How does the diction in Lord of the Flies contribute to the atmosphere and theme? How do we see that in this passage? Ralph shuddered.  The lagoon had protected them from the Pacific and for some...

How does the diction in Lord of the Flies contribute to the atmosphere and theme? How do we see that in this passage?

Ralph shuddered.  The lagoon had protected them from the Pacific and for some reason only Jack had gone right down to the water on the other side.  Now he saw the landsman's view of the swell and it seemed like the breathing of some stupendous creature.  Slowly the waters sank among the rocks, revealing pink tables of granite, strange growths of coral, polyp, and weed.  Down, down the waters went, whispering like the wind among the heads of the forest.  There was one flat rock there, spread like a table, and the waters sucking down on the four weedy sides made them seem like cliffs.  Then the sleeping  leviathan breathed out—the waters rose, the weed streamed, and the water boiled over the table rock with a roar.  There was no sense of the passage of waves, only this minute long fall and rise and fall. 

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poetrymfa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Diction is a literary term that refers to the specific tone of an author's writing; it is reflective of the word choice, dialect, style, and mood that were selected to create a particular atmosphere or emphasize a theme within a text.

Before we examine how William Golding uses diction to contribute to atmosphere and theme, let's consider the context of the passage that you have quoted. This part of the story occurs in Chapter Six of the novel. After Sam and Eric have seen the dead parachutist and mistaken it for the evil beast that the children believe stalks the island, the boys rush to Ralph to tell him of this horror. This leads to an expedition in which the boys attempt to scour the island for any beasts that may be lurking in the shadows. At this point in the book, Ralph's power is already slipping away from him, and Jack has taken the lead on the expedition. They finally stumble across a particularly geographically intimidating part of the island. As the boys are too scared to cross the ledge before them, Ralph decides to explore it by himself. The passage you quoted describes his reaction to surveying the land around him.

We might initially think that Golding has assumed a fairly neutral tone throughout the book; it is neither too formal nor overly informal in terms of approach or style. However, when we look closer at his use of word choice, similes, and metaphor, it is clear that this passage is meant to be perceived as ominous and moody. 

Goldman uses a simile to compare Ralph's view of the swelling waves in the lagoon to "the breathing of some stupendous creature." Immediately, this creates the unnerving sense that Ralph is standing upon and before some living force that is much greater and more powerful than his own fallible, small body. The description of this view only expands with Golding commenting on what is revealed when the water recedes: the "pink tables of granite" and "strange growths" of sea vegetation.

We are meant to understand through this description that the island is, in fact, capable of hiding unusual facets of itself. The way that the water is described through simile--"whispering like the wind among the heads of the forest"--suggests that it is a keeper of secrets. Do these strange sights and observations imply that perhaps the island could, after all, hide a beastly creature that threatens the boys' safety? We do not know for sure, which is what adds to the dramatic atmosphere of uncertainty and potential danger here.

This imagery only intensifies with the next diction-related choice to describe the water's appearance against the rocks "like cliffs," which gives the sense that the water is imposing in its motion--something that could rise and fall with equally destructive power, attacking something even as sturdy as a slab of rock. The ocean itself takes on the metaphorical form of a "sleeping leviathan"--or sea monster--which breathes out and completely overhauls the entire scene; the water rises and "roars" over the rock table, entirely consuming it. We see the water's power to give and take, create and destroy--forces which are compared to the act of breathing and the presence of some otherworldly, gigantic life force. 

It's obvious that the diction here contributes to our understanding of the island as a treacherous place for children--one whose shifting landscape could result in injury or death at any time. Yet what is perhaps not as obvious is the fact that these authorial choices--the use of simile, metaphor, word choice, and mood--also support one of the emerging themes of the book thus far: the war between civilization and the wild, between savagery and humanity. With Ralph's power over the boys diminishing, seeing him observe the natural world helps us contextualize his place within it and reminds us of the weakness of human life and free will in comparison to the magnitude of the earth. This is a place that has existed long before the boys were shipwrecked upon it, and it is a place that will continue to exist long after they leave it. In much the same way, we can see that Jack's wildness--his connection with what is inherent to the natural world rather than with the moral boundaries of civilization--will inevitably overpower Ralph's desire for rules and order. 

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Lord of the Flies

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