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The Latin phrase ‘deus ex machina’, literally means the god out of the machine and ultimately referring back to ancient Greek plays where actors playing gods would be lowered onto stage by a crane. In literary terms it has come to mean the sudden and unexpected intervention of some outside force, event, character into a situation that appears irresolvable and/or hopeless. There is a notable example of this at the close of Lord of the Flies. By this stage things are completely out of control on the island; Jack and his followers are running amuck and hunting Ralph down. They try to smoke him out and in so doing start a fire that threatens to engulf the whole place. At this moment, with Ralph in utter desperation and with no hope for his life, a naval officer suddenly appears on the island. A rescue ship has landed, having spotted the smoke from the fire. Thus the naval officer represents the unexpected incursion of the outside world, of civilization, into the primitive disorder which the island has become. The naval officer is therefore the deus ex machine who will save Ralph and put a stop to Jack’s marauding forces. However, he appears wholly unable to understand the real nature of what has been going on; he can’t believe that mere boys, especially British boys, have been causing such havoc.
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