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In a typical hero's journey, the hero is sent out to discover some truth or discovery that can return harmony to the land. Along the way, the hero often encounters peril, danger, and trials; often the difficulty of the journey forces the hero to struggle mentally and emotionally as well, sometimes forcing him to overcome personal faults or struggles.
Lord of the Flies shares several similarities with the archetypal 'hero's journey.' Although none of the boys actually travel within the story except around the island, they are traveling when the plane crashes. The boys do encounter danger on the island in the form of the beast, the elements, and each other. Ralph discovers the darkness in man's heart as the other boys descend into savagery, and he struggles emotionally throughout the novel in his effort to remain true to himself without becoming a savage like the other boys.
There are many variants and interchangeable details in the archetype of the "hero's journey," which can make it difficult to simplify it to any cohesive set of core events or plot points crucially required to characterize it as a Hero's Journey-type of story. Some of these elements are reflected in Lord of the Flies, but not all of them, and not in the traditional sense, if one interprets the story in the most straightforward manner.
Some key elements of the Hero's Journey are the incorporation of various phases of the journey:
- The Initiation or Transition, where the hero identifies and understands the conflict, and crosses some threshold that separates them from active engagement in the conflict.
- The Challenges, where the hero encounters external and/or internal opposition, culminating in some climactic conflict. The hero often undergoes a literal or figurative death and rebirth, in which they sacrifice, suffer or otherwise undergo some form of destruction of their former self in order to attain a new identity or power necessary to succeeding in the conflict.
- The Return, in which the hero goes back to some semblance of the life they led before the first phase, although sometimes they find that the changes they underwent during the Challenges make it impossible for them to live in exactly the same way.
We definitely see examples of the first part of the Hero's Journey in Lord of the Flies. The boys go through two or more Transitions; the first is their crash on the island, throwing them into a conflict whether they asked for it or not. The Beast is also established as a primary antagonist. Ralph seems to be set up as the primary candidate for the Hero.
However, during the Challenges phase, Ralph is unable to overcome all of the conflicts he encounters, and ironically, the "death and rebirth" is something he's trying to avoid; this is the descent into savagery that the other boys undergo. Oddly enough, there seems to be a split in the identity of the Hero at this point; we could make a solid case for Jack actually being the Hero, having undergone the rebirth, defeating or at least outwitting the Beast, and acquiring food and emotional fulfillment for the boys. This is, of course, a short-sighted view on Jack's part that will ultimately destroy both the island and the boys; Golding might have been drawing on the "forbidden feast" archetype found in stories such as the Odyssey or Genesis, with the boys becoming savage as punishment for prizing animal flesh above rescue.
The ending of the story forebodes Ralph's "Return" phase, and he has clearly changed his entire understanding of human nature, mourning the deaths of Piggy and Simon as entirely innocent, and, most likely, blaming himself for them. Ralph manages to hold onto his humanity more firmly than the other boys, but nevertheless he has been changed by the experience, and his "heroism," in this case, was not the achievement of some goal or the victory over an enemy, but a combination of perseverance, luck and good sense that allowed him to merely survive without losing his identity.
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