Ruler of the Savages

By Abrahim Harb

Small Group Communication Popular Culture Artifact Analysis: 
The Lord of the Flies (1990)
After watching "The Lord of the Flies," it is evident that this group of marooned English schoolboys must learn to live in a new civilization, where they are the rulers/leaders. They must create norms, culture, a structure/ hierarchy and other necessary things to survive (Adams, 82). By the end of the movie, the civilization created crumbles and the boys turn on the originally elected leaders, killing one of them. The boys are torn between acting like functional members of society, by obeying the rules created and following the orders from a leader or the impulse to act out, rebel and sabotage the group’s success. By identifying the group goal(s), I will examine how the leadership, at first promotes the group goal, then hinders moving toward the group goal and how the shift in leadership towards the last half of the movie contributes to the failure of the group and the sub-groups within it.

Despite their age, the boys quickly set out a plan of action. Ralph is elected the leader; immediately after this, maintenance roles assigned by Ralph are used to gain and maintain the cohesiveness and role specialization quickly take effect to meet the primary goal of surviving and being found (Rothwell, 155). Moreover the tension between Ralph and Jack is obvious in this moment. Jack has been deeply envious of Ralph’s power from this point and it becomes clear when Jack’s irresponsibility leads to the failure of the signal fire. They are in a place where societal roles must be created, civilization does not exist and the boys are using learned behaviors from the society they are raised in.

Ralph, Jack and Simon set off on an expedition to explore the island and it is decided that nobody speaks unless they have the conch. Ralph quickly sets rules for communication by doing so, the conch shell as a governing force. It is used at the beginning of the movie to reunite the group after the initial shock; it functions as a symbol of order and democratic power. At the beginning, when Piggy suggests they create a fire as a flare to be rescued, the boys don’t take him seriously and they classify him as weak, refusing to listen to him. Then when Ralph (the declared leader) suggests it, they agree and quickly get to working on the task. The only reason it is taken as a legitimate idea when it comes from Ralph because he is charismatic, stronger and in the leadership position.

Some children pursue popularity by illegitimately opting for control by knocking down competition; early in the society creation, all seems well, as the structure begins to take hold. Ralph assigns task roles, the first one is asking some boys to go and find dead wood to light a fire to warm them and create a signal flare. Although they are enjoying life with no grown-ups, they quickly cause chaos when they burn the forest down and presumably kill one of the boys, when he turns up missing. Ralph is always the voice of reason and keeps the society running at ease. The group starts of working cohesively, when the group boundaries are tested, that is when some members begin to act without the consensus. 

Ralph and Simon use power to protect the young boys, other members of the group faction off and become too preoccupied in the goal assigned to them and forget the group goal, survival and upholding a society. Jack (the leader of the hunters) is the first to succumb to this and he represents the savagery (literally) and later in the movie, Jack and Roger are not only unethical, but their desire for power, constantly brings down the norm set for the society and use the younger boys as objects to achieving this goal. The younger boys are taking the messages and believe them. Relational dimensions are tested and abused (Adams, 27)

Ralph, as the elected leader must function under the maintenance role in this small group, but insuring group cohesion and seeing through the completion of their group goal and the goals each sub-group has (Rothwell, 155). In the long run, Ralph as a leader doesn’t fail the group, he tries to be keep the group working harmoniously and tries to diffuse any issues quickly. Instead, their primal instincts come out, there is no way he can prevent this from occurring—the boys lose their sanity. The group goes from being a collectivist culture with a positive climate to an individualistic culture with a negative climate (SunWolf, 86). The tension between Ralph and Jack can be seen in the election of a leader and gets worse over the course of the movie. Each character represents an aspect of society: Ralph (the protagonist) represents order and leadership; Jack (the antagonist) represents selfishness, savagery and desire for power. Piggy (who wears glasses) has no savage feelings and represents the rationale, scientific and intellectual part of society, Roger represents the unruly, barely capable of comprehending rules and represents blood thirst at its extreme and the Littluns (younger boys) represent common folks, who don’t know better, they are easily manipulated.

Each faction had a task that would help the group succeed. Jack becomes too preoccupied with being a hunter and neglects his boys and the other duties the group must do, in order to succeed as a group. Jack is not concerned with the welfare of the group, which is worrisome, because in the end, he could be the one being hunted, when it is others against one person. In fact, at some point, Jack manipulates Ralph, in front of the group, by asking him, if is frightened. Ralph doesn’t want to cause any chaos as the leader and says no. This is shortly before the real power struggle occurs. Ralph is rational and disciplined (representing the society they were raised in), whereas Jack is savage and power hungry (representing the state of the civilization in this new society).

By the end the group is in disarray, Ralph and Piggy kill Simon. Bona Fide Perspective best describes what occurred: boundaries are completely blurred, mixed up and rewritten without the knowledge of the entire group. This ruins any teamwork effort done and ruins cohesion, when one or more people in the group become discourage by the other deviant members (SunWolf, 66). The group is no longer a group, but several groups, almost like different tribes, who despise each other. The group dynamics slowly deteriorate throughout the movie and then Jack’s hunters attack Ralph, Piggy and their few followers. Roger rolls a boulder down the mountain, killing Piggy and shattering the conch; Ralph barely escapes and hides while the other hunt for him. The conch shell loses its power and signifies society on the island crumbles and ulterior motives bring out the savagery and bestiality in the boys. This proves that the instinct of savagery and barbarism, trumps the instinct for order and being well behaved.

William Golding (the author of the book with the same name) paints a broad image of fundamental struggle and human evil by using a group of boys who are stranded on an island. He does not use poetic language or lengthy descriptions, which is carried over into the film version. Each character has its own symbolic meaning that relates back to the central theme. Although at first, the group works together (as most groups do) soon thereafter, they break up into factions, that don’t want to work together with each other. Some want to further the goal of the group by peacefully working together, others don’t by rebelling then resort to committing violence and barbarism. The last scene in the movie is Ralph being overwhelmed when he discovers they have been found by a British Naval force, but amazed because he thought that they would be stuck there forever. He weeps because he is fearful of this society that he helped build.

Works Cited

Adams & Galanes. “Human Communication Processes in the Small Group Context” (Ch2) and Diversity & Culture (Ch 6). 21-47 and 77-104. Print

Rothwell, J. Dan. "Ch 5" In Mixed Company: Communicating in Small Groups and Teams. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning, 2004. 146-187. Print

SunWolf. "Peer Groups in Childhood." (n.d.): 53-69. Print.