Two separate illustrations of an animal head and a fire on a mountain

Lord of the Flies

by William Golding

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What is the setting in the opening of William Golding's Lord of the Flies? Why do you think Jack can't kill the piglet trapped in the creepers? What social classes emerge in the society of the boys?

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Although the setting of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies appears to be a tropical paradise at the start of the novel, there are clues that foreshadow the darker nature of the island. Piggy and Ralph meet up as they are emerging from a steamy jungle onto a beautiful beach facing a warm, blue lagoon. Yet Piggy reveals the truth: their plane was attacked and caught fire, and since the setting is during WWII, we can assume the attacker was a German fighter pilot. They have crashed on an unknown tropical island and no adults have survived. During the crash the boys also experienced a tropical storm severe enough to drag the wreckage of the plane out to sea. Once the boys all find each other, they discover that the island can provide them with food, water, and even entertainment. However, it also overwhelms them with the heat of the midday sun, the frightening sounds and beastly shadows of the jungle at night, and the inevitable stresses of trying to survive in isolation. Therefore, the setting actually functions as an antagonist in the novel.

Speaking of antagonists… Jack’s inability to kill the pig the first time gives us a good snapshot of who he is. He wants to be voted leader, and gets embarrassingly shot down. Although Ralph tries to mollify him by appointing him leader of the choir (a.k.a. hunters), Jack is still humiliated. He believes he is the rightful leader, so he has a point to prove. Providing meat for the boys will give him leverage. Yet Jack has been raised as a proper British school boy, trained in social niceties; he’s never hunted, let alone actually killed an animal. When Jack hesitates and that first pig gets free, he makes excuses that he was just trying to find the best place to stab it. But Golding reveals the true reason: “because of the enormity of the knife descending and cutting into living flesh; because of the unbearable blood.” Jack is still civilized at this point, but he instinctively feels the need to break out of this mold on the island. He snarls, “‘Next time—!’ He snatched his knife out of the sheath and slammed it into a tree trunk. Next time there would be no mercy.” And there certainly is not, as Jack evolves into a savage in his attempt to gain control of the island.

With Jack turning his choir into hunters who patrol the jungle with spears and refuse to follow the rules, we clearly see a class system emerging on the island, Jack’s group being the militant class with him as dictator. The littluns would be the lowest social group, keeping to themselves and neither contributing to the group nor affecting it much. They are the lost boys, in a sense. Ralph and Piggy, along with a few boys who stick with them for a while before being recruited by Jack, represent the typical, morally upright citizens. They try to make and maintain rules for the good of all, but are increasingly seen by the rest of the boys as weak and socially unacceptable, especially in the face of Jack’s propaganda. He convinces the boys that his side is full of fun, freedom, and all the food they can eat, while Ralph and Piggy are sissies who aren’t going to survive. One by one he amasses his army. For a while, Samneric are a class of their own—the fence-sitters. They rely on each other and make decisions together. They try to stay with Ralph, since they have been taught to do the civilized thing, but when threatened by the savages, they quickly give in to Jack’s dictatorship. By the very end, there are only two classes left: the murderous savages and the one prey remaining—Ralph.

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