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

Lord of the Flies

by William Golding

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Essential Passage by Character: Piggy

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Piggy wore the remainders of a pair of shorts, his fat body was golden brown, and the glasses still flashed when he looked at anything. He was the only boy on the island whose hair never seemed to grow. The rest were shock-headed, but Piggy's hair lay in wisps over his head as though baldness were his natural state and this imperfect covering would soon go, like the velvet on a young stag's antlers. "I've been thinking," he said, "about a clock. We could make a sundial. We could put a stick in the sand, and then—" The effort to express the mathematical processes involved was too great. He made a few passes instead. "And an airplane, and a TV set," said Ralph sourly, "and a steam engine." Piggy shook his head. "You have to have a lot of metal for that," he said, "and we haven't got no metal. But we got a stick." Ralph turned and smiled involuntarily. Piggy was a bore; his fat, his ass-mar, and his matter-of-fact ideas were dull, but there was always a little pleasure to be got out of pulling his leg, even if one did it by accident.Lord of the Flies, Chapter 4, pp. 53-54 (Penguin: New York)


The boys have been on the island for some time now, long enough for their hair to become long and their clothes to become tattered. They have adjusted somewhat to their new life of survival, yet there are many things left undone. Boredom is setting in, preventing them from continuing to build stable shelters and to provide adequately for the basic needs of a healthy society. Rudimentary huts provide some protection from the elements. Fruit and occasional seafood are the staples of their diet. The camp is divided into two main groups: food and fire. Jack and the hunters focus on being the providers, always hoping to catch a pig. Ralph and Piggy endeavor to keep the signal fire lit, the hope of rescue uppermost in their minds.

Piggy is noted as being the only one whose hair has not grown. He remains the same as when the boys first arrived on the island. Although his clothes are in tatters and he has lost the pallor of the sheltered British school boy, his appearance has not drastically altered, as opposed to the other boys.

Piggy, seemingly affected by the same apathy that has infected so many of the boys, appears to be “mooning about,” examining objects, tossing them away. In reality he is, as always, thinking—thinking of ways in which he can make their environment more civilized.

As Ralph comes to join him, Piggy announces that he has been thinking of making a sundial, which would allow them to keep track of the passage of time throughout the day. He has difficulty explaining the process to Ralph, who is unable to understand the workings of Piggy’s mind in such a scientific project.

Indeed, Ralph is contemptuous of the idea. He suggests making an airplane or a television, perhaps even a steam engine. Piggy misses, or chooses to ignore, the sarcasm and explains why such inventions would be impossible on the island.

Ralph, though he relies on Piggy’s support, concludes that Piggy is a bore, but he enjoys making fun of him in moments when he descends into unkindness.


Piggy’s role on the island is the embodiment of reason and intellect. Coupled with the civilization that Ralph symbolizes, Piggy represents one of the essential foundation stones of a workable society. As such, he is never popular, not even with Ralph (at...

(This entire section contains 1253 words.)

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least until the very end). The constant suggestions, reminders, and warnings are a drag on Ralph’s attempts just to have order and to escape.

The status of the perpetual outsider is symbolized by Piggy’s hair. It never seems to grow. In other words, Piggy is a constant while the other boys are drifting slowly but inexorably toward savagery. Piggy alone does not participate in the hunts or the celebrations that turn into tragedy. Piggy is Reason, or Absolute Truth, which is perpetual and unchanging. By him all other standards are measured and found wanting. This leads to his alienation and ultimate death.

Piggy also symbolizes intellect. Through his “scientific” plans, he manages to build the rudiments of a civilization. However, he cannot function as intellect all by himself, since intellect is unacceptable to the vast majority of the boys. Intellect can go against the evidence of daily life that requires mere survival. The intellect allows the formation of civilization, a civilization that allows for thought and culture. Jack, however, has no use for Piggy or civilization, let alone intellect. The hunt is all. Piggy sees much more. As the one who has glasses, this sight gives him a perspective that is denied to the others.

In certain aspects, Piggy also functions as a Christ figure. As Absolute Truth, he confronts others with their flaws. The choice that the other boys have is to accept him and yield to his reason (as does Ralph, to a certain extent) or to eliminate him, thus freeing themselves from a standard of behavior by which they have been raised but has now fallen behind them. Thus it is evident from the beginning that Piggy must die.

As a Christ figure, Piggy’s focus is not just survival for survival’s sake, but survival until rescue comes. Piggy’s constant reminders to Ralph that they must keep the fire going for the purpose of rescue wear on Ralph, who has a tendency the longer they stay on the island to forget why exactly they have the fire. Piggy has the power to create the fire through his glasses, putting him in the role of another Christ figure, Prometheus, who stole fire from the gods for the benefit of mankind. Once Jack and the others steal Piggy’s glasses, his usefulness is over, as well as his life.

It is interesting to note also that his name, Piggy, parallels that of the Lord of the Flies, who is embodied by Jack in the head of a pig. Rather than a duality, with good totally separated from evil, both seem to be presented as part of one whole, a true universe. The question is if good could exist without its opposite.

Thus Piggy in his role as reason joins with Ralph (civilization) and Simon (spirituality) to form the basis of true humanity. Unlike Jack, who represents the animal instincts of survival only, the three (perhaps symbolizing the Trinity) separate humans from animals. Without Piggy, Ralph would have descended into savagery just as the others do, despite the fact that Ralph finds Piggy a “bore.” This is exactly what happens as first Simon and then Piggy are killed by the savages. The only recourse Ralph has, without spirituality or reason, in defending himself against the savages is to become a savage himself.

Even after he is killed, Piggy’s role in the hoped-for rescue continues, though not in an intentional way. Piggy’s focus was always to keep the fire going, since it was by smoke that Piggy believed they would be rescued. Indeed it was by smoke, but not the smoke created by Ralph and Piggy. It was the smoke of the forest fire started by the savages that alerted the passing naval cruiser of the inhabited island. Despite his death, Piggy’s “matter-of-fact ideas” were proved true, as Absolute Truth must be in the end.


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Extended Character Analysis

Piggy is established as an outsider and source of ridicule amongst the boys on the island, with his weight, asthma, and spectacles offering up prime targets for jokes. His thin hair, physique, and asthma are used to associate him with the island’s pigs. However, despite the way he is treated by the other boys, Piggy continues to speak up at assemblies and insist on the importance of rules. Additionally, Piggy and Simon are the only two boys who seem to genuinely care for the younger boys, with Piggy attempting to count them and learn their names. 

Piggy initially aspires to hold a leadership position, but after Ralph gives away his embarrassing nickname, he is ridiculed and becomes withdrawn. He begrudgingly votes for Ralph to be chief because he is afraid of Jack. Piggy is later appointed by Ralph to oversee the younger boys while Jack, Ralph, and Simon explore the island. 

Piggy’s intelligence is initially dismissed by most of the boys, but he eventually becomes Ralph’s close friend and advisor. Due to his asthma and physique, he is not able to play with the other boys, so he spends most of his time thinking. Most of the boys’ democratic aspirations, including the initial gathering, are traceable to Piggy, who symbolizes the scientific and intellectual side of society. However, because he lacks the looks and charisma needed to be respected as a leader, he stands behind Ralph and advises him. 

Piggy is intimidated by Jack from the beginning, likely because the savagery that Jack represents is a direct threat to the civility that Piggy represents. Unlike Ralph, who has difficulty believing that Jack truly hates him, Piggy knows the full extent of Jack’s hatred for both him and Ralph from the beginning. However, despite his ability to perceive Jack’s true nature, Piggy is blind to the fact that rules only work within a civilized setting. For Piggy, laws and rules are meant to be followed regardless of circumstance.

Even after his role in the murder of Simon, he attempts to rationalize the act by pinning the blame on Simon for crawling out of the forest unexpectedly. Up until the moment of his death, Piggy is the advocate for civility and reason, never quite able to understand the darkness within the other boys and himself as Simon and Ralph are.