Lord of the Flies Theme of Innocence
(Click the themes infographic to download.)
The boys of Lord of the Flies are stranded on the island at just the right age (between six and twelve, roughly) to drop the idealism of youth and face the real world. How convenient. And what better place to do so than an uninhabited island free of rules, restrictions, and adults? Their real world is less the soul-killing drudgery of a 9-5 job, property taxes, and a baby who won't sleep through the night than the savagery of untamed human nature—but it's a loss of innocence all the same, when we (and the kids) realize that there's nothing innocent about childhood, after all. The novel ends with its main character, Ralph, weeping for "the end of innocence, the darkness of man's heart."
Lord of the Flies Video >
Questions About Innocence
- At what point in the novel does Ralph start thinking that mankind is inherently evil? Do other characters come to the same conclusion?
- Are the terms "mankind" and "man's heart" used interchangeably in this novel? What might be the difference between the two terms?
- When Ralph talks about the "darkness of man's heart," is this a cop-out? Do you think it's easier for Ralph to think man is inherently evil than realize that all the boys, including Ralph, have chosen to be violent and hurtful?
- Is Golding suggesting that children aren't actually innocent?
Chew on This
Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.
In Lord of the Flies, Simon is the only truly innocent character—which is why he's mercilessly slaughtered.
The children become savage and animalistic over the course of the novel, but they're not actually evil. In fact, the more animalistic they become, the more innocent they are: like animals, they simply don't know better.
In Golding's novel Lord of the Flies, the boys quickly lose their innocence during their time on the island. Golding shows the downward spiral from relative innocence to depravity in numerous ways, including the boys' clothing, the hunting, and the deaths. At first the boys wear clothing that associates them with their British schools. British choir boys are a symbol of innocence with their sweet-sounding childish voices and dignified demeanor. When Jack's choir boys first appear, he is making them march across the beach fully clad in their black choir robes. They immediately take those off, and before long most of the boys are running around the island barely clothed. That doesn't fully represent loss of innocence, though. Jack finds a new way to clothe himself, namely with paint. Wearing paint instead of clothing, Jack finds himself "liberated from shame and self-consciousness." He goes even further. At his feast in chapter 9, Jack wears a garland. Showing a repudiation of all orthodox religious adherence, "Jack, painted and garlanded, sat there like an idol."
Second, the way Golding portrays hunting shows the boys' loss of innocence. In chapter 1, the boys find a piglet caught in a thicket. Although Jack raises his knife to kill it, he can't bring himself to do so "because of the unbearable blood." He is still too innocent. But when the boys kill their first pig, Jack experiences
"the knowledge that had come to them when they closed in on the struggling pig, knowledge that they had ... imposed their will upon it, taken away its life like a long satisfying drink."
This is like the knowledge of good and evil that Adam and Eve experienced when they lost their innocence in the Garden of Eden. Later Jack is able to play with the spilled blood, and the boys are "wedded to [the sow] in lust, excited by the ... dropped blood." Ultimately, Jack has descended so far away from innocence that he actually hunts Ralph, intending to kill him like a pig and impale his head on the stick they have sharpened at both ends.
Finally, the deaths that occur on the island show the fall from innocence. The first to die, the boy with the birthmark, is killed because of negligence, a crime that, although horrible, is nevertheless not a crime of passion. Simon, the next to die, is murdered by manslaughter by the mob of boys. The crime is intentional, but not premeditated. Piggy's death is premeditated, and Jack rejoices afterward, showing a complete loss of innocence. The boys then hunt Ralph, intending to kill him, planning out his murder with no glimmer of conscience restraining them.
The loss of the boys' innocence can be traced in several ways through the novel, especially through the boys' clothing, their reaction to hunting, and the way that deaths occur.