The boys get organised

When the boys become stranded on a deserted island there are no systems of control or power in place. Very soon, though, they feel the need to organise their society and distinct forms of power soon come into being. These are represented by very different ways of doing things and led by the entirely different personalities of Ralph and Jack.

Golding's experiences in World War Two, which can be seen as a struggle between two very different forms of power, contributed very much to way the novel was written and explain why this theme was so important.

How is the theme of power shown in the novel?

In Lord of the Flies, William Golding examines the way that political power is a driving force for some humans. The two key aspects he examines are:

How does Golding show this?EvidenceAnalysis
DemocracyThe island starts out as a democracy with an elected leader, Ralph. Ralph holds meetings, sets rules and establishes law and order. The weaker members of society (Piggy and the Littluns) are mostly protected from harm. The democracy, however, quickly breaks down as fear and violence take hold."There aren't any grownups. We shall have to look after ourselves." The meeting hummed and was silent. "And another thing. We can't have everybody talking at once. We'll have to have 'Hands up' like at school." He held the conch before his face and glanced round the mouth. The conch is a powerful symbol of democratic power and is supposed to ensure equal opportunity for all the boys to put a point of view. However, Ralph makes it clear that as leader he will decide who actually gets to speak. Golding links democracy to a state of calm and peacefulness ('the meeting ... was silent') but it is a state that is easily destroyed.
DictatorshipRight from the start, Jack is convinced that he should be leader. He uses verbal and physical violence to get what he wants and eventually forms a breakaway tribe electing himself as the chief. He rules this group with fear and terror.The chief was sitting there, naked to the waist, his face blocked out in white and red. "Tomorrow," went on the chief, "we shall hunt again." He pointed at this savage and that with his spear.By the later stages of the novel, Jack has lost his name and simply become 'the Chief'. He issues orders without any discussion or alternatives. His war paint and the spear are his symbols of power and he uses them to keep his tribe in order.

Analysing the evidence

"Which is better - to be a pack of painted Indians like you are, or to be sensible like Ralph is?" A great clamour rose among the savages. Piggy shouted again. "Which is better--to have rules and agree, or to hunt and kill?" Piggy in Lord of the Flies

What does Golding have to say about power in Lord of the Flies?

  • Piggy is the boy who uses rational thought to reach conclusions so it is important that he sets out the argument for the reader.
  • Piggy links order and democracy with Ralph and uses words such as 'sensible', 'rules' and 'agree'.
  • He links disorder and dictatorship to Jack and uses words such as 'pack', 'savages', 'hunt' and 'kill'.

Golding uses Piggy to summarise the two types of power but does not really tell the reader what to think. We are left to make up our own minds based on the evidence of what happens later in the novel.