Lord of the Flies Analysis

  • Lord of the Flies has often been interpreted as an allegory of the modern world, where the island represents the world, Ralph's parliament represents democratic government, and Jack's savage tribe represents autocratic government. Jack's victory over Ralph suggests that human nature eventually devolves into savagery.
  • Ralph's conch is a symbol of democracy, power, and fairness. The schoolboys collectively give the conch great significance when they impose the "rule of the conch," which states that no one can speak in meetings unless he's holding the conch.
  • William Golding drew the title of Lord of the Flies from Simon's name for the severed pig head, which is surrounded by flies. This title emphasizes the violence and the savagery into which the boys descend in the course of the novel.

Analysis

Point of View
All novels use at least one perspective, or point of view, from which to tell the story. This may consist of a point of view of no single character (the omniscient, or "all-knowing" point of view), a single character, multiple characters in turn, and combinations or variations on these. Golding uses the omniscient point of view, which enables him to stand outside and above the story itself, making no reference to the inner life of any of the individual characters. From this lofty point he comments on the action from the point of view of a removed, but observant, bystander. Golding has commented in interviews that the strongest emotion he personally feels about the story is grief. Nevertheless, as the narrator he makes a conscious decision, like the British captain at the end of the story, to "turn away" from the shaking and sobbing boys and remain detached. The narrator lets the actions, as translated through the artist's techniques of symbolism, structure, and so on, speak for themselves. Even so dramatic and emotional an event as Piggy's death is described almost clinically. "Piggy fell forty feet and landed on his back across that square red rock in the sea. His head opened and stuff came out and turned red."

Symbolism
A symbol can be defined as a person, place, or thing that represents something more than its literal meaning. The conch shell, to take an obvious example in the story, stands for a society of laws in which, for example, people take their turn in speaking. The pig's head is a more complex example of a symbol. To Simon, and to many readers, it can have more than one meaning. On a rational level, Simon knows the pig's head is just that: a "pig's head on a stick." But on a more emotional level, Simon realizes that the pig's head represents an evil so strong that it...

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The Plot

A plane evacuating a group of schoolboys following an atomic war apparently is shot down, but not before a passenger capsule containing children is ejected. Initially happy to enjoy an adult-free, fruit-filled, sunny environment on a tropical island where they land, all the boys are determined to have fun. They soon see the need for governance and choose the “fair-haired” Ralph as their leader.

Ralph, like the others, at first sees the absence of adults as an opportunity to have fun, but he soon feels burdened with the weight of a leader’s responsibilities. He symbolically holds a conch shell, which assembles the boys and stands as a symbol of authority. Piggy, a weak-sighted, overweight, asthmatic, cowardly boy, is the group’s source of rational thought and knowledge. He supports the ritual of leadership by finding and identifying the conch as a symbol of leadership.

Ralph’s authority is challenged by Jack, the former leader of the choirboys. Jack, with his red hair and wild blue eyes, eventually extends his power as leader of the hunters to force all the boys into his group. Roger distinguishes himself from the beginning as a person who enjoys hurting others. He deliberately discharges the rock that kills Piggy.

Fear disturbs this boyhood paradise. First articulated by one of the smallest boys, who sees ropes turning into beasts in the night, fear spreads to the older boys, who interpret the corpse of a downed aircraft pilot as a phantom beast. They offer a sacrifice of a pig’s head to appease it. Simon, a quiet, meditative boy, recognizes that the “beast” the boys fear actually is located within the boys themselves. When he crawls out of the jungle to tell the chanting boys of his insight, they attack and kill him.

Rivalry between Ralph and Jack precipitates a breakdown of the decision to build shelters, maintain hygienic conditions, hunt for meat, and maintain a signal fire to effect their rescue. Before long, the faction of hunters has degenerated into paint-wearing, ritual-chanting warriors who first pursue pigs but finally hunt Ralph. In their pursuit, they throw all self-preserving caution to the wind, setting the island on fire and destroying the fruit-bearing trees.

Complete self-destruction is prevented by the arrival of a rescue ship. An officer from the ship is astonished by and disappointed with the apparent misconduct of the dirty young savages who face him.

Places Discussed

Pacific island

Pacific island. Unnamed tropical island on which the novel is mainly set. The island serves as a metaphor for society in general, providing the setting for the boys’ trials and adventures. Through the use of the only symbol of authority they have, a conch shell, they try to re-create British civilized society. The conch, like a whistle, yields an assembly of older boys and “littluns.” Throughout the novel, the group who identify themselves as choir boys, and are under the leadership of Jack, progressively stray from the civilized behavior of the assembly area and into irresponsible anarchy.

The Scar

The Scar. Meeting place where the boys, led by Ralph, hold assemblies in imitation of Great Britain’s Parliament. Created by the plane crash, free of tropical vegetation, and level and sandy, it is the site of three crude huts. It is also the site of the docking of the rescue cutter that comes ashore from the cruiser.

Mountain

Mountain. Site selected by Piggy and Ralph as the most obvious place to build a signal fire for smoke, the means of attracting rescuers. Irresponsibility by the littluns allows the fire to get out of control, taking the life of a littlun. Jack’s hunters cause the keepers of the fire to abandon it for the joy of hunting. The fire goes out; the possible rescue ship passes without seeing the smoke. The mountain is also the place of “the beast” that Simon sees.

Castle Rock

Castle Rock. Headquarters of Jack’s gang, this place is unlike the rest of the island. This piece of rock, barren of vegetation, is slightly set apart from the main part of the island. Easily defended, this rocky place is the site of the violent death first of Simon, then of Piggy, and the planned site of Ralph’s violent death. However, Ralph escapes to the thick tropical vegetation of the main island.

Altar of the “lord of the flies.”

Altar of the “lord of the flies.” Sacrificial site, located in the tropical forest, at which a slaughtered sow’s head stuck on a sharp stick drips with blood and is covered with flies. This is also the site of Simon’s hallucination or conversation with the beast, wherein he recognizes that this beast is the evil within all humanity, not an external force or form. Instead of creating fear in Simon, as it does in the hunters, this beast seems able to communicate with Simon.

Tropical jungle

Tropical jungle. Simon’s place, where he goes to observe nature and contemplate the evil and violence within each of the boys. This is also the place where Ralph finds sanctuary when the hunters set the island on fire, hoping to smoke him out and use his severed head in sacrificial ritual.

Latrine

Latrine. Communal toilet area, away from fresh water and huts, that allows a vestige of British civilization until it is abandoned by the boys in favor of irresponsible freedom.

Cruiser

Cruiser. British warship that represents safety, comfort, rescue, and civilized society, even though it may be headed into unsafe water in wartime conditions. To the boys, however, it is salvation.

Historical Context

A bus overturned by a bomb in World War II London, 1940 Published by Gale Cengage

Golding and World War II
"When I was young, before the war, I did have some airy-fairy views about man. . . . But I...

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Setting

The action of Lord of the Flies takes place during World War II on a deserted island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Golding...

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Literary Techniques

Golding's primary purpose is to show that an idealistic view of man is unrealistic and incomplete; to see man whole, one must acknowledge his...

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Literary Qualities

Critics often refer to Golding's novels as religious myths or parables, stories written to illustrate a moral point. Lord of the Flies...

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Ideas for Group Discussions

1. Does the absence of adult supervision account for the boys' behavior?

2. Would the group have behaved any differently if girls...

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Compare and Contrast

  • 1950s: Economically, Great Britain was devastated by World War II. Homes, factories, railroads, docks, and other...

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Topics for Discussion

1. The schoolchildren in Lord of the Flies are left alone on the island without adult supervision. Does this account for the change in...

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Ideas for Reports and Papers

1. In Lord of the Flies, a war breaks out between Ralph and Jack. Explain how their different ideas on the proper conduct of life on...

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Topics for Further Study

  • Compare and contrast the attitudes of Piggy, Ralph, Jack, and Simon toward the environment, as shown in the novel. Argue whether there is...

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Literary Precedents

Golding's characteristic use of literary precedents is to parody them by turning them on their heads. Lord of the Flies seems at first...

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Related Titles / Adaptations

Several Golding novels with similar circumstances and themes may be of interest to readers. Golding's second published novel, The...

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Bibliography and Further Reading

Sources
Quotations from Lord of the Flies were taken from the following translation:
Golding,...

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Bibliography

Baker, James, ed. Critical Essays on William Golding. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1988. Twelve wide-ranging essays by critics and part of Baker’s interview with Golding. Includes Golding’s Nobel Prize address.

Dick, Bernard F. William Golding. Rev. ed. Boston: Twayne, 1987. Contains a chronology of Golding’s literary career.

Friedman, Lawrence S. William Golding. New York: Continuum, 1993. Sets Lord of the Flies in the context of Golding’s entire body of work. The philosophical first chapter is especially useful in focusing on significant themes and concerns.

Gindin, James. William Golding. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1988. A biography and survey of Golding’s literary career. Includes an enlightening comparison of Lord of the Flies with R. M. Ballantyne’s nineteenth century novel, The Coral Island.

Reilly, Patrick. “Lord of the Flies”: Fathers and Sons. Boston: Twayne, 1992. Defends the novel from charges of unrelieved despair.

Media Adaptations

  • Lord of the Flies enjoys the unusual status of being one of the few serious contemporary novels to have been made into a movie...

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What Do I Read Next?

  • Euripides's ancient Greek tragedy The Bacchae, (405 BC), whose influence on Lord of the Flies is...

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For Further Reference

Babb, Howard S. The Novels of William Golding. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1970. A study tracing the themes in Golding's...

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