Study Guide

Lord of the Flies Primitivity

By William Golding

Primitivity

Chapter 3

…The ground was hardened by an accustomed tread and as Jack rose to his full height he heard something moving on it. He swung back his right arm and hurled the spear with all his strength. (3.5)

We don't know anything about Jack's training, but we're guessing he didn't have much chance to practice hurling spears when he was busy singing C-sharps. It sounds here like he's just a natural: you can take the boy out of the jungle, but you can't take the jungle-beast-killing-prowess out of the boy.

Jack

[Jack] tried to convey the compulsion to track down and kill that was swallowing him up.

"I went on. I thought, by myself—"

The madness came into his eyes again.

"I thought I might kill." (3.37-40)

You say pot-ay-to; we say po-tah-toe. You say this is Jack's real nature, subdued by culture; we say that the island is eroding his true self. (Or the other way around; we haven't actually made up our minds.) What does Golding seem to think?

Chapter 4

"We spread round. I crept, on hands and knees. The spears fell out because they hadn't barbs on. The pig ran away and made an awful noise—"

"It turned back and ran into the circle, bleeding—"

All the boys were talking at once, relieved and excited.

[…]

Then Maurice pretended to be the pig and ran squealing into the center, and the hunters, circling still, pretended to beat him. As they danced, they sang.

"Kill the pig. Cut her throat. Bash her in."

Ralph watched them, envious and resentful. (4.197-206)

We start off with boys killing pigs, then boys pretending to kill boys who are pretending to be pigs, and finally Jack hunting down Ralph in pretend—maybe—hopes of impaling his head on a stick. The boys get eased into murder, just like we get eased into reading about it. And, just maybe, that's how we get ourselves involved in bloody wars.

The hunters' thoughts were crowded with memories […] of the knowledge […] that they had outwitted a living thing, imposed their will upon it, taken away its life like a long satisfying drink. (4.121)

There's more here than a simple survivalist instinct to kill for food. The boys aren't hunting just because they're hungry; they're hunting because they need the power. Hm. "Imposed their will upon it," "taken away its life"—that sounds a lot like war to us.

He [Jack] capered toward Bill, and the mask was a thing on its own, behind which Jack hid, liberated from shame and self-consciousness. (4.33)

Well, that's one way to answer the question. If Jack is hiding behind the mask, then the thing/person/creature committing these heinous acts isn't Jack; it's the mask. Is Golding giving Jack a way out?

Jack

[Jack] began to dance and his laughter became a bloodthirsty snarling. (4.33)

Jack is taking the whole "becoming one with your prey" thing a bit too literally. Here's he's practically morphing into an animal, with the kind of "bloodthirsty snarling" you'd associate with a man-eating tiger rather than a 12-year-old choir boy.

Chapter 7
Ralph

All at once, Robert was screaming and struggling with the strength of frenzy. Jack had him by the hair and was brandishing his knife. Behind him was Roger, fighting to get close. The chant rose ritually, as at the last moment of a dance or a hunt.

"Kill the pig! Cut his throat! Kill the pig! Bash him in!"

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. (7.74-76)

Blame it on mob mentality or the lure of primitivity or being called four-eyes one too many times, but our sweet Ralphie just went out of his skull.

Chapter 8
Jack

They surrounded the covert but the sow got away with the sting of another spear in her flank. The trailing butts hindered her and the sharp, cross-cut points were a torment. She blundered into a tree, forcing a spear still deeper; and after that any of the hunters could follow her easily by the drops of vivid blood […].

Here, struck down by the heat, the sow fell and the hunters hurled themselves at her. This dreadful eruption from an unknown world made her frantic; she squealed and bucked and the air was full of sweat and noise and blood and terror […]. The spear moved forward inch by inch and the terrified squealing became a high-pitched scream. Then Jack found the throat and the hot blood spouted over his hands. The sow collapsed under them […].

At last the immediacy of the kill subsided. The boys drew back, and Jack stood up, holding out his hands.

“Look.”

He giggled and flecked them while the boys laughed at his reeking palms. Then Jack grabbed Maurice and rubbed the stuff over his cheeks . . .

“Right up her ass!” (8.191-196)

Get all the kids out of the room, because this has just gone from understandable food-related slaughter to... something else. The hunt is no longer about just having meat to eat—it's about literally bathing in their power over a helpless animal. We're not surprised that people tend to read this as a rape scene.

Chapter 9
Simon

The dark sky was shattered by a blue-white scar. […] The chant rose a tone in agony.

Kill the beast! Cut his throat! Spill his blood!”

Now out of the terror rose another desire, thick, urgent, blind.

“Kill the beast! Cut his throat! Spill his blood!”

Again the blue-white scar jagged above them and the sulphurous explosion beat down. The littluns screamed and blundered about, fleeing from the edge of the forest, and one of them broke the ring of biguns in his terror.

“Him! Him!”

The circle became a horseshoe. A thing was crawling out of the forest. It came darkly, uncertainly. The shrill screaming that rose before the beast was like a pain. The beast stumbled into the horseshoe.

“Kill the beast! Cut his throat! Spill his blood!”

The blue-white scar was constant, the noise unendurable. Simon was crying out something about a dead man on a hill.

“Kill the beast! Cut his throat! Spill his blood! Do him in!”

The sticks fell and the mouth of the new circle crunched and screamed. The beast was on its knees in the center, its arms folded over its face. It was crying out against the abominable noise something about a body on the hill. The beast struggled forward, broke the ring and fell over the steep edge of the rock to the sand by the water. 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. (9.89-99)

This passage really conveys the frenzied state the boys are in when they kill Simon. But does it justify the action? Does it function as an excuse for the murder?

Chapter 11

Behind them on the grass the headless and paunched body of a sow lay where they had dropped it. (11.129)

At this point, we get the feeling that the boys aren't even bothering to eat the meat they're killing. They're killing for the fun of it—something that Golding unequivocally identifies as "savage."

Chapter 12

Ralph launched himself like a cat; stabbed, snarling, with the spear, and the savage doubled up. (12.165)

Who's savage now? When his life's at stake, Ralph can be as primitive as anyone else—like all of us. Some people just take longer to get there than others.

The sticks fell and the mouth of the new circle crunched and screamed. The beast was on its knees in the center, its arms folded over its face. It was crying out against the abominable noise something about a body on the hill. The beast struggled forward, broke the ring and fell over the steep edge of the rock to the sand by the water. 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. (9.89-99)

This isn't a cluster of boys ganging up on another one; it's a battle between a beast and a "circle," a "crowd," and a "ring," with "a mouth" and "teeth and claws." Pretty brutal.

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