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

Lord of the Flies

by William Golding

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What are three examples of irony in the novel Lord of the Flies?

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The first example of irony in Lord of the Flies comes in the fact that what are supposed to be young English gentlemen quickly turn into savages. Secondly, we have the irony of Jack stating the importance of having rules and later becoming the chief savage. Finally, there is the irony of the boys desperately needing a grownup and the fact that when one shows up in the form of a dead parachutist, he actually makes things worse.

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Irony is when events unfold in a way opposite of what might be expected.

One great irony is that Simon is the one mistaken by the other boys for the beast and killed. This is ironic on multiple levels. First, Simon is coming with the rational news that what the boys fear as a beast is simply the body of a dead parachutist. This voice of rationality is destroyed by irrational impulses in the others. Second, Simon is the most spiritually enlightened and kindest of them all, a beacon of hope bringing a message of salvation, yet they destroy him of all people. The irony of killing the person least likely to harm them and most likely to help them mirrors the irony of the Christ story. Third, even characters who consider themselves enlightened and rational participate in the mob violence of killing Simon, showing how weak the civilization they rely on is.

Another irony is that the choir leader, Jack, who first appears in the long robes of the church, becomes the boy who will strip away the superego that the church tries to instill through its moral strictures. This boy is the last person we would expect, at least at the start, to become a savage leader encouraging cruelty and violence.

A third irony is that it is not the civilized fire that Piggy and Ralph tend that saves the boys, but the uncontrolled wild fire set by Jack and his gang . This fire, which is burning down the island, attracts the notice of the rescuers. The boys are, ironically, saved through the savagery that threatened to destroy them.

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Arguably the biggest irony in Lord of the Flies is the discrepancy between how the boys on the island see themselves and what they're really like in practice. The boys are from an elite social and educational background and are therefore supposed to act like young English gentlemen.

Yet it isn't very long before most of the boys have degenerated into outright savagery, displaying the same kind of behavior that successive generations of British colonialists attributed to Indigenous people.

A further irony arises from this point. Early in the story, Jack states,

We've got to have rules and obey them. After all, we're not savages.

And yet, in a remarkably ironic twist, it is Jack who will show utter contempt for the rules-based order that Ralph tries to establish and becomes, in due course, the leading savage on the island, cementing his dictatorial rule with violence and bloodshed.

Finally, there is the irony that the boys need a grownup to come and help them out of their predicament but that when one eventually arrives, he makes things a whole lot worse.

The adult in question is the dead parachutist, whom most of the boys mistake for a mythical beast that has supposedly been rampaging around the island. Due to the boys' irrational fear of the beast, they turn to Jack for protection, who takes the opportunity to consolidate his power and control.

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Dramatic irony occurs when the audience knows something that the characters do not. A good example of dramatic irony takes place in Chapter 5 when they boys are discussing the identity of the beast. Only Simon understands the true nature of the beast and the reader is aware that the other boys do not know its identity. Golding writes,

"Simon became inarticulate in his effort to express mankind's essential illness" (126).

Another example of irony takes place at the end of the novel when the officer says that he expected the boys to put up a "better show." Ralph tries to explain how things fell apart, but the officer says,

"I know. Jolly good show. Like the Coral Island" (Golding 290).

It is ironic because the boys' experience was nothing like the story Coral Island. In fact, the boys' experience was the exact opposite of what took place in the story.

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One example of irony is that Jack says that they have to have rules.

"We've got to have rules and obey them.  After all, we're not savages."  (pg 42 - chapter 2)

The ironic aspect of this is that Jack becomes the leader of the savages that kill Piggy.  He becomes the head savage!!

A second example of irony is the fact that we never get to know the real name of the boy named Piggy.  Piggy is his nickname - something the school children called him to make him feel bad.  We only know him as Piggy.  The boys hunt pigs for food on the island, and they end up killing Piggy too.

A third example is when there is a clash between Ralph and Jack concerning leadership on the island.  Piggy says,

"Grownups know things.  They ain't afraid of the dark.  They'd meet and have tea and discuss.  Then things 'ud be all right." (pg 94- chapter 5 - end of chapter) .

Ralph replies "If they could only get a message to us.  If only they could send us something grownup" (pg 94)

Ironically, they receive a grownup, but he is a dead parachutist. He doesn't make things all right, he causes more fear then he gives comfort because the children think he is a beast.

The page numbers I have given are for my edition of the book.  I have tried to give chapters so that you can find the quotes. 

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