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The Importance of Masks in William Golding’s Lord of the Flies

In Lord of the Flies, by William Golding, we find a group of British boys stranded on a tropical island while the rest of the world is at war. Their plane has been shot down and they find themselves without adults to tell them how to act. As they struggle to survive, they encounter conflicts that mirror the decayed society from which they have come. We see Golding’s theme come about as we watch the boys begin to lose their innocence and let their natural evil overwhelm their otherwise civilized manner. While formulating the theme of the story, Golding utilizes much symbolism, one of these symbols being the masks, or painted faces, that the boys wear. The masks, and painted faces, became a producer of evil circumstances, give a sense of anonymity, and represented the defiance of social structure.

Whenever someone is wearing a mask or has a painted face, evil is at large. The very purpose of a mask is for hiding. The boys use the masks to hide their lust for blood, killing, and death from their consciences. When going to hunt for the first time, “Jack hid, liberated from shame and self-consciousness” (Golding page #) because he knew that his manner of hunting was evil and would only lead to lascivious killing. While describing that hunt to the boys, Jack was “twitching” and “shuddering” as he talked. He knew it was wrong. Eventually all the savages hid behind their masks when their lust for killing climaxes on the manhunt for Ralph. Throughout the story, all hunting, killing, and shedding of blood was done while the boys faces were hidden by masks.

A mask makes one unknown, unrecognized, and mysterious. When the first mask was put on, Jack “looked no longer at himself but at an awesome stranger” (Golding page #). At the formation of Jack’s tribe, all who join wear a mask from that time on and become a part of the savages. As three savages return to steal fire, they are driven because they are “demoniac figures with faces of white and red” (Golding page #) not individual boys. The mask becomes such an anonymous symbol that, towards the end of the story, Ralph “gazed at the green and black mask before him trying to remember what Jack looked like” (Golding page #). Whether stealing, fighting, or hunting, the savages found their courage because they “looked like something else” “hidden behind the mask of paint” (Golding page #).

Fun and Murder in Lord of the Flies

Fun and Murder in Lord of the Flies

Lord of the Flies is a story of hardships, death and ultimately, survival. The island on which the boys are on presented many difficulties. In this situation, there was no time for fun and games, work was much more important. The group consisted completely of pre-pubescent young boys and the thing that destroyed their democratic ways was the allure of having lots of fun, swimming, feasts and other enjoyable activities. If the splitting of the groups, i.e when Ralph and Jack went their separate ways, the bloodshed would have been prevented. But when the decision came to be made, the promise of “..having fun..” from Jack was too much for most of the boys, and that decision they made turned them into the bloodthirsty savages who murdered two innocent boys.

In the beginning, when the boys first met and assembled at the platform, the conch was the symbol of power. The person holding the conch always had the attention of everyone. There was a leader, Ralph, who was elected by the children.

“Let’s have a vote.”


“Vote for chief!”

“Let’s vote——”

This represented democracy, a government elected for by the whole population and they lived in a classless and tolerant society. There were rules which were to be obeyed by all. Nobody was exempt from them, they were agreed on by all. A fire was lit, to attract the attention of any passing ships or planes, huts were organised to be built. There were many plans for the boys but these weren’t fulfilled due to the laziness and incompetence of the small children, the “littl’uns”. Huts weren’t built deadlines weren’t kept. In theory, it was like anarchy. This is when the groups were starting to form, the people who enjoyed living like savages, for example Roger, and those who liked the idea of leadership, having a leader and following his instructions like Piggy.

This, in my opinion, is a small-scale resemblance of the real world. If there was no law enforcement, or in Lord of the Flies, adults, people would be just like that. Society would collapse into chaos. The children, although they aren’t mature, they behave exactly as adults would in an environment in which they inhabited. Selfish, greedy always wanting more for themselves and not caring for others.

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