, destroying their environment and killing their fellow human beings.

Golding had seen first-hand the evil that was unleashed by the Nazis in World War Two. As a teacher he also understood that without rules and civilising influences, a group of schoolboys would quickly revert to a primitive state.

How is the theme of evil shown in the novel?

In Lord of the Flies, William Golding examines evil from a number of angles. Some of the key aspects are:

  • increasing violence
  • the Beast
  • the Lord of the Flies
How does Golding show this?EvidenceAnalysis
Increasing violenceThe isolation, lack of adults and a change within the boys takes over and they start to destroy their environment. The play violence becomes increasingly menacing as the boys use warpaint and sing a bloodthirsty chant. Eventually death and murder follow."Kill the beast! Cut his throat! Spill his blood! Do him in!" ... At once the crowd surged after it, poured down the rock, leapt on to the beast, screamed, struck, bit, tore. There were no words, and no movements but the tearing of teeth and claws.A string of particularly strong verbs: 'crunched', 'screamed', 'surged', 'poured', 'leapt', 'struck, bit, tore' is used to highlight the fierceness of the attack against Simon. The boys almost become a single unit more fearsome than the Beast they think they are destroying.
The BeastThe mythical Beast takes on a variety of forms. First as a dream, then a snake or sea monster, then the dead pilot's body. The real Beast is the evil that lives inside the boys - but only Simon fully realises this and, ironically, he is killed when the other boys mistakenly think he is the creature itself."We've seen the beast with our own eyes....... "It was furry. There was something moving behind its head--wings. The beast moved too--" … "There were eyes--" "Teeth--" "Claws--" "We ran as fast as we could--" "Bashed into things--" "The beast followed us--" "I saw it slinking behind the trees--" "Nearly touched me--"Sam and Eric have run to tell the others that they have seen the Beast. Almost trying to outdo each other, they begin to exaggerate ("eyes", "teeth", "claws") until they seem to convince themselves of their own story ("The beast followed us" / "Nearly touched me").
The Lord of the FliesJack uses a pig's head as an offering to the Beast. Simon hallucinates that the head is talking to him. Golding calls it the Lord of the Flies - this is a translation of the Biblical name Beelzebub - another name for the Devil."Fancy thinking the Beast was something you could hunt and kill!" said the head... "You knew, didn't you? I'm part of you? Close, close, close!"The voice of the Lord of The Flies makes Simon realises that the evil the boys have been looking for actually lives inside them - even himself.

Social and historical context

At the time when William Golding was writing Lord of the Flies, Britain was a very different society. Although World War Two had ended in 1945, the after-effects were still being felt. For instance, food rationing did not fully end until 1954, the year of the novel's publication. The war had ended with the dropping of two atomic bombs on Japan. The world then entered a period of uncertainty as various nations began to develop their own nuclear weapons and there was a constant dread that a nuclear war would break out. In Golding's novel he imagines that this terrible event has actually taken place and the boys who are being evacuated to safety are stranded after their plane crashes.

Exploring the theme of evil in Lord of the Flies

Analysing the evidence

Roger gathered a handful of stones and began to throw them. Yet there was a space round Henry, perhaps six yards in diameter, into which he dare not throw. Here, invisible yet strong, was the taboo of the old life.Roger, as depicted by William Golding in Lord of the Flies

How does Golding foreshadow later events in the novel?

  • Roger is throwing stones in the direction of Henry rather than directly at him.
  • He is stopped from going any further at this point by the civilising influences with which he has grown up.
  • Later, as evil develops and civilisation is forgotten, he will have no such worries.
  • In an act of pure murder, Roger releases the rock which will kill Piggy.

Golding shows the reader that small and apparently unimportant acts of violence can eventually grow to become bigger and far more significant.