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The Lord of the Flies: Who took the road less traveled by after all?

Ralph and Jack's representations of the different paths each stranded boy is forced to choose on his downward spiral to savagery and the loss of basic humanity.

When posed with the question of savagery versus civilization, which road would most men choose? What about when the consequence could be death? Man's suppressed inner savagery and evil are obvious motifs in William Golding's Lord of the Flies. Golding fully utilizes symbolism to portray these themes throughout the story and to foreshadow to future events. Symbolism has a wide range of possibilities; people, places, things, and events are all used to represent something beyond themselves. Let us focus now on the elements employed to show how civilized mannerisms are stripped from the boys as time progresses. Specifically, Ralph and Jack's representations of the different paths each stranded boy is forced to choose on his downward spiral to savagery and the loss of basic humanity.
At the start of the novel, Ralph becomes the instant leader after calling the boys together with a conch. Each boy is allowed to speak at meetings, but only when holding the conch, a symbol of order and democracy. Ralph and Piggy cling to the conch, always protecting the shell until it is smashed, putting the official end to any organization or stability on the island. All the boys have a certain respect for the conch starting at day one, and those who choose to protect and obey its authority are those who attempt to stay civilized, like Ralph. On the other hand, those who aid in the destruction of the conch and its finder, Piggy, are those who give over to savagery, like Jack. During the first meeting, another symbol of lust for the civil world is brought up; Ralph decrees the building of a signal fire. Ralph's plight throughout the book is to keep the signal fire going in hopes of being rescued and he stays true to this desire, even after Jack has created a separate tribe that only wishes to hunt and have fun. Ralph's passion for the fire is ever present in the depths of his mind; this is evident on page 163 when even as he looses sight of his goals he remembers, "There was something good about a fire. Something overwhelmingly good." When Jack takes his means of lighting a fire, Ralph insists upon the return of Piggy's glasses immediately. Jack creates a cooking fire to roast the sow his tribe slaughtered. Later on, they use that very same fire to set the island ablaze and kill Ralph. Coincidentally, the very fire that is meant to put an end to civilization leads to their rescue and return to it. On one side, there is the attempt for civil life with the conch and the signal fire, on the other side is anarchy with masks, destruction, and hunting fire. The boys discover that they cannot run from either, they are both parts of the duality of humankind.

After the boys have broken into separate groups, Jack's tribe steals Piggy's spectacles for fire, the very object that represents the status of social order. Ralph's possession of them symbolized civil rule and rational thought while Jack's possession illustrates lack of consideration for others and the deterioration of raison d'?tre, or fundamental principles. There are only three of the 'bigguns' left on Ralph's side at this point, with ragged hair and a fading memory of the old life. Jack's tribe contains the other 'bigguns' who have given up and resorted to painted faces and tribal dances. (Interestingly, 'bigguns' broken up is 'big guns,' which is precisely what they act as to Ralph and Jack.) As Ralph was, "Lying there, he knew he was an outcast," (186). The majority of the boys took the easier way out while Sam, Eric, Piggy, and Ralph all force themselves to remember the life they once led. However, even Ralph has his doubts when he says, "'We can't keep one fire going. And they don't care. And what's more, I don't sometimes,'" (139). Some of those on Jack's side don't really want to be there but fear the wrath of Roger and feel as if they should stick with the crowd. It is evident that neither group of boys feels completely in the right about what they are doing, nor do their leaders, but they stick with it anyway. Jack seems to hold the lead for his more anarchist way of life, he is even referred to only as "the chief" after he is completely consumed by savageness, while Ralph begins to go crazy with his desire for rescue and order. However, Ralph is forced to give into hiding and fighting for his life like a savage as the boys hunt him in an orderly ring with a systematic way to alert the others of where they have searched. It seems as if the roles have been swapped, desperation for organization, but all are still participating in a man hunt; the most barbaric act of all.
[q][/q]Jack decides it is time for Ralph to go after Simon and Piggy's prophetic deaths. Yet even before this, the young boy who speaks of the beast dies in a fire and Simon, the only one willing to admit that perhaps the beast is only their common fear of the unknown, is killed mistakenly for the beast itself. The beast represents a common fear among the boys of the unknown and the darkness in life. It also serves as an icon of the evil residing within each person; the doubts and apprehensions of every human. In literal terms of what the beast is, it is only something in the young boys' dreams at first, later it is the dead man with the parachute, then it becomes the Lord of the Flies, then Simon's body, and it ends as the savagery that consumes the boys. When the Lord of the Flies speaks to Simon it says, "'Fancy thinking the beast was something you could hunt and kill! ... You knew, didn't you? I'm part of you? Close, close, close! I'm the reason?" for all the fighting and uncertainty (142). Each way the beast manifests itself is utterly different, but each is tied with something the boys are afraid to accept, each is a part of the boys themselves. Ralph simply chooses to ignore the beast and to dismiss its existence, as people often do in the civilized world with their inner beasts. Jack chooses to hunt the beast; although in the depths of his mind he knows it cannot be hunted. He decides to ignore this and instead, comfort himself and the other boys in the knowledge that they are more powerful than this beast. Interestingly, both these paths only lead to the growth of the fear and trepidation that manifests itself as the beast; the only way to rid it would be to face it head-on as Simon does. In the end, the boys finally understand this as they weep, "for the end of innocence, [and] the darkness of man's heart," (202).
[q][/q]Although Ralph gives over to savagery in a sense, Jack is ultimately its campaign manager and Roger its enforcer. Just as Roger is right-hand man to Jack, Piggy is Ralph's rationale and persuasion throughout the novel, but Ralph is left alone after his death and cannot handle it. Both leaders' values and desires deteriorate as they loose sight of their goals; Jack abuses his power and Ralph begins to loose sight of his purpose. Neither end at a high point, nor do their followers. By the end of the novel, Ralph's followers are all either dead or have been forced to join the tribe and Jack's followers are disheartened and stripped of their basic human values. In the end, however, Ralph wins in a sense, proving that humans cannot shy from order and progress; it is part of inherent human nature just as suppressed savagery is. Civilization comes back to them as a result of their own barbaric instincts. "They were savages, it was true; but they were human?" (185). Again, the question, which road would most men travel? Would they truly choose the road less traveled by, or cower and turn back?

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference." (Robert Frost, "The Road Not Taken")

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