Written in 1954, less than a decade after World War II ravaged Europe, Lord of the Flies is a chilling and brilliant novel that has captured the imaginations of generations of readers. Set on a remote island in the Pacific as war rages in the outside world, the novel describes a group of British schoolboys marooned after the plane ferrying them to safer shores is shot down. The boys find themselves alone with no adult presence, free from societal rules and structures. At first they attempt to emulate the ordered and civilized society they have come from, only to splinter into two rival factions and descend into savagery. Golding masterfully presents an allegorical tale that centers on an age-old question: Are humans ultimately good and predisposed to civil society and order, or are we in our hearts evil and given to chaos and savagery?
William Golding spent the war years in the Royal Navy, and this novel is certainly influenced by the violence and brutality he witnessed. Interestingly, parallels can be drawn between Golding’s experi- ence in the Navy and the experiences of an earlier British writer and former merchant marine, Joseph Conrad, whose Heart of Darkness was certainly a major influence on Golding’s work. Questions of good and evil, civility and savagery are central to both books, but Golding also offers a particularly astute analysis of the origins, limits, and possibilities of both democratic rule and totalitarianism—no doubt a timely comparison in light of the rise of Nazism and Stalinism, as well as the emerging Cold War of the 1950s that pitted Western democracies against the threat of spreading Communism.
The characters in Lord of the Flies are expertly drawn. The charming, diplomatic Ralph rises to the position of chief among the boys with the help of the intelligent and infinitely rational Piggy, a portly asthmatic with glasses, who wants desperately to befriend Ralph. However, unity begins to break apart almost as soon as Jack Merridew enters the picture. A forceful and cruel boy who embraces the Darwinian notion of survival of the fittest, he sets himself up as Ralph’s antagonist in a friendly, com- petitive way that soon grows perilous.
The cracks in this makeshift society reveal themselves when the two stronger boys’ objectives differ. Ralph is obsessed with keeping the signal fire going so that they might have hope of rescue, while Jack is only interested in hunting pigs. When Jack’s hunters let the signal fire go out the first time a ship passes by, the relationship between the two leaders takes a dangerous turn. Ralph and Jack do battle as enemies, and the other boys must choose sides; what starts as a thrilling adventure soon becomes a terrifying and deadly contest for survival.
The tide turns against Ralph when the others start to fear “beasties.” Ralph dismisses their fear, while Jack understands that by harnessing it he can empower himself. Simon, the mystical figure in the story, is the first to discover the true nature of the dreaded beast. In the early stages of a seizure, Simon experiences a vision. Jack and the other hunters have brutally killed a nursing sow and impaled her head on the end of a stake, leaving it as a kind of offering to the beast. Bloody and blackening in the sun, the decapitated head attracts flies and in this way speaks to a disoriented Simon, introducing itself as the beast. Simon understands that the Lord of the Flies represents no external beast, but the darkness that lingers in the hearts of us all.
There is no shortage of interpretations of this complex novel. Some argue it is purely a Christian alle- gory with the island as the Garden of Eden, Simon as Jesus, and The Lord of the Flies as the devil, or Beelzebub. Others see it is as Freudian, with the various characters representing the Id, the Ego, and the Superego. Still others read it as a geopolitical treatise, with Golding’s endorsement of Western- style democracy at its core. Others come to just the opposite conclusion: that the author is trying to convey to the reader the innate universality of the themes of good and evil, civility and savagery, and order and chaos.
No doubt all of these interpretations can be supported to some extent by the text of Lord of the Flies, which probably explains part of the novel’s timeless appeal. The characters, objects, and events are all imbued with symbolic significance that communicates the novel’s essential themes. By depicting the broader human struggle through the actions of children left to their own devices, Golding illustrates the fundamental dichotomy of man’s nature. On one hand, we crave society and order, and on the other, we act selfishly, seek control over others, and indulge in brutality. Lord of the Flies ventures far beyond the confines of life on the tiny island and examines questions that lie at the very heart of what it means to be human. Our fascination with these questions is evident in literature as ancient as the Greek tragedies and as contemporary as The Hunger Games. Golding answers none of them definitively in Lord of the Flies, leaving readers to examine for themselves the essential nature of the human condition.
By the end of the unit the student will be able to:
1. Explain how the novel functions as an allegory; identify and give examples of the major themes it explores.
2. Describe how the boys are transformed on the island without an adult presence.
3. Compare and contrast Ralph and Jack and the types of leadership they represent.
4. Describe the character of Simon, and explain the spiritual or mystical role he plays in the story.
5. Identify and explain the importance of at least three symbols in the novel.
6. Analyze and discuss the meaning of the novel’s title.
This eNotes lesson plan is designed so that it may be used in numerous ways to accommodate ESL students and to differentiate instruction in the classroom.
Student Chapter Guide
• The Chapter Guide is organized to study the novel in sections. Chapter Guide pages may be assigned individually and completed at a student’s own pace.
• Chapter Guide pages may be used as pre-reading activities to preview for students the vocabulary words they will encounter in reading the sections of the novel and to acquaint them generally with
• Before Chapter Guide pages are assigned, questions may be...
(The entire section is 550 words.)
1. In Chapter one, why do the boys choose Ralph as their leader, as opposed to Piggy or Jack? What does this scene suggest about the political nature of power? Do the Ralphs of the world often win out over the Piggys or Jacks? What are the benefits and drawbacks of choosing a leader like Ralph?
2. Golding personifies nature throughout Lord of the Flies. Give three examples from the text of this personification of nature, and describe the relationship the boys have with nature. Do they live in harmony with nature, or do they view it as an adversary? Explain.
3. Golding does an expert job of describing the various characters in this book. Who is your...
(The entire section is 810 words.)
Chapter 1: The Sound of the Shell
decorous: showing respect for social customs and manners; dignified
defiles: corrupts; damages; pollutes
efflorescence: the state or a period of flowering
effulgence: a brightness or a brilliant light radiating from something
enmity: hostility, hate, antagonism
fledged: reared until ready for flight or independent activity; covered with or as if with feathers or down; furnished (as an arrow) with feathers
fluking: obtaining by chance rather than skill
(The entire section is 1147 words.)
Chapter 2: Fire on the Mountain
assurance: a pledge, a promise; confidence; certainty
capering: playfully jumping and prancing
clamor: a persistent demand; a loud noise
conspiratorial: betraying knowledge in a secret plot
ebullience: lively enthusiasm
errant: behaving badly; wayward; naughty; taking the wrong route; looking for adventure
gesticulated: moved the arms or hands when speaking
martyred: suffered persecution and death for one’s beliefs
officious: meddlesome; interfering
(The entire section is 1243 words.)
Chapter 3: Huts on the Beach
abyss: a gulf; a chasm; a deep hole
antagonism: opposition; hostility
castanet: a percussion instrument consisting of a pair of hollow pieces of wood or bone, usually held between the thumb and forefinger
declivities: surfaces, especially those of a piece of land, that slope downward
festooned: decorated; adorned
furtive: secretive, sneaky, sly
inscrutable: puzzling, unfathomable, impenetrable
opaque: not transparent
pallor: an unhealthy paleness of complexion; a...
(The entire section is 847 words.)
Chapter 4: Painted Faces and Long Hair
assertion: a declaration; a claim
chastisement: a reprimand
gouts: clots, usually of blood
gyration: a circular movement
incursion: a raid; an invasion
indefinable: indescribable; imperceptible
ingracious: discourteous, rude
malevolently: spitefully; unkindly
mirage: an optical illusion
opalescence: a shimmering with milky colors
ravenously: hungrily; greedily
(The entire section is 887 words.)
Chapter 5: Beast from Water
condemnation: disapproval; blame; criticism
convulsively: jerkily; uncontrollably
derisive: mocking; scornful
discursive: rambling; marked by analytic reasoning
effigy: an image in the form of a model or statue
improvisation: invention; making do
incantation: a chant; a prayer; a summons
indigo: a deep purplish-blue color
ineffectual: weak; incompetent; inadequate
jeeringly: mockingly; scornfully
lamentation: an expression of...
(The entire section is 1461 words.)
Chapter 6: Beast from Air
bastion: a stronghold; a fortress
chasms: gulfs; gorges; abysses
constrainedly: self-consciously; reservedly
diffidently: hesitantly; shyly; quietly
embroiled: involved; entangled
emphatic: forceful, insistent
guano: animal droppings
interminable: endless; everlasting
leviathan: a large beast or sea monster; a huge whale or other large sea animal
mutinously: rebelliously; defiantly
obscured: hidden; covered
(The entire section is 557 words.)
Chapter 7: Shadows and Tall Trees
awestricken: amazed; extremely impressed
blunder: an error; a gaffe
crestfallen: disappointed; downcast
decorum: good manners, etiquette
despairingly: hopelessly; despondently
dun: a brownish-gray color
glowered: glared, scowled
infuriatingly: irritatingly; frustratingly
luxuriance: extravagance; abundance; richness
obtuseness: denseness; dullness; stupidity
pattered: stepped lightly; tapped quickly
(The entire section is 880 words.)
Chapter 8: Gift for the Darkness
contemptuously: disdainfully; scornfully
covert: a shelter; undergrowth providing cover
fervor: passion; zeal; commitment
palled: became boring or insipid
parody: a satire; a ridiculous imitation or distortion
rebuke: to reprimand; to scold
sanctity: sacredness, purity, holiness
tremulous: unsteady; quivering, trembling
1. Explain what occurs in the meeting Jack calls at the beginning of the chapter. What is Jack’s motivation for calling the meeting?...
(The entire section is 1497 words.)
Chapter 9: A View to a Death
inquisitive: curious, inquiring, nosy
phosphorescence: luminescence; light without heat
sulphurous: of or relating to sulfur; of or relating to the fire of hell
1. The weather plays a central role in Chapter nine. Describe the conditions, and explain how they affect the mood of the chapter and the events as they unfold.
It is hot and stuffy; even the breeze from the ocean offers no relief, and now storm clouds are brewing. The air, “ready to explode,” is full of static electricity. “Nothing prospered but the flies who...
(The entire section is 1281 words.)
Chapter 10: The Shell and the Glasses
assimilating: incorporating; integrating
barmy: crazy; irrational
befouled: dirtied; made impure
bowstave: a trimmed rod of wood to be made into a shooting bow; a narrow strip of wood in the shape of a bow
composite: a combination; something made from different parts
interrogative: questioning; curious
piston: a metal cylinder that slides up and down inside a tubular housing, receiving pressure from or exerting pressure on a fluid, especially one of several in an internal-combustion engine; the...
(The entire section is 794 words.)
Chapter 11: Castle Rock
cessation: a stop; a pause or interruption
ferocity: rage; fierceness
luminous: glowing, shimmering, radiant
multitudinous: countless, innumerable
parried: deflected; evaded; avoided
propitiatingly: appeasingly; in a conciliatory, soothing manner
sniveling: crying; weeping
talisman: a charm; an amulet
truculently: aggressively; defiantly
1. At the beginning of the chapter, Piggy urges Ralph to blow...
(The entire section is 842 words.)
Chapter 12: Cry of the Hunters
acrid: pungent; bitter
antiphonal: occurring or responding in turns; alternating
cordon: a line of people, military posts, or ships stationed around an area to enclose or guard it; a cord or braid worn as a fastening or ornament
crepitation: a crackling sound
cutter: a small lightly armed patrol boat
elephantine: moving in a slow and heavy way; enormous
ensconce: to entrench; to install; to establish
epaulettes: decorations on the shoulder of a jacket or coat
(The entire section is 1272 words.)
1. How did the boys get on the island?
A. Their boat capsized.
B. They paddled there from the mainland.
C. Their plane crashed there.
D. They were taken and left there.
E. Readers never find out.
2. What two adjectives best describe Ralph?
A. brash and cruel
B. shy and quiet
C. anxious and shrill
D. confident and skillful
E. silly and loud
(The entire section is 1220 words.)
1. Published in 1954, Lord of the Flies is often referred to as both an allegorical work and a quintessential post-war novel. How do you think the Second World War influenced this novel? What do you think William Golding is trying to say about the nature of mankind through the story of these marooned boys? Give at least three examples from the text to back up your answer.
Lord of the Flies is an allegorical novel, meaning the characters, objects, and events of the story all hold symbolic significance and reveal the larger themes and ideas the author is trying to convey.
One of those themes, a central one in the story, is the age-old conflict over what...
(The entire section is 3820 words.)