Lord of the Flies by William Golding

Lord of the Flies book cover
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What Happens in Lord of the Flies?

A group of English schoolboys find themselves stranded on a desert island after their plane crashes over the Pacific. Those who survive the crash elect Ralph, one of the oldest boys, as their leader.

  • Ralph argues that the group's main goals should be to have fun, survive, and maintain a smoke signal to catch the attention of the outside world and get rescued. 
  • The boys quickly lose interest in the day-to-day tasks Ralph wants them to perform, like building shelters. Instead of working, they spend their time playing and hunting pigs.
  • When Jack defies Ralph’s authority, the boys degenerate into a savage tribe. They set fire to the island in an effort to drive Ralph out of hiding. A British warship, seeing the smoke, stages a rescue. Ralph and the other children are saved.

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Summary

William Golding's Lord of the Flies opens in the midst of a war with a group of British schoolboys stranded on a deserted island in the middle of the ocean, with no adult supervision. Two boys, Ralph and Piggy, meet near a lagoon, and Ralph finds a conch shell while swimming. At the urging of Piggy, Ralph blows into the conch, summoning the other boys. Once everyone is assembled, they decide to hold an election. Ralph becomes chief due to his age, charisma, and role as the blower of the conch. Jack Merridew, who also sought leadership, is appointed to turn his group of choir boys into an army of hunters. The older boys—such as Ralph, Piggy, Jack, and Simon—perform the majority of the work, whereas the younger boys ("littluns") prefer to play. The littluns also become afraid of a “beast,” which the older boys dismiss as the product of nightmares. 

After exploring the island, Ralph decides that the boys should try to build a fire in order to signal passing ships. The first attempt ends in disaster. The fire, lit using Piggy’s glasses, burns out of control and destroys a large part of the island, and a littlun goes missing in the blaze. After Piggy scolds them for their recklessness, the boys learn from this mistake, and Jack’s hunters agree to maintain the signal fire. However, Jack becomes increasingly obsessed with hunting, to the point of donning face paint, neglecting the fire, and squandering a potential rescue in favor of killing a pig. Ralph and Piggy scold Jack, who proceeds to hit Piggy, breaking one of the lenses of his glasses. Ralph calls an assembly in order to further scold the hunters, but Jack uses the younger boys’ fear of the “beast” to garner support for his cause. 

One night, while the boys are sleeping, the corpse of a parachutist lands on the mountain where the boys make their signal fire. Samneric mistake the corpse of the parachutist for the beast. Ralph, Jack, and Roger search for the beast and investigate a new part of the island, with Jack noting its potential as a fortress. They climb the mountain and find the corpse of the parachutist, but they all flee in terror, believing it to be the littluns' beast. At the next meeting, Jack attempts to stage a coup, calling out Ralph’s cowardice while confronting the alleged beast. However, the boys refuse to vote Ralph out of office, so Jack, in tears, leaves the group. Shortly after leaving, he convinces his hunters to leave Ralph’s group entirely. They move into the fortress the boys had previously discovered, which they name “Castle Rock.” As the night goes on, most of the older boys quietly join Jack’s group. 

Ralph, Piggy, Simon, and Samneric are the only “biguns” who remain in the original group. At Piggy’s suggestion, they attempt to create a new signal fire on the beach, away from where the beast was seen. Meanwhile, Jack and his hunters decide to hunt and cook a pig in an effort to tempt the rest of the boys over to their side. After brutally slaughtering a nursing sow, they mount its head on a stick as an offering to the beast. Simon witnesses the hunt from his favorite spot in the forest, and when the hunters have gone, he...

(The entire section is 1,024 words.)