What are the conflicts in Lord of the Flies?

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laurniko eNotes educator| Certified Educator

William Golding uses several major conflicts in Lord of the Flies to drive the plot, create tension, and make the story interesting. Not every conflict in the book is a direct conflict between two people, however. In literature, a conflict can be a struggle between two people or two opposing forces.

One example of this is the conflict between man and nature in Lord of the Flies. When the boys are marooned on an island, their first thought is for survival. The wilderness is not welcoming and they are not accustomed to being forced to fend for themselves. The island itself—the weather, the animals, and the danger—this is the first conflict for the characters in Golding's novel. They address it by finding shelter, gathering and allocating resources, and defending themselves from wild animals.

At the beginning of the novel, the boys don't even know how to light a fire:

Ralph and Jack looked at each other while society paused about them. The shameful knowledge grew in them and they did not know how to begin confession.

Ralph spoke first, crimson in the face.

"Will you?"

He cleared his throat and went on.

"Will you light the fire?" (2)

The next conflict in the book is between the boys themselves. Jack doesn't like submitting to Ralph's authority because Jack is older and not used to giving way to a younger boy. Jack pushes at Ralph and his supporters, eventually inciting violence and naming himself as head of a new tribe. Ralph, Piggy, and several others are left to maintain the original tribe that was established at the beginning of the book.

Jack believes he should have power simply because he always has: 

"Shut up," said Ralph absently. He lifted the conch. "Seems to me we ought to have a chief to decide things."

"A chief! A chief!"

"I ought to be chief," said Jack with simple arrogance, "because I'm chapter chorister and head boy. I can sing C sharp."

Another conflict that is less physical is the conflict between civilization and chaos. The boys initially try to set up an environment that functions as a society with each person having a role to play. Fear and human nature lead the boys to separate into two different tribes—one that is civilized and one that is savage. The boys kill both Simon and Piggy during the novel. The death of Piggy at the hands of Roger is a symbol for how savagery has destroyed civilization on the island.

When the boys are finally rescued, the savagery that has taken over many of them collapses:

But the island was scorched up like dead wood—Simon was dead—and Jack had.... The tears began to flow and sobs shook him. He gave himself up to them now for the first time on the island; great, shuddering spasms of grief that seemed to wrench his whole body. His voice rose under the black smoke before the burning wreckage of the island; and infected by that emotion, the other little boys began to shake and sob too. And in the middle of them, with filthy body, matted hair, and unwiped nose, Ralph wept for the end of innocence, the darkness of man's heart, and the fall through the air of the true, wise friend called Piggy.

Kristen Lentz eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Lord of the Flies contains multiple conflicts throughout the course of the novel.

Man vs. Nature: 

The boys are stranded on a deserted island and must fend for themselves.  Facing difficulties of building shelters, maintaining fire, surviving the elements and battling hunger, Ralph feels the pressure of being the chief of the tribe.  The first pivotal scene featuring man vs. nature in the novel occur when the boys' first fire becomes out of control and burns down the mountain; the littlun with the birthmark mysteriously disappears.  The second significant man vs. nature moment deals with Jack's desire to hunt and provide food for the tribe; his first vicious kill of the sow suggests his will to dominate and control, even over the natural elements.

Man vs. Man

Ralph and Jack vie for  power continuously throughout Lord of the Flies.  Even at the first tribal meeting when Jack wants to be voted in for chief and Ralph is chosen instead, the reader can sense Jack's disappointment and his ambition to be leader.  Jack continually challenges Ralph, even up to his final split from the tribe in Chapter Eight, "A Gift for the Darkness."  The novel culminates in the violent climax of the novel as Jack and the other boys hunt Ralph down in the jungle.  Samneric tell Ralph that Jack has "sharpened a stick at both ends," suggestive of Jack's plan to eliminate Ralph as threat permanently.

Man vs. Self

Simon realizes that the Beast on the island might be more than just a scary product of the littluns' imagination.  Early on, he guesses "maybe its us," which hints at Golding's larger theme of man's predilection for evil.  Simon's conversation with the Lord of the Flies confirms this idea, as the head taunts Simon:

"You knew, didn't you? I'm part of you? Close, close, close! I'm the reason it's no go?  Why things are what they are?" (143)

The boys' descent into savagery has Ralph and Simon both questioning their morals and ability to survive.  The boys' struggle to maintain their ties to civilization and keep their moral code is at the heart of Lord of the Flies.

brandih eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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Lord of the Flies

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