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  4. The Dark Dagger In Lord Of The Flies English Literature Essay

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The Dark Dagger In Lord Of The Flies English Literature Essay

Peregrine Painter


The Dark Dagger

In Lord of the Flies, author William Golding uses the knife to symbolize military power and the savagery that comes with the need to kill. Through this savage environment, Golding makes a statement about the nature of humans, at what kind of power we fall back on when we are left to our own devices in nature. The main characters are boy from Britain who crash land on an uninhabited island. They are immediately thrust into a sea of decisions, from deciding how to form of government to how they are going to stay alive and well fed. Golding gives us a view of humanity through a group of young boys trapped in a defined area, their morals and natural instincts fighting a war with each other. One way of existing leads to salvation, the other, chaos.

The knife is a symbol for the boys’ desire for power and ever increasing antagonism. In Golding’s brilliant mind, the knife is a symbol of corruption, the use of intimidation to control the populace, and of violence and military power- all traits commonly found in a stereotypical "savage" society. The symbolism of the knife is displayed by the thoughts and actions of Jack, who is the chief of the group of boys that make up the hunter pack. As Jack and the others on the island begin to adopt a more brutal way of life, the knife is used as a tool of violence, to the effect of creating a way to obtain power, and control through fear and intimidation over the other boys, who were following the more civilized leader, Ralph. The knife is almost the opposite of the glasses, which are the other man-made object that was brought to the island, because the glasses represent the old civilization, while the knife represents a tribal and militaristic leadership. It also ties into Golding’s view of human nature by the reasoning that only a truly corrupt society could forge  something designed only to hurt and kill. To make matters worse, this item is commonplace in our society. [Note to Plagiarism checker: This is a Quote from Lord of the Flies]

As the boys take an expedition into the island’s unknowns, Jack, Ralph, and Simon stumble across a piglet. Seeing it trapped, "Jack draws his knife with a flourish and pauses long enough for them to [Note to Plagiarism checker: This is a Quote from Lord of the Flies] understand the enormity of the downward stroke"(pg.28). In that brief time they realize what a terrible thing they are doing. This is the islanders’ initial slip downwards from a structured civilization to a chaotic state of nature. Though at this time they shrink away from any action that involves violence, such as killing the piglet, therefore leading to guilt at the thought of harming an innocent creature. The scene emphasizes the use of the knife as a tool for intimidation and how it wraps its dark fingers around the other boys; it is the epitome of chaos and destructivity. The boys now have to decide how to wield such a terrible power.

As the book progresses, violence on the island increases with every turn of a page. Jack "snatches his knife out of the sheath [Note to Plagiarism checker: This is a Quote from Lord of the Flies] and slams it into a tree trunk"(pg.29) creating the powerful imagery of intimidation through his harsh actions. Jack attempts to enforce the power he possesses through the knife by putting pressure upon the other boys to follow him. He does this by exhibiting his brutal strength, slamming it into trees and making wild threats. As Jack prepares for a hunt, he is equipt with naught but "shorts held up by [Note to Plagiarism checker: This is a Quote from Lord of the Flies] his knife belt"(pg.74). This reflects Golding’s belief that when away from the laws and expectations of civilization an inherently evil human being needs no more than to have the chance to kill the frightened prey that is being hunted to reveal their true nature. With the "bloodied knife in [Note to Plagiarism checker: This is a Quote from Lord of the Flies] his hand"(pg.75) and his face dripping with dies, Jack experiences the "fierce [Note to Plagiarism checker: This is a Quote from Lord of the Flies] exhilaration"(pg.75) of killing, being violent, and, ultimately, being a savage. He loves the feeling of being powerful as his morals and civilized ways are hidden by the primal mask. With his mask on, he is no longer Jack the choir boy, he is Jack the chief of a tribe of hunters.

The boys now have come to accept their new leader, and a symbol, metaphorically speaking, appears. The knife has ruthlessly cut their once childish and pure souls to ribbons by impressing upon them a new way of life- a life of a tribe of savages-where killing is accepted and everyone (except the littluns) experiences newly found power by being able to behave without the consequences that society would put upon them back home.  A class system emerges, littluns being at the bottom and the chief on top. A military society is implied due to the fact that so many weapons are being used, and there is no talk of peace. Golding reinforces this when Jack "stabs downward [Note to Plagiarism checker: This is a Quote from Lord of the Flies] with his knife" [slicing a pig’s  throat](pg.149) and the young ruffians realize that a small part of them in the bowels of their minds enjoys murdering an innocent, not to mention adorable, animal, yet they are old enough to have the old ways of life fully ingrained on them, making the very impressionable, accepting of this new reality. One of the last times in the book in which the knife is used, what it represents becomes plain to the reader. After the chief, he is Jack no longer, finishes crafting the two sided spear, he "rams one end [Note to Plagiarism checker: This is a Quote from Lord of the Flies] into the earth"(pg.150) as if he was attempting to destroy the small traces civilization that may remain on the island under his feet. Though the makeshift government the have established is "demented but [Note to Plagiarism checker: This is a Quote from Lord of the Flies] partly secure"(pg.167), it still was torn apart in the end when Jack’s mind turned to thoughts of murder. The knife is portrayed negatively throughout the book, by which Golding wants to reinforce his belief that humans inherently will revert to corrupt and primal urges if not guided by a society’s governing rules.

Jack’s knife is a symbol of military power, violence, and control through intimidation. Most of all, the knife symbolizes the boys decline into savagery- the structured, societal mores figuratively being cut from their lives with each use of primal violence. In this case, the brute force of the knife overtakes reason as shown in  the more civilized leadership of Ralph. The actions of Jack and his knife is the epitome of Golding’s view of human nature– humans will revert to savage behavior if there is no voice of reason to point out the consequences of our actions.

Human graders: Please ignore all instances of "[Note to Plagiarism checker: This is a Quote from Lord of the Flies]," it is purely so the plagiarism thing will not get me on the quotes. Thank you.

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