Presence of self-interest in Lord of the Flies

By Priya Chetty on November 25, 2021

Character portrayal plays a crucial role in Golding’s “Lord of the Flies”; in order to bring out the theme of self-interest. The first mention needs to be made of the character named Jack who is the eldest in the group and whose actions throughout the novel are determined by the intention to accomplish selfish interests.

How the protagonist exhibits self-interest

All throughout the novel, it is seen that Jack has a desire to gain authority over others. As his desire stands above everything else for him, so Jack also resorts to cruel selfish acts to accomplish his evil goal of winning supremacy in the group (Ghaddab). Thus, the novel’s author Golding has instilled all the character traits that characterize an individual who is driven by sheer self-interest. On closer reading of the novel, the readers could thus find Jack as a boy who is narrow-minded, has intense material greed and is a power monger. All of which had remained subdued until now because he was under discipline in his school life. However, as he becomes independent and free from any supervision on the island so his basic instincts of being utterly selfish also got revealed. Thus, the very act of concentrating on hunting instead of working towards arranging for rescue for the entire group and breaking away from the order created by Ralph are instances used by the author to present the selfish self-interest of Jack (Alnajm).

Another character where selfish interest could be found is Roger. He was found to disobey orders given to him by Ralph to survive together, have fun together and work together to find rescue from the island. Rather, he loves hunting and in order to nurture his selfish nature, he joins Jack’s gang too. At a later part of the novel, it is also found that Roger brutalizes the littluns and also becomes the reason behind the murder of Piggy (Ghaddab).

Critical situations showing self-interest and quest for leadership

Various situations depicted in the novel also represent the theme of self-interest. For instance, the imminent apocalypse of human emotions for the pursuit of self-interest among the boys has been depicted by Golding in the form of the barbarism of the boys who kill each other for the selfish desire to control the masses on the island and assume supremacy over others. Golding also uses the scene of an aerial battle that goes on in the backdrop when the boys get marooned on the island. This battle is also an example of the selfish interest of the stakeholders of the aerial battle who probably fight each other in order to accomplish their personal gains by winning over the opponent.

The recurrent strife of Jack and Ralph for obtaining ultimate leadership is also a situation based example that has been provided in the novel by Golding to represent the obsession for accomplishing self-interest. Other situational instances that the author uses to depict the theme of self-interest include the killing of the messianic character Simon who discovers that the beast dwells nowhere but within every human being as well as the rational light-giver of the group Piggy, who once lend his glasses to the group to start a fire and create a smoke signal that would rescue them all from the island (Chatterjee).

Clear symbolism used to depict self-interest

The theme of self-interest has also been projected in the novel by means of clear symbolism. For instance, the conch shell serves as one of the power symbols in the novel for projecting the theme of self-interest. As the novel suggests, the group of boys decodes that the one in possession of this conch shell will have the authority to speak in the meeting and everybody else would have to agree to it. Thus, when Piggy discovers it and hands it over to Ralph, it becomes a tool of law and order as per the point of view of Ralph and Piggy. But the significance of the conch shell changes when it gets passed on to Jack and final the destruction of the conch shell toward the end of the novel shows that Jack has proved successful in establishing his self-interest by crushing the democratic principles of Ralph in the group.

Another sign that depicts the theme of self-interest in the novel is the pair of glasses of Piggy. While Piggy is initially ridiculed for his bulky constitution and ridiculous name, the theme of some kind of self-interest becomes prominent when Ralph understands these glasses of Piggy can be used to set fire and create a smoke signal on the island. Thus, Ralph gains the authority of the team by possessing the glasses as Piggy is in his team.

Moreover, the selfishness of everybody in the group also becomes evident when they stop rebuking Piggy anymore as the glasses make him an important person of the group overnight and everybody start considering that he is in possession of a powerful instrument and can arrange for their rescue. Later on, the selfish interest of Jack to establish himself as the authority of the group makes him steal these glasses. Thus, whereas initially the glasses were used to make fire and help Piggy see clearly, it became an instrument to start a fire around which the tribe would gather after Jack stole it. With this specific symbolism, Golding shows how the shift of the nature of self-interest occurred with the change of ownership of Piggy’s glasses (Bruns).

Portrayal of savagery

The portrayal of savagery has been used as a central instrument in describing the theme of self-interest in the novel Lord of the Flies by Golding. Jack, the antagonist of the novel is the epitome of savagery in the novel. Even though Jack has some good elements in his character like strong will and nature-born leadership qualities but he lacks moral qualities and ethical substance that instigate him to adopt barbaric means to accomplish his motives of establishing supremacy in the group. Thus, the first act of savagery that Jack commits is to influence the group to kill a wild boar in the woods.

Roger is a confidante of Jack and another character in the antagonist novel who exhibits savagery in his actions through unrestrained evil and brutality to accomplish selfish goals. Roger does not seem to care about anyone but himself and relishes in brutality and cruelty and experiences pleasure in instilling fear in the boys (Jurankova). The novel repeatedly expresses that in a circumstance that makes individuals free from any social control, fear of punishment and moral condemnation, the inherent cruelty bursts forth in a torrent of savagery and manifests in the form of merciless violence towards other human beings in order to achieve selfish self-interests (Piven).


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