Lord of the Flies opens with schoolboys wandering out of the jungle, into which their plane has crashed, and onto the beach of a remote island. In this isolated setting, the boys first try to maintain a veneer of civilization, but they soon shed it to exhibit the evil that is inborn. Golding tells the story from the boys’ perspective until the final few pages, where he then alters the perspective to enlarge the context. Little boys are not the only ones who have savagery at their core; the grown-ups do as well.
The first two boys to emerge, Ralph, an easygoing but fairly responsible boy, and Piggy, a thinker who is fat and asthmatic, gather the rest of the boys by sounding a conch shell. At their first assembly, the boys recognize the need for some rules: “After all, we’re not savages. We’re English.” They elect Ralph chief and make Jack the leader of the boys who will hunt for food and keep a signal fire going.
Before long, the boys’ immaturity and irresponsibility are clear and are a source of frustration to Ralph and Piggy. After building a couple of shelters, the boys would rather swim and roll rocks than work. The hunters would rather hunt than follow through on their other job of keeping a signal fire going. As a result, they miss the chance to signal a passing ship.
Immaturity and irresponsibility soon give way to violence and fear-inspired frenzy as the last vestiges of the veneer of civilization disappear. For Jack the early fun of hunting becomes a compulsion to track down and kill. He teaches his hunters to circle and close in on their prey, and in the circle the boys become bloodthirsty savages.
Fear works to intensify the power of the mob. Some of the little boys are afraid of a “beastie,” and their fear spreads to all the boys. Only one boy, Simon, has the insight to know that the beast is inside them and the savagery they have always suppressed is what they should fear. Seeing something move among the rocks, the boys conclude that they have found the beast and are terrified. Only Simon has the courage to investigate. He finds a dead aviator, his parachute lines entangled in the rocks. Exhausted from his search and sick at what he has found, Simon crawls down the mountain, arriving on the beach to find himself in the middle of a circle of madly dancing, paint-smeared boys. In a blind frenzy, somehow thinking Simon is the beast crawling toward them, they kill him.
Although Piggy refers to Simon’s death as an accident, Ralph knows it was murder and says he is scared “of us.” Like Simon, Ralph knows the beast is within; he becomes the next scapegoat. The circle is closing on Ralph when the boys are rescued by officers from a cruiser. The perspective changes immediately. One officer remarks, “Fun and games.” He asks Ralph jokingly, “Having a war or something? . . . Nobody killed, I hope? Any dead bodies?” The reader knows, as Ralph does, the awful truth of two dead bodies. The officer’s naïveté reinforces the irony of the entire novel. The boys come out of a world at war. They land in an idyllic spot where their basic needs are met and where they can escape the carnage of the adult world. Since evil is within them, however, they, too, war on one another. They return, finally, to a world at war because escape from the island is not escape from evil. Evil is in the hearts of people.