What is a theme?
A theme is an idea that runs through a text. A text may have one theme or many. Understanding the themes makes the text more than 'just' a text. It becomes something more significant because we're encouraged to think more deeply about the story - about how it connects to real-life issues, and about what it might mean to us.
The main themes that run through Lord of the Flies are: Things breaking down, War, Violence, Relationships, The Island and Language.
1. Things breaking down
Golding himself wrote of his novel:
The boys try to construct a civilisation on the island; but it breaks down in blood and terror because the boys are suffering from the terrible disease of being human. By William Golding.
The central theme in Lord of the Flies is that of things breaking down. This is shown in a number of ways. Violence replaces peace, friends turn into enemies, life ends in savage death. Everything degenerates.
The boys are on the island because the plane that was evacuating them from Britain during a fictional nuclear war was attacked. Piggy reminds Ralph: "Didn't you hear what the pilot said? About the atom bomb? They're all dead."War is a running theme in the novel, starting from plane the boys were travelling in.
- Ralph is proud of his father - a commander in the Navy. So, the character who tries hardest to keep peace comes from a home that revolved around war.
- We know that the civilisation from which they were trying to escape is being destroyed. When Roger stops himself throwing stones at the littluns, we're told:"Roger's arm was conditioned by a civilisation that knew nothing of him and was in ruins."
- The dead parachutist who lands on the island was gunned down during an overhead battle.
- Ironically, the naval officer who comes to their rescue is himself involved in the war. The boys may have been saved from life on the island, but what sort of life are they going back to?
When he first finds out Piggy's name,"Ralph danced out into the hot air of the beach and then returned as a fighter-plane, with wings swept back, and machine-gunned Piggy."Violence is always present. It starts as a game, but grows more horrific throughout the novel. For example:
- When the first pig is killed, Jack boasts,"You should have seen the blood!"
- The ritual 'dance' revolves around violence: "Kill the pig. Cut her throat. Bash her in."
- The boys become like wild and savage animals: when Jack hunts a pig he is"ape-like"; Simon is killed by the "tearing of teeth and claws"; Ralph becomes like…