Section B – Q8: Choose a novel in which one of the main characters is not in harmony with his society. Describe the character’s situation and go on to discuss how it adds to your understanding of the central concern of the text.
In the novel “Lord of the Flies” by William Golding, Jack Merridew, one of the principal characters, is not in harmony with his society. He is a strong-willed, egomaniacal boy, who is the novel’s representative of the instinct of savagery, violence, and brute power. From the first glimpse of his meeting with the other boys on the beach, to the very end of the novel where he sets up his own society, we can see that he conforms neither to the rules by which our society lives, nor to Ralph’s rules when he attempts at recreating such a society on the island, letting his primitive urges take over.
After the boys’ plane has crashed on the island, starting the novel, Ralph and Piggy realise the need for the boys to gather and work together to help each other and try to be rescued. Ralph blows the conch to summon the others, and Piggy tries to learn the names of the boys who come. Then, the choirboys come, commanded by Jack, in a regimented group. Jack immediately queries Ralph’s authority:
” ‘We’d better all have names,’ said Ralph, ‘so I’m Ralph.’
‘We got most names,’ said Piggy. ‘Got ’em just now.’
‘Kids’ names,’ said Merridew. ‘Why should I be Jack? I’m Merridew.’ ”
Though this wish is never actually respected by the other boys, who almost immediately revert to calling him Jack, he has registered his dissent and has already upset the friendliness of the boys’ fledgling community. When Ralph is elected as leader instead of Jack, he seeks to appease him by making him chief of the hunters, possibly because he can already see that Jack likes to be in control, not through the democratic way which our society calls for, but because he thinks he is best for the job, and would seize it by force if necessary.
Jack is also the first to partially break the codes of civilisation imposed on the boys by our society. When Ralph, Simon, and he go out, he is the only one who even contemplates killing a pig:
“Jack drew his knife again with a flourish. He raised his arm in the air. There came a pause, a hiatus, the pig continued to scream and the creepers to jerk, and the blade continued to flash at the end of a bony arm.”
Though he cannot quite bring himself to kill another living thing at this point in the novel, civilisation still staying his arm, this first, unsuccessful, encounter merely serves to strengthen his resolve to, next time, kill the pig and prove his strength.
Indeed, next time the reader meets Jack, he feels no such inhibitions. Golding describes his feelings as he talks to Ralph:
“He 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.’ ”
By using words such as ‘madness’, we see how far Jack has fallen: from being head choir boy, resplendent in his black robes, with an angelic voice, to being described as ‘dog-like’ in his savage quest, fuelled by blood-lust. Golding highlights this contrast between Jack and civilised society even further buy saying:
“They walked along, two continents of experience and feeling, unable to communicate.”
Though Jack has indulged his primitive nature, Ralph has been busy trying to build shelter and maintain the signal fire, while most of the other boys have left and are having fun in the lagoon. Ralph has taken up the mantle of the leader of the island, and is trying to preserve society’s ideals of looking after those weaker than yourself, never shirking his responsibility to the boys over whom he rules. At this stage in the novel, however, the differences between Ralph and Jack are not enough to cause a major rift between them, and their two ways of life coexist in relative harmony.
One of the major turning points in the novel comes when Jack paints his face in a symbol of savagery and hunting prowess. Golding describes the paint as a mask, saying:
“the mask was a thing on its own, behind which Jack hid, liberated from shame and self-consciousness.”
This marks well Jack’s turning from our modern society, as it is clearly reminiscent of Native American’s painting their faces before hunting, though it could also be thought of as soldiers’ camouflage before spying or killing, arguably one of the most primitive roles that our society retains. In the context of the novel (that is, directly after World War Two), this could be read as significant, especially when you take into account the fact that the primary concern of the text is “the darkness of man’s heart”.
Another clear indication of Jack’s rebellion against society is when he says:
“Jack was shouting against him
‘Bollocks to the rules! We’re strong – we hunt!” ‘
Jack no longer wants to obey Ralph’s replica of the system of order which rules society, and is held in the grip of bloodlust. All he wants to do is hunt and eat – and command other boys, whether or not they want to obey his commands.
Shortly after this he leaves, and sets up his own camp at ‘Castle Rock’. All of the boys apart from Ralph, Simon, Piggy, Sam and Eric go over to join him. Ralph goes over to try and reason with him, saying:
” ‘I’ll blow the conch,’ said Ralph breathlessly, ‘and call an assembly.’
‘We shan’t hear it.’ ”
Jack has thrown off the last vestiges of society, and is no longer willing to listen to Ralph’s attempts to maintain democracy. He likes being in control of the boys, violence, and being able to hunt without interruption. After causing the deaths of Piggy and Simon, he coerces Samneric into joining his camp, and starts a manhunt for Ralph.
Murder and bloodlust like this have (or, at least, should have) no place in our society, and through these extreme actions Golding emphasises his theme of “the darkness of man’s heart’ – for how dark must Jack’s heart be to allow a boy of twelve or so to rule over a regime of terror and oppression?
Word Count: 1038
15/25 – B-
* More on Jack latterly in the novel, to highlight the disharmony more, with slightly less on the earlier chapters
* A lot more direct reference to Golding’s theme, an essential part of the rubric