How does William Golding use language to demonstrate the social hierarchy which is established in chapter one of Lord of the Flies?

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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William Golding establishes several levels of hierarchy on the island in the first chapter of Lord of the Flies, and he uses language, among other things, to do so.

In no particular order, the first hierarchy Golding establishes is the relationship between the youngest boys on the island and the older boys, and he does it by his use of names. Of course there is a presumed hierarchy based on age, but Golding goes an extra step by giving names to most of the older boys while leaving most of the littler boys unnamed. There are a few exceptions, of course, but in general the more important characters on the island are older and have names. Even when the younger boys give their names, Ralph is uninterested and Piggy cannot quite seem to get them all or get them right.

The second hierarchy we discover in this chapter has to do with Ralph and Piggy. They are the first two boys we meet, and it is from them that we learn as much as we will ever really know about the accident which landed the boys, literally, on this island. From the first moment we meet them, we know that Piggy is less important, almost subservient to Ralph. Look at the dialogue Golding writes. "The fat boy" (Piggy) speaks fourteen lines of dialogue before "the fair boy" ever says a word. While in some settings that would indicate the dominance of the speaker, in this case just the opposite is true. Nearly everything Piggy says is a direct question or an indirect invitation for Ralph to engage in conversation. Ralph, however, is silent, and it is obvious Ralph does not want to engage in any conversation with the fat, asthmatic boy wearing a windbreaker and thick glasses.

The third example of en established hierarchy happens once the choir arrives at the boys' meeting place. Before we ever meet the leader of the choir (Jack), we know him from Golding's description. 

The boy who controlled them was dressed in the same way though his cap badge was golden. When his party was about ten yards from the platform he shouted an order and they halted, gasping, sweating, swaying in the fierce light. The boy himself came forward, vaulted on to the platform with his cloak flying, and peered into what to him was almost complete darkness.

The distinction of having a gold badge on his cap and the fact that he vaults when the others are in obvious distress sets Jack apart as being more than just one of the others in this group.

The final instance of establishing a hierarchy in this chapter happens between the two strongest personalities on the island. It is evident to everyone that there are only two choices of a leader for this group: two of the oldest boys on the island, Ralph and Jack. While we can listen to them talk (dialogue), we can watch what the boys do (nearly everyone voting for Ralph and the choir only reluctantly voting for Jack), and we can see how both boys conduct themselves during the process (description). We get something else, though, and that is Golding's use of an omniscient narrator to explain how Ralph gets elevated over Jack.

Notice that Golding stops in the middle of this process to tell us what everyone is thinking. 

None of the boys could have found good reason for this; what intelligence had been shown was traceable to Piggy while the most obvious leader was Jack. But there was a stillness about Ralph that marked him out.

Golding's language in the form of names, dialogue, description, and narration all help establish the hierarchy for the boys in the opening chapter. 

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