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The Techniques Of Revealing The Theme Of Civilisation VS Savagery In Lord Of The Flies

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Lord of the flies was authored by William Golding in 1953. Ten years later, a film version was made by Peter Brook. The book and film are about a group of British school boys who become stranded on an island and attempt to manage themselves, only ending in catastrophe. Through the novel and movie, several techniques were explored to convey the theme of civilisation vs. savagery. Three of these are symbolism, characterisation and setting, along with the use of film techniques compared to Golding’s writing style.

Symbolism plays a key role in the book and movie to explore the theme of civilisation vs. savagery. The main items that were significant was the conch, fire and Piggy’s glasses. The conch symbolised law and order. Ralph says ‘we can use this to call the others. Have a meeting. They’ll come when they hear us.’ (p.12) This scene demonstrated the order, as all the boys listened and obeyed. ‘He can hold it when he’s speaking’ (p.31). Here, the conch was used to display a democratic, civilised society, keen to work things out. When the conch ‘exploded into a thousand white fragments’ (p.200) it represented that all civilisation was lost, resulting in anarchy and savagery. The conch exploding wasn’t shown in the film resulting in less effectiveness as it did not clearly convey the theme of civilisation vs. savagery. The fire was an icon of hope, to get rescued early in the story, but towards the end was a tool for destruction. At the beginning, the boys were keen to get rescued- ‘we must make a fire’ (p.37). They let the fire go out showing their change in desire and acceptance of being savage. The fire was not shown as much either in the film, just smoke, in contrast to the book where it was vividly described and given much importance. Brook might have done this to show the fire’s importance decrease to the boys, thus showing the fire less to show its descent. Piggy’s glasses represented intelligence and hope. Glasses and the fire go hand in hand. Jack says ‘his specs- use them as burning glasses’ (p.40). Although these glasses allowed the boys to live, through the creation of fire, ironically, it was the failure to foresee as Piggy dies. The theme was portrayed using symbolism by the author and director.

The theme was also developed by the use of characterisation. Ralph was charismatic and a natural leader. He had a democratic viewpoint and a priority to be rescued, living for the benefit of his people. ‘You said you’d keep the fire going and you let it out!’ (p.74). Ralph was very stern as to keeping the fire going, to give all chances of getting rescued. Jack was a power-hungry, violent individual with a dictatorial view. From the beginning when Ralph asks what he wants the choir-boys to be Jack says ‘hunters’ (p.19) revealing his inner savagery. Piggy is intelligent and his way of speaking depicted his working-class background. His voice was unheard most of the time. Simon is a quiet boy and is the only one that knows the beast isn’t real- ‘maybe it’s only us’ (p.96). Ralph displays civilisation, even when Jack goes rogue, Ralph is still part of the ‘good’ side. Jack portrays the savage. When Jack’s tribe wears face-paint it distinguishes between the good and evil in a physical manner. All the boys on the island are British. When the naval officer arrives at the end, he says ‘I should have thought that a pack of British boys…would have been able to put up a better show’ (p.224). Ironically, British were meant to be of the highest class and shouldn’t be acting this way. The film doesn’t depict the scene of the officer talking, hence not showing the irony. The film does well though to show Jack’s wickedness through his mannerisms more than the book. Close up shots capture his facial expressions, music and sound effects create a dramatic mood. The theme of civilisation vs. savagery is explored by characterisation through physical aspects and the types of personalities.

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The third technique demonstrating the theme of civilisation vs. savagery is the setting. Like the garden of Eden, it started tranquil (p.4) but soon declined into a pit of chaos. The situation the boys are in is ironic, as they are living in a microcosm of the outside world. At the time of which the book was written, World War II was on. When Ralph says ‘he’s a commander in the navy. When he gets leave, he’ll come and rescue us’ (p.8). This proves that it is war time- even in the book. Passages in the book vividly describe the surroundings of which the boys lived in, allowing the readers imagination to illustrate. The look of the island is more obvious in the film as scenery is shown through the use of longshots. The book described it as a more luscious, greener area and on a grander scale. On the contrary, in the film, castle rock was a dry, dark area creating a more savage sense to it. Ralph’s area-near the beach- had a more civilised approach. Brook was able to portray the theme better; through the use of colours and the moods it creates. The setting displays the theme of civilisation vs. savagery in both the film and book.

Both Golding’s writing style and film techniques are used to illustrate the theme of civilisation vs. savagery. Golding used vivid description to express the emotions felt by the boys. Camera angle was used in the film, such as close up shots to show emotion and grasp what they were feeling and longshots to display the vast scenery. Non-diegetic music and sound effects were used to express the dramatic circumstances in an effective way. Moreover, Golding uses allusions and irony to allow the reader to understand the plot in a more detailed way. Dialogue is used in the book to apprehend the character traits and personality, demonstrated similarly in the film.

Symbolism of items, characterisation of main characters and the setting of the island along with film techniques and writing style were used by both William Golding and Peter Brook to show the theme of civilisation vs. savagery. Golding has used the techniques in a more powerful way than Peter Brook, by using immense description rather than short glimpses in the film. The film captures major events that happened in the book but wasn’t able to express the significance of the events and items in a meaningful way. Lord of the Flies, both novel and film, demonstrate the ability of humans to descend from a civilised demeanour to a savage nature.

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The Techniques Of Revealing The Theme Of Civilisation VS Savagery In Lord Of The Flies. (2022, Jun 09). Edubirdie. Retrieved September 22, 2023, from
“The Techniques Of Revealing The Theme Of Civilisation VS Savagery In Lord Of The Flies.” Edubirdie, 09 Jun. 2022,
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