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Character Analysis

Jack is the main antagonist of the novel whose desire for power and love of violence means that he challenges Ralph’s democracy. Jack divides the community, leading his followers to become savage hunters that ends with the entire pack of boys chasing Ralph almost to his death.

Eyes, frustrated now, turning, or ready to turn, to anger

• Jack’s eyes signal his short temper when he first meets Ralph.

• Golding uses the motif of eyes to explore ideas and characters. There is foreshadowing in the motif; Jack is presented as someone who will be hard to control and whose anger could well be linked to violence.

‘We’re not savages. We’re English and the English are the best at everything’

• Jack agrees with Ralph that there should be rules on the island.

• His emphatic declarative statements reveal a nationalistic confidence. He is proud of his English heritage that marks him as superior to ‘savages’. He sees himself as civilised and morally sound and that, by being English, he is far removed from any primitive urges or savage instincts.

Context: Jack shows a patriotic pride that echoes back to colonial thinking when the British Empire stretched across the world and national confidence in the superiority of English society was firmly entrenched. Golding undermines any sense of English superiority; after all, immediately after Jack’s confident statement, his fire burns out of control and kills the boy with the birthmark.

‘strange invisible light of friendship, adventure and content’

• Jack and Ralph sit companionably in front of the fire they have jointly made.

• The metaphor of light shows that Jack has the capacity to connect with others and enjoy the bonds of camaraderie. He is, like all humans, not born pure evil.

• There is perhaps foreshadowing in the adjective ‘strange’ which suggests that this bond of friendship is unusual and will not last.

Context: Golding subverts the genre of children’s adventure books such as ‘Coral Island’ in which the children live outside the world of grown-ups and enjoy great camaraderie. Although the opening seems to suggest that the novel will fall into this genre, Golding twists it to reveal the bleak savagery at the heart of us all as the boys on the island violently turn on each other.

‘the mask was a thing of its own, behind which Jack hid, liberated from shame’

• Jack paints his face in coloured mud, creating a mask. The mask allows Jack to explore his dark instincts which lead to violence.

• The mask could reflect how civilisation itself is just a mask, covering our innate sense of evil. Once the mask of civilisation is taken off, human nature is seen to be violent and evil. Jack can now be himself and indulge in all his previously hidden desires to hurt.

Context: Golding uses Ralph and Jack to represent two schools of thought on how society should be run: Ralph represents democracy while Jack is moving towards a dictatorship. In this, Golding draws parallels with the recent World War 2, often viewed as a struggle between opposing ideologies.

‘bollocks to the rules! We’re strong – we hunt!’

• Jack dismisses the rules and the power of the conch.

• Jack’s use of the swear word ‘bollocks’ illustrates just how much contempt he has for the rules of the community. At this point, Jack is realising that he can defy any regulations and follow his urges without any sanctions.

• These urges are clear in the short, emphatic clauses ‘we’re strong! we hunt!’ which capture his powerful desire for violence.

Context:  Using Freudian analysis, Jack represents the id, the side of our personalities which seeks to fulfill our own desires.

‘The chief was sitting there, naked to the waist… he pointed at this savage and that with his spear’

• Towards the end, Jack is in total control of his hunters.

• He has lost the name that links him to civilisation; instead of Jack, he is referred to as ‘the chief’.

• Golding uses clothing as a motif to illustrate the descent into savagery. At the start, Jack wore his chorister’s cloak and cap but by the end is ‘naked to the waist’. As the community slips further into disorder, Jack’s clothing becomes more sparse.

• His rule and power is based on violence; the way that he uses his spear to point at his followers reflects this.

Context: Golding uses Jack and Ralph to represent two opposing ideologies: Jack represents an authoritarian leader. Jack is perhaps used as an allegory of Adolf Hitler; certainly, he is a dictator, allowing his followers no freedom and keeping power through fear and intimidation.

Grade 9 Analysis

Look at the character in a different way.

At the end, do we have any sympathy left for Jack?

Yes: Jack is not a complete monster. The reader is uneasily aware that Jack is a young boy who has been put into an extraordinary situation which has allowed him to explore the darkness of his heart; we wonder just how far we would resist the temptations that the island presents and how easy we would find it to resist giving in to our primitive, savage urges. At the end, Ralph weeps and the ‘other little boys’ join in. If Jack is included as one of these ‘other little boys’, then he too is overwhelmed by the knowledge of ‘darkness of man’s heart’. He will return to civilisation as a boy who knows he has committed unspeakable acts.

Golding fought in World War 2 and saw even the best of men give in to brutality. Jack’s desire to hurt and kill is part of human nature, common to us all.

No: Jack begins the novel as an unsympathetic character; even from the outset, he is described as ‘something dark was fumbling along’ as the boys watch the choir draw closer. The dark imagery foreshadows Jack’s savagery and certainly the first chapter establishes him as a cruel bully as he picks on Piggy and contemptuously orders the choir around. Golding places the reader to view most of the events of the novel from Ralph’s point of view and, by the time Piggy is dead and we experience Ralph’s frantic running to avoid Jack’s murderous tribe, there is little or no sympathy for the vicious dictator who has completely given into his urges to hurt and kill.

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