Lord of the Flies by William Golding

Lord of the Flies book cover
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At a Glance

  • William Golding uses the characters of Ralph and Jack to explore the conflict between savagery and civilization. The ambitious, charismatic Jack eventually leads the boys in a savage attack on Ralph, whose primary goal was to return the boys to civilization.
  • Golding develops the theme of nature by describing the harmony and beauty of the island before the boys try to burn it down. This fire emphasizes the violence and destruction of mankind.
  • Another major theme in Lord of the Flies is the loss of innocence. Ralph's despair at the end of the novel is a good example of this, as are the deaths of Simon and Piggy.

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Overview

By Golding’s own account, Lord of the Flies is a novel of ideas. Golding uses the boys’ story as a means to explore the darkness and violence of human nature, and the ways in which civilization contains and suppresses that darkness. Thus, no discussion of Lord of the Flies is complete without a thorough examination of the novel’s themes.

Appearance vs. Reality

Beneath the Edenic surface of the island lies a series of darker realities. Left to their own devices, the boys form a loose democracy. However, their democracy is more a game than a real, functional government... (Read more on Appearance vs. Reality)

The End of Innocence and Nature of Evil

One of the central themes of Lord of the Flies is that all humans, even innocent children, are inherently drawn towards evil. The boys begin as relative innocents who view war as a game and have little moral or social awareness beyond their upbringings... (Read more on the End of Innocence and Nature of Evil)

Inclusion vs. Exclusion

From the boys’ first meeting, the group contains clear lines of social stratification. The intersections of power and maturity are prevalent when looking at the differences between the littluns and the biguns. The littluns are objects... (Read more on Inclusion vs. Exclusion)

The Politics of Civilization vs. Savagery

One of the main themes present throughout Lord of the Flies is the nature of power and how humans acquire and use it. Stranded on the island, the boys quickly respond to the problems of gaining, exerting, and balancing power. Free of adult supervision... (Read more on the Politics of Civilization vs. Savagery)

Appearance vs. Reality

Beneath the Edenic surface of the island lies a series of darker realities. Left to their own devices, the boys form a loose democracy. However, their democracy is more a game than a real, functional government. Beneath the veneer of cooperation and shared purpose lies the irreverent turmoil of a group of boys who view voting as a “toy” and who elect Ralph as chief largely on impulse. Beneath the façade of camaraderie and fun lurk resentment, fear, and the inescapable darkness of the human heart. 

Face paint represents a clear alteration of appearance, but how that alteration in appearance relates to the boy's reality is more complicated. By one reading, the boys obscure their fear and immaturity by playing savage. As soon as the naval officer arrives, the boys are reduced to dirty, crying “little boys” once again. By another reading, they are reconciling their schoolboy appearances with their savage realities, embracing the darkness that Golding identifies at the heart of all humans. Similarly, the crisply uniformed adults are portrayed as harbingers of salvation, reason, and civilization. However, the truth is that the adults are embroiled in a violent war of their own. The ship that has come to rescue the boys is only transporting them into a war zone of a different kind. 

The phenomenon of the beast expresses the gap between appearances and reality. The beast takes on different forms, and only Simon is able to recognize its true form: the boys themselves. Rather than recognizing the reality that their own violent impulses are to blame for the destruction on the island, the boys externalize their guilt and fear in the form of a terrifying monster. Jack and his tribe’s delusions are so strong that they deny murdering Simon,...

(The entire section is 3,264 words.)