Humanity in the State of Nature: In Lord of the Flies, Golding presents a group of young boys, some on the verge of adolescence, in a setting isolated from any civilization. When the boys gather, they immediately establish a hierarchy among themselves. As their fragile civilization collapses over the course of the text, some of the boys reject even the core values of their British upbringing: they forego the signal fire in favor of hunting, they stop wearing clothes, and they paint their faces. The closed environment of the island and the limited number of boys allows the text to explore the essence of human nature independent of external influences.
- For discussion: Once gathered on the island, how do the boys establish hierarchy among themselves? How does the hierarchy among the boys shift over the course of the text? What gives some an advantage in the social hierarchy, and what disadvantages others? Why?
- For discussion: Who is responsible for Simon’s death, and who is at fault? Is there a distinction between the two, and if so, why?
- For discussion: In which circumstances do the characters exhibit cruelty, and when do they show compassion? What are the consequences of each?
- For discussion: Some argue that Lord of the Flies is an allegory for the importance of law and order in restraining “primitive” human nature. Do you agree? To what extent is there moral ambiguity in the text?
Questioning the Powers of Government: The driving interpersonal conflict of the novel centers around Ralph and Jack and the rivalry they develop. Elected chief by the boys, Ralph is predominantly concerned with maintaining a signal fire to catch the attention of any passing ship. Jack wants to hunt and provide meat for the boys. He views himself as the superior chief, challenges Ralph’s authority, and establishes a rival tribe with himself as leader, ruling through fear and violence. Considering the Cold War climate in which Golding was writing, some scholars approach the text as an allegory warning of the dangers of totalitarianism.
- For discussion: What objects symbolize law and order in the text? How do the individual characters react to these objects?
- For discussion: Compare and contrast Ralph and Jack. How does each achieve and hold on to power? What goals do they have at the beginning of the novel; at the end? What characteristics do they have in common? Which do you think is the better leader?
- For discussion: Compare and contrast the ways Ralph uses the hope of rescue as a rhetorical device and how Jack uses the Beast as a rhetorical device. How do these two persuasive techniques work on the other boys?
Fear, Self, and Society: Much of Lord of the Flies has a suspenseful, menacing tone. Considering the boy with the birthmark who goes missing, the ever present threat of the Beast, the dead body falling from the sky, the violence of the pig hunts, and Roger’s propensity for torture, instances of fear serve a primary motif in the text. Because Golding’s approach to fear is so multifaceted, it becomes one of the central motifs in the text.
- For discussion: Ask students to consider which scene in the text is the scariest for them. Why? How does Golding develop a suspenseful, menacing tone?
- For discussion: What is the “Beast”? What does it represent?
- For discussion: Describe how the appearance of the dead parachutist develops the plot. How does each boy who discovers the body react? How do their reactions differ?
- For discussion: What are the boys the most afraid of? Does it shift across characters or as the plot develops? How so?
Faith and the Human Experience: Lord of the Flies can be read as a Christian allegory. Golding creates a setting in the style of the Garden of Eden, a paradise free of civilization, to explore human nature. Simon’s narrative parallels that of Jesus Christ: an individual set apart from society, with unique insights into the spiritual world, is sacrificed. Further, over the course of the text, all the boys fear the Beast,...
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