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

Lord of the Flies

by William Golding

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Significant Allusions

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Allusions to World History: William Golding wrote in the wake of World War II, as the Cold War paradigm of the twentieth century was taking shape. Though the events on the island aren’t tethered to a specific place and time, Golding nevertheless refers to his own socio-historic milieu in the novel. 

  • The description of setting, replete with fringing reef, lagoon, rocky platforms, and jungle, is reminiscent of a Pacific island. During World War II, Pacific islands comprised a major military theater, so much so that the US strategy of advance toward Japan is commonly referred to as “island hopping.” 
  • The instruments of war function as complex motifs in the text. The plane that crashes, the parachutist that descends on the island, and the destroyer that Ralph hopes for refer to the instruments of war utilized during World War II. Golding himself participated in D-Day, a critical military offensive in which Allied troops invaded France in part via parachute bombardment. These instruments of war serve to extend thematic relationships in the text to the “civilized” world of adults. 

Allusions to English Literature: From the Age of Exploration until the world wars of the twentieth century, Great Britain maintained a thriving colonial maritime culture. This global expansion impacted the literary culture as well, giving rise to a literary trope wherein Europeans must survive in isolation on a tropical island. 

  • Classics such as Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe (1719) and Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson (1883) established tropical islands as a favorite setting among English audiences. 
  • The final chapter of Lord of the Flies alludes to the The Coral Island: A Tale of the Pacific Ocean by R. M. Ballantyne (1858) specifically. The novel features characters named Ralph, Jack, and Peterkin, and follows their generally virtuous adventures on the titular island. Many contend that Lord of the Flies is a direct and solemn parody of The Coral Island

Allusions to Christianity: Many find Lord of the Flies to be a Christian allegory. In a novel that thematically questions the value of law and order in society, Golding references the values around which British culture and society was ordered. For most living under the British crown in the early twentieth century, those cultural values were established by the Christian church. 

  • The idyllic, verdant jungle the boys claim as their own calls to mind the Garden of Eden, the setting in which Adam and Eve eat fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. In doing so, they defy God’s wishes, and are expelled from paradise. As a result, humanity is doomed to suffer. Some read Lord of the Flies as a direct parable of the Fall of Man
  • Simon is often read as a Christ-like figure. He is slender and removed, and he “suffers the little children to come unto him”—an allusion to the biblical book of Matthew 19:14. He has a strong connection with the metaphysical or spiritual word, exemplified in his vision of the Lord of the Flies and the subsequent wisdom he gains. Further, he is killed by the boys while trying to tell them about the true nature of the beast, echoing the way that Jesus Christ was crucified for trying to spread the word of God. 
  • “Lord of the Flies” is an English translation of the Aramaic “Beelzebub.” Beelzebub appears briefly in the Old and New Testaments as both a Philistine deity and an evil spirit. In other theological and literary contexts, the name is used interchangeably with Satan. 

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