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

Lord of the Flies

by William Golding

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Chapter 1 Summary & Analysis

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Last Updated on July 6, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1128


In the middle of a war, a plane crash lands on an uninhabited island. The passengers and survivors are a group of British schoolchildren. In the novel’s opening moments, one of the children, Ralph, traverses the island’s dense jungle, followed by a boy named Piggy.

Ralph and Piggy introduce themselves to each other as they get the lay of the land. Piggy, asthmatic and fat, was raised by his Aunt—a candy shop keeper—since his parents have both died. Piggy mentions that the nickname "Piggy" was used against him by other students at school. The heartier Ralph was raised by his navy-commander father. They discern that the plane has been swept out to sea, having scarred the jungle and leaving some survivors on the island. 

Arriving at a lagoon, Ralph swims while Piggy stands in the water, unable to swim due to his asthma, and watches. They see a shining object on the bank, which reveals itself to be a large conch shell. At Piggy’s behest, Ralph uses the shell as a horn, sounding out a loud blast.

Immediately, other boys begin to appear, drawn to the sound, and gather around Ralph. The boys are all wearing tattered school uniforms, and among their number are six-year-old Johnny and a pair of twins named Sam and Eric (together known as Samneric).

Soon, two more rows of boys, marching in rank, approach from down the beach, all clad in identical uniforms with badge-studded black caps and cloaks with silver crosses. They are led by an intense, ugly boy named Jack Merridew, who orders his boys to stand in formation. Jack asks Ralph if there are any adults left. Ralph replies to the negative, so Jack declares that the boys must all fend for themselves.

Piggy rambles nervously, eliciting the names of the boys. Jack silences him by calling him “Fatty.” When Ralph reveals Piggy to be “Piggy,” all the boys cackle at him. Jack’s group turns out to be a choir, made up of Maurice, Roger, Bill, Harold, Henry, Robert, and Simon. Jack then suggests that he be made the leader in their collective effort to be rescued.

The boys hold a vote. Jack’s choir votes for Jack, but the rest vote for the confident Ralph, who wins. Ralph then names Jack the leader of the choir, which he frames as a task force. Jack specifies the choir as the official hunting party.

Ralph, Simon, and Jack—who reveal a large knife—prepare to go scouting to determine whether the island is actually an island. Piggy wants to go, too, but he is rebuffed by Jack. Piggy tells Ralph that he would prefer that Ralph had not told everyone his nickname; Ralph reminds him that Piggy is a better name than the alternative: Fatty.

Ralph, Jack, and Simon confirm that they are on an island, and they discover a path up a mountain. From their vantage, they see that the island is surrounded by a coral reef and that there is a second, smaller island connected to one end of the island by a landbridge. The boys send boulders tumbling down the mountain and declare the island theirs. They agree to make a map of the "uninhabited" land out of bark and utilize further utilize the land for hunting food in the future. 

As they head back to the others, they find a piglet trapped by foliage. Jack draws his knife and prepares to slaughter it, but he falters, feeling the immensity and difficulty of the act. The pig slips free. The boys then discuss the technique of slaughter. Jack, believing that Ralph is...

(This entire section contains 1128 words.)

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mocking him for not completing the act, buries his knife in a nearby tree and swears that he will not hesitate next time.


The first chapter establishes the setting, introduces the central characters, launches the story, and plants the seeds of the novel’s themes. 

Golding structures the plot as an exploration of human nature and human societies. By placing a group of boys, aged six through twelve, in a position of total isolation and autonomy, Golding allows them to enact the precarious formation of society. Against this backdrop, the boys increasingly dramatize the dark corners of human nature that perpetually endanger society. The boys are young enough to be but roughly hewn from the block of human biology and yet are old enough to carry an imprint of British culture and to pose a physical risk to themselves and others. 

Ralph is elected chief, but he doles out power to Jack, illustrating how nobody has complete control over the boys. They recognize the need for an organization of power, but, with no existing authority, they struggle to create an original hierarchy. They scout the island for knowledge of its geography and food. Generally, they move from a scattered state of confusion to an initial, if rough, response to their immediate circumstances.

As they discover the coral reef and the separate island, Ralph declares: "This belongs to us." The three boys—Ralph, Simon, and Jack—find solidarity through the "right of domination" as they stand above the island with a sense of triumph and freedom. This brief yet important scene initiates themes of British Imperialism and colonization as these boys find it is their duty and right to freely take over and dominate the land before them. 

This similar theme of domination can be seen through the use of the conch shell. Both Piggy and Ralph are captivated by it, exploring and delicately touching its shape and color. They even discuss how much money it would have cost back home. Yet, they sense its value and potential to be exploited for power as they use it to call out for other stranded boys on the island. Golding documents this shift in their thinking: "Now the shell was no longer a thing seen but not to be touched, Ralph too became excited." Ralph is ultimately established to be a holder of authority considering he is the one who blows into the conch. 

The characters represent a range of personalities. Ralph is charismatic and assured, an instinctive leader who knows how to appease and instill confidence in others. Piggy is intelligent and knowledgeable, with an intuitive ability to delineate the correct course of action. However, his pudgy appearance and frenetic demeanor render him an outcast whose ideas are rarely taken seriously.

Jack is tough, with a tyrannical bent. His desire to lead is undercut by his fiery temper and ugly, uninspiring manner. Simon's personality does not fully emerge in this chapter, although hints of his creativity and perceptiveness can be seen. Roger is briefly and cryptically singled out as a “dark boy.” Sam and Eric are unique for being twins.


Chapter 2 Summary & Analysis