Study Guide

Lord of the Flies

by William Golding

Lord of the Flies Themes

Social Concerns / Themes

World War II convinced Golding that people have, in spite of certain admirable qualities, a powerful evil in their nature which civilization generally keeps in bounds, but which can be unleashed with great force to undermine their aspirations and negate their ideals. The war further persuaded Golding that evil appears insidiously and grows while humankind denies its very existence, until it mushrooms into an unmanageable force. The only way to avoid being overwhelmed by this evil is to acknowledge its existence and see man as he is, without either the veneer of civilization or idealized images of noble, innocent primitives. If human nature with its mixture of good and evil impulses can be understood, individuals will be in a better position to direct their positive powers, discipline their negative ones, and avoid another demonstration of inhumanity comparable to Hiroshima or Auschwitz.

Golding once asserted in an interview that the theme of Lord of the Flies is "an attempt to trace the defects of society back to the defects of human nature. The moral is that the shape of society must depend on the ethical nature of the individual and not on any political system however apparently logical or respectable." Perhaps for this reason, neither political system the boys try to initiate succeeds. The democracy of meetings on the beach seems to work at first as the boys vote for a chief, decide to build a signal fire, and appoint Jack and the choir to hunt pigs for food. But soon the meetings are disrupted by boys falling off a log and lots of laughter. No one will responsibly maintain the fire, and eventually hunting pigs becomes cruel violence driven by a desire to exorcise the imagined beast. The dictatorship that Jack has over his choristers-be-come-hunters is no more successful. They kill a pig for food but become hooked by the power and violence. Then they kill Piggy, an intelligent if awkward boy, who has ideas that help them survive on the island. They also kill Simon, the boy who understands that the beast is within them. They are stalking Ralph and only prevented from killing him by being rescued.

More apparent than his undercutting political systems are Golding's jibes at nationalistic smugness. Early on, the boys assume they can manage their affairs quite easily, simply because they are English. Ironically, Jack, the first to move toward anarchy, asserts, "We've got to have rules and obey them. After all, we're not savages. We're English, and the English are best at everything." But even the English are human and imperfect. At the end of the novel, the rescuing...

(The entire section is 1061 words.)

Lord of the Flies Themes

Good and Evil
During their abandonment on the island, Ralph, Piggy, Simon, and many of the other boys show elements of good in their characters. Ralph's calm "stillness," and his attentiveness to others' needs, make him a potentially good person. Good may be defined here as something just, virtuous, or kind that conforms to the moral order of the universe. Piggy's knowledge and belief in the power of science and rational thought to help people understand and thus control the physical world for their mutual benefit are also obviously a force for good. Simon, always ready to help out, sensitive to the power of evil but not afraid to stand up to it, is perhaps the strongest representative of the forces of good in the story.

Yet all of these characters ultimately fall victim to the forces of evil, as represented by the cruelties of the hunters, especially Jack and Roger. Piggy loses his glasses, and thus the power to make fire. This power, when controlled by the forces of reason, is a powerful tool for good: it warms the boys, cooks their food, and provides smoke for the rescue signals that are their only hope for survival. But in the hands of those with less skill and knowledge, the fire becomes an agent of destruction— first unintentionally in the hands of those who are ignorant of its powers, then purposefully when Jack and the hunters use it to smoke out and destroy their opponents. It is Simon's bad luck to stumble upon the feasting group of boys with his news about the "man on the hill" just as the group's ritual pig hunt is reaching its climax. Simon's ritual killing, to which Piggy and Ralph are unwitting yet complicit witnesses, is perhaps the decisive blow in the battle between the forces of good and evil. Later Piggy loses his life at the hand of the almost totally evil Roger, who has loosed the boulder from Castle Rock. Now, without Piggy's glasses and wise counsel and Simon's steadfastness, Ralph is greatly weakened, and to survive he must ultimately be rescued by adult society, represented by the British captain. It is important, however, to note that Jack, too, is defeated because he cannot control the forces of evil. It is Jack's order to use fire to destroy Ralph's hiding place that virtually destroys the island, although, ironically, it is the smoke from that fire that finally attracts the British ship and leads to the boys' rescue.

Appearances and Reality
At several points in the story, Golding is at pains to stress the complexity of human life. During the novel, neither a firm grasp of reality (represented by Piggy's...

(The entire section is 1063 words.)