In William Golding's novel The Lord of the Flies, how does the use of language affect tone in the first chapter?

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William Golding, like most talented writers, knew the importance of a novel’s opening chapter. He realized that the opening chapter gave him the opportunity to use language in especially effective ways and thus arouse readers’ curiosities and capture their interests. In the opening chapter of his novel Lord of the Flies, he does this in a number of different ways, particularly by using language to create an intriguing tone.  Examples include the following:

  • The opening sentence immediately creates a sense of mystery.  Who is this boy? What are his circumstances? Why is he near a “lagoon” (an unusual setting)?
  • Within the first few paragraphs, the narrator twice uses the word “scar,” but without making clear precisely what kind of scar is meant. Once again mystery is created, and the word “scar,” associated with wounds and pain, also helps establish a somewhat ominous mood.
  • The description of the overweight boy untangling himself from a thicket of thorns already suggests that nature, in this novel, will not be presented as comforting, friendly, or humane. Once more the tone seems somewhat ominous, especially since it is a boy who is undergoing this kind of discomfort. (We would be less troubled if the person suffering were an adult, since adults are presumed to know better than children how to deal with difficult conditions.)
  • The fact that the overweight boy has to search out “safe lodgments” for his feet suggests, once more, that the environment here is potentially dangerous.
  • The fact that no “grownups” seem nearby helps contribute to the ominous tone of the story; children without protective grownups are naturally the source of worry and concern.
  • The reference to the “jagged end” of a tree trunk suggests that nature itself has been harmed by something, apparently a plane crash. Both the clear reference to the jagged tree trunk and the growing number of clues suggesting a plane crash contribute to a tone that seems ominous, dangerous, and unnerving.
  • Ralph’s fall contributes further to a tone of danger, of the risks of being confronted with the unfamiliar, and of the unfortunate consequences that can result from hasty behavior.
  • The fact that the overweight boy defecates before the story is more than a page or two old suggests that the tone of the narrative will be blunt, realistic, and unsparing.
  • The fact that Ralph makes few efforts to interact with the other boy suggests that the tone of the story will be unsentimental in its depiction of human relations.
  • The repeated references to the heat suggest that the story will be realistic in its depiction of nature.
  • The fact that Ralph soon strips off his clothes and stands naked before the ocean suggests again that the tone of this novel will blunt, unsentimental, and sometimes indecorous. Already this seems to be a novel more concerned with things as they actually are (or can be) than with polite, civilized notions of how we wish they were or would like them to be.
  • The fact that Ralph’s companion is continually called “the fat boy” again suggests a tone of unsentimental frankness, as does Ralph’s somewhat cruel reaction when the other boy reveals that his nickname has been “Piggy”:

Ralph shrieked with laughter. He jumped up.

“Piggy! Piggy!”

This, apparently, will be a book that will be unsparing in its depiction of the potential cruelty of human beings, even (or especially) children.


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