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 devices does Golding use to create suspense in Lord of the Flies?

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I think an one literary device that Golding uses to build suspense is the setting of the story. The setting is on a deserted island, and there are no adults around. The young boys are on their own. Readers also know that the boys are on the island because their plane was shot down. It wasn't a mechanical failure, so readers have the added worry about possible enemy combatants being on or near the island. Add to that the comment from Ralph that nobody knows where they are, and that rescue might be a long way off.  

“The plane was shot down in flames. Nobody knows where we are. We may be here a long time.”

All of these details put the reader on heightened alert and add to the suspense of the story.  

Another literary element that adds to the suspense is foreshadowing. Early in the story readers are told about a beast. This, by itself, adds suspense because so much is unknown. Is it real? What could it be? Where does it live? All of those questions are left unanswered, so reader imagination begins to take over. The frequent reminders about a possible beast foreshadow the coming conflict with that beast; however, about halfway through the story, Golding offers up a new foreshadowing warning about the beast. He has Simon announce that the beast might actually be inside each of the boys. 

“Maybe,” he said hesitantly, “maybe there is a beast.”


“What I mean is . . . maybe it’s only us.”

A third literary device that Golding uses to build suspense is conflict. There is a lot of conflict in this book, but I am specifically referring to the conflict between Ralph and Jack. That conflict moves from each boy being wary of the other to a full blown life and death struggle. Their physical battles are suspenseful, and their battles to win the hearts and minds of the other boys are equally suspenseful because readers simply don't know which boy will win.  

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Most pointedly, it has to be atmosphere.  Think about the night that Simon is killed.  Golding describes a group of boys with painted faces and bodies dancing around a fire while thunder crashes and bolts of lightning sporadically light up the sky.  As the boys get more and more worked up, they form rotating circles and being their chant.  As the storm gets closer and louder so, too, does their chant.  The louder the chant gets, the faster the circle spins.  Then just as the boys are worked into a frenzy, a littlun spots a "beast" struggling to get out of the jungle thickness, and, without warning, the mass descends upon Simon.

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What devices does author Golding use to build suspense in Lord of the Flies?

One device that Golding uses in Lord of the Flies to build suspense is setting imagery, particularly that related to the weather and nature.  For example, at the beginning of Chapter 4 "Painted Faces and Long Hair," Golding opens the chapter by describing the scenic details of the course of the day.  Then he describes the sea:

Strange things happened at midday.  The glittering sea rose up, moved apart in planes of blatant impossibility; the coral reef and the few stunted palms that clung to the more elevated parts would float up into the sky, would quiver, be plucked apart, run like raindrops on a wire or be repeated as in an odd succession of mirrors.

Piggy claims that scenes like this are just mirages, but they build suspense for the reader who senses that the weather and the scenes of nature are really symbols for the events to come on the island.  The natural backdrop of the island sets the tone for the events in the novel, so unsettling scenes such as the one above suggest to the reader that something equally unsettling is coming in the novel.  And of course later in this chapter, Jack and his hunters show up with their faces painted similar to war masks, signaling the divide between his group of hunters and the boys who are still under Ralph's leadership.

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