How long was Ralph on the island in Lord of the Flies?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Marking the passage of time is ubiquitous among cultures, but the boys on the island in Lord of the Flies don't seem to think about it. Only Piggy considers making a sundial, but he abandons the useless idea. The boys function extemporaneously—they eat when they are hungry and sleep at night. They hold meetings on an ad hoc basis. They don't have any special days, like Sundays, to punctuate the sameness of their activities. Jack appears to establish a rotation among the boys who tend the fire, but that isn't enforced. Perhaps the reason Jack's feast is so attractive—besides the meat—is that it is the first celebration or event they have held.

Golding doesn't mar this lack of attention to time with any authorial intrusion. He doesn't tell readers how much time has passed. Since the island is tropical, no seasonal changes give readers a clue to how long the boys have been stranded. The only clues Golding gives readers are the mentions of the boys' hair and clothing. Ralph's growing hair bothers him at several points. In Chapter 7, Ralph longs to "have a pair of scissors and cut this hair—he flung the mass back—cut this filthy hair right back to half an inch." At this point, the boys have been on the island long enough for Ralph's hair to grow from half an inch to a "mass" that he can fling back. In chapter 11, it is long enough for Piggy to suggest that he could "tie your hair back." Ralph responds, "Like a girl!" His hair is long enough to tie back in a ponytail. Hair grows at various rates, but for hair to grow from half an inch to ponytail length would take months. A good estimate is that when the naval officer appears, Ralph has been on the island for several months.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

William Golding never gives readers this information; however, readers can make somewhat of an educated guess about how long the boys were on the island. The narrator doesn't tell readers about any significant changes in the season, so it is likely that the boys are on the island for less than one year. The island is a tropical island, so looking for a change in season will be somewhat negligible. The start of chapter 3 has some important information about the passage of time. Jack's hair and skin are described in the second paragraph.

His sandy hair, considerably longer than it had been when they dropped in, was lighter now; and his bare back was a mass of dark freckles and peeling sunburn.

Already by chapter 3, the boys have been on the island long enough for their skin to darken by tanning. Jack's hair has become bleached out from all of the sun. These two things don't happen quickly. Guaranteed, it has been a couple of weeks; however, the information about Jack's hair length suggests to readers that it has been longer than a few weeks. His hair is "considerably longer." That is somewhat of a relative description. "Considerably" could mean something different for different readers, but I would surmise that it has been at least 3-4 months by this point. That would be long enough to have a boy's hair be noticeably longer.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial