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Lord of the Flies

by William Golding

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Last Updated on September 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 730

Published in 1954, William Golding’s Lord of the Flies portrays a bleak image of human nature. Set in the middle of an unspecified war, it follows a group of adolescent boys stranded on a deserted island as they descend into violence and savagery. At first, the boys model their society after the civilized adult world, holding an election and forming a loose democracy. As time passes, democratic process and the hope of rescue are replaced by violence and the fear of an entity known as “the beast,” which comes to symbolize the terrifying capacity for evil that exists in all humans. Ultimately, nearly all of the characters in Lord of the Flies are corrupted by the lack of social constraints. Although the boys are ultimately saved by intervening adults, Golding leaves readers with a lingering question: who will rescue the adults? 

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Facts at a Glance 

  • Publication Date: 1954 
  • Flesch-Kincaid Reading Level:
  • Approximate Word Count: 59,500 
  • Author: William Golding 
  • Country of Origin: Great Britain 
  • Genre: Dystopian Literary Fiction, Allegory 
  • Literary Period: Cold War 
  • Conflict: Person vs. Person, Person vs. Society, Person vs. Self 
  • Narration: Third-Person Omniscient 
  • Setting: Tropical Island, Mid-war 
  • Structure: Narrative Prose 
  • Mood: Adventurous, Grim, Suspenseful

Texts That Go Well With Lord of the Flies

Animal Farm, by George Orwell, was published in 1945 and is an allegory that explores an attempt by farm animals to create a just society by ruling the farm themselves. Influenced by Orwell’s war experiences and the rise of Stalinism in the Soviet Union, the text considers the nature of humanity and the damaging effects of power. 

The Coral Island, by R. M. Ballantyne, was a source text for Golding when he was writing Lord of the Flies. Originally published in 1857, the novel follows three boys named Ralph, Jack, and Peterkin who are all alone on a South Pacific island. The novel portrays the boys as having a virtuous, civilizing effect on the island. Golding wrote directly in response to the novel, and he makes explicit reference to it in the final chapter of Lord of the Flies

Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad, follows Charles Marlow as he ventures into the Congo aboard a Belgian ivory trading ship. As Marlow ventures from European society into the African wilderness, he becomes eager to meet a Mr. Kurtz, manager of one of the Company’s stations, who has found freedom and brutality in his isolation from European society. Published in 1899, Heart of Darkness was adapted into the 1979 film Apocalypse Now

The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins, is set in a dystopian nation where the government mandates a yearly, winner-take-all, competition to the death between two representatives from each of twelve districts. When her young sister is selected as the female representative from her district, Katniss Everdeen volunteers to fight. Similar to the boys lost in Lord of the Flies, Everdeen must build alliances and struggle for survival within the contrived setting of the competition. 

John Dollar, by Marianne Wiggins, follows a group of girls and their schoolmistress after they are stranded on an island near Burma. This 1989 novel has been compared to Lord of the Flies and similarly explores what endures after isolation and violence take their toll on a fragile social structure. 

Leviathan, by Thomas Hobbes, was published in 1651 and is a seminal work of social and political theory. In it, Hobbes describes “the statue of nature,” an imagined setting in which humans live free from society. In his work, Hobbes strives to describe human nature as it exists in isolation. Considered a foundational work in social contract theory, Hobbes’s Leviathan posits that any government is better than no government at all. 

Paradise Lost, by John Milton, explores the nature of human choice in the context of Adam, Eve, and original sin. It features a portrayal of Beezlebub, the character from whom Lord of the Flies takes its eponymous title. Though sometimes portrayed as the devil himself, Milton portrays Beezlebub as a fallen angel akin to the devil. 

Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe, was published in 1958 and written in response to Heart of Darkness and other depictions of Europe trying to “civilize” Africa. The story follows Okonkwo, a young man of the Igbo tribe. Okonkwo bears witness to the destruction of his culture upon the arrival of European colonizers and Christian missionaries.

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Key Plot Points