Lord of the Flies by William Golding
The winner of the 1983 Nobel Prize in Literature, Golding was among the most popular and influential British authors to have emerged after World War II Golding’s reputation rested primarily upon his acclaimed first novel Lord of the Flies, which he described as “an attempt to trace the defects of society back to the defects of human nature.”
A moral allegory as well as an adventure tale in the tradition of Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and Richard Hughes‘s A High Wind in Jamaica, Lord of the Flies focuses upon a group of British schoolboys marooned on a tropical island. After having organised themselves upon democratic principles, their society degenerates into primeval barbarism. Although the novel initially generated little attention outside Great Britain, Lord of the Flies has subsequently achieved a notoriety among high school and college readers rivaling that of J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. While often the subject of diverse psychological, sociological, and religious interpretations, Lord of the Flies is consistently regarded as an incisive and disturbing portrayal of the fragility of civilization.
Lord of the Flies Characters
Ralph, a fair-haired boy with a robust physique, is the leader of the boys marooned on the island and remains in charge of most of the action in Lord of the Flies. Golding’s focus on this twelve-year old boy and his evolution, provides an insight into how power is established in society.
Jack is Ralph’s chief antagonist. Originally a chapter-chorister and headboy, he undergoes rapid changes on the island. He develops from a leader of the choirboys to the chief of his ‘tribe’ of hunters towards the end of the novel. He is largely responsible for the crimes committed by some of his boys on others in the group.
Piggy, a fat boy who wears thick spectacles because of his very weak eyesight, is the intellectual of the group, who can assess the pros and cons of a situation. However, he is ignored by the group as he is physically not very strong. As the novel develops, he comes close to Ralph, especially when the two are expelled by the ‘savages’. He is killed by a large boulder released by Roger.
Simon, originally one of the members of Jack’s choir, soon transfers his allegiance from Jack to Ralph on the island as he has much in common with Ralph. A silent type, Simon remains uninvolved in the power struggle between Ralph and Jack and remains a friend of the “littluns’. But he is the one who understands the truth about Lord of the flies and the beast” on the mountain. When he tries to pass the information on to the boys, he is mistaken for the beast himself and is killed. He is regarded by most of the boys as ‘batty as he seems to possess a philosophical or mystical temperament.
Maurice is one the Biguns in the group, who exercises self-restraint in the beginning even though the temptation to tease and harass the “littluns’ is great. On one occasion, he pretends to be a pig in order to amuse the boys, whereupon the ‘hunters’ pretend to give him blows which he receives in good humour. He breaks away from Ralph’s group to join Jack’s ‘tribe’ and is one of his bodyguards.
Roger, Jack’s constant companions, is constantly looking for an excuse to bully the ‘littluns’ and thus display his sadistic power against them. Later, he kills Piggy. He is joined in his savagery by another of the Biguns, Robert. Both of them participate in the search Jack launches to find Ralph who, after Piggy’s death, takes to his heels and hides himself in the forest.
Samneric, the twins Sam and Eric, bear a close resemblance to each other. They work together, they play together, they grin together. They remain close and loyal to Ralph till the very end. But they are forced by Jack and his tribe’ to reveal Ralph’s hiding place
The Littluns is the name given to the youngest boys in the group. The average of the littluns’ is six years. Among them are Johnny, Phil, Henry and Percival. None of them have a distinct personality. They eat most of the day and suffer from stomach ache and diarrhoea. They are terrified at night and huddle together for comfort. They receive a lot of attention from Ralph and Piggy, while Jack is frankly contemptuous of them. Their role has to be assessed by the efforts made by the main characters to enlist their co-operation.
Lord of the Flies Setting
The action takes place on an uninhabited island, most probably in the Pacific Ocean. There is plenty of vegetation on the island; there is a thick forest; there are intertwining creepers, and there are plenty of fruit trees. There is a mountain at one end of the island. The boys often climb to the top of the mountain to light a fire there so that any passing ship can see the smoke coming from the fire and rescue the marooned group of boys. When a dead parachutist is entangled in the creepers on the top of the mountain, the boys suspect that a beast dwells on the mountain-top.
Lord of the Flies Summary
A group of British school boys were being taken out to a safer place as a nuclear war had broken out in Europe. On the way, the aircraft caught fire and the pilot released the detachable passenger-tube carrying the boys. The passenger-tube crashed on this island in the Pacific Ocean. Most of the boys managed to come out of it, but some of them were trapped inside the passenger-tube that was soon carried away by the waves into the open sea and lost.
The boys, ranging between six and twelve, are now marooned on this island. They are scattered till Ralph, a fair-haired boy just over twelve years old, discovers a large conch shell in the lagoon. Ralph purses his lips and blows into the shell. A trumpet like boom reverberates across the treetops, and soon Ralph and the short, fat and bespectacled Piggy are soon joined by the other survivors on the granite platform on which they are standing.
Some of the boys are naked, carrying their clothes, others are still more or less dressed in their school uniforms. Piggy moves among the crowd, asking names and frowning as he tries to commit them to memory, Ralph suggests that they should have a chief to guide them and direct their activities. A tall, freckled and ugly boy, Jack Merridew, arrogantly announces that he ought to be the leader “because I’m chapter chorister and head boy”. But when a vote is taken Ralph is elected the leader of the group. He diplomatically assuages his rival’s feelings by declaring that Jack would remain in charge of the choir because he can sing C-sharp.
Ralph, the Leader
Ralph now frames certain rules regarding the holding of meetings of the group and about the conduct of those meetings. If anyone wishes to address the assembly at any meeting, he should ask for the conch and hold it in his hands. Only when the boy is holding the conch in his hands, would he have the right to speak and command the attention of others. The conch, thus, becomes a symbol of authority and democracy on the island.
It is agreed that Ralph, Jack and a skinny, pallid member of the choir, Simon go on an exploratory trip of the island. After following the coastline for a while, the trio turn in land and begin climbing the small granite mountain that dominates the landscape. Though hot dirty and exhausted, they remain full of high spirits till they eventually reach square the peak from where they can see the whole island stretched below them. Then, aware of a growing hunger, they begin the descent and come across a piglet entangled in a curtain of creepers. Jack draws out his sheath knife, but seems reluctant to kill the struggling animal. While he hesitates, the piglet tears itself loose and scurries into the dense undergrowth. All the three laugh ashamedly as they move down the platform to join the others.
Simon does not follow Jack and Ralph as they make their way down to the bathing pool. Instead, with an air of purpose, he walks into the forest and after helping some of the little boys (“littluns”) to pick ripe fruit out of their reach, he makes his solitary way towards a clearing in the undergrowth, the existence of which only he knows about. He squats down screened by a curtain of keepers, and listens to the sounds of the island-bird noises, bees humming and the fate splashing of the waves. It becomes cooler and the spot is soon enveloped by the darkness of the evening.
Ralph is confident that the group would be rescued in the course of time, though it may take long for the resume to reach them as they are Stranded on an island. He suggests that the boys should light a fire on the mountaintop so that the smoke rising from the fire serves as a signal of their distress to the sailors of any passing ship so that they can come to their rescue. Ralph also suggests that the boys build a few huts or shelters on the beach. Accordingly, a fire is lit on the mountaintop and the building of huts and shelters starts. As the group consists of fair number of six-year-old boys, special care is to be taken of them. Some of these boys, who come to be called ‘Littluns are scared as they have seen a beastie or snake-thing on the island. Ralph tries to pacify them by saying that there can be no beastie on a small island.
Conflict of Interests
There is conflict of interests and priorities between Ralph and Jack. Jack designates the choir boys under his charge as ‘hunters’. Having seen pigs on the island, Jack plans to hunt them down and kill them in order to obtain meat for the boys who are fed up with eating fruit and are now craving for meat. Jack is adventurous and the desire to hunt down the pigs becomes an obsession with him. One day he involves the boys so much in his hunting plans that they forget to light the fire on the mountain-top and an opportunity for their being rescued is lost. This greatly annoys Ralph who is very particular that the fire be kept burning all the time. But Jack has proved quite successful in his hunting expeditions. He has won the support of the majority of the big boys, who have come to be knows as the ‘Biguns’. Jack naturally becomes increasingly defiant of Ralph Ralph finds an ardent supporter in Piggy, but Jack hates Piggy even more than he hates Ralph. But they all realise what a misfortune it is that they lack adult guidance.
The smaller boys (“littluns’) have a corporate life of their own. Browned by the sun, filthy dirty and suffering from chronic diarrhea from eating unripe or over-ripe fruit, they spend their time in aimless and trivial play on the beach, attending the meetings of the bigger boys as an entertainment.
Beast on the Mountain-top
One morning the twins, Sam and Eric (“Samneric’) who are put on duty at night to keep the fire burning come down perturbed and inform Ralph and others that they have seen a beast on the mountain-top. It tied to chase and seize them. They all make a search for the beast and hunt it down. The expedition is jointly led by Ralph and Jack who. along with Roger, climb to the mountain-top and come upon what they, too, think is a beast. Actually, it is dead body of an air pilot entangled in the strings of his parachute. This air pilot had tried to land by parachute by an aircraft which had them, perhaps, been attacked by the enemy, and he got killed in the process of landing on the mountain-top
One day Jack hits upon the idea of covering his face with a mask of various-coloured clays to serve as a camouflage for his pig-hunting activities. A crowd of boys would surround the unsuspecting animals and then Jack would creep up and stab one. While the hunting party is busy, Ralph, Piggy and Simon find out that those put on duty for keeping the fire burning on the mountain-top have joined the hunting party and the fire has gone out. Sometime later, they are joined by a triumphant procession of hunters, bearing on a stake the carcass of a pig. At first, Jack cannot understand why Ralph is so agitated over the neglected fire, but when Piggy shrilly denounces him he strikes his fist into the fat boy’s stomach and breaks one of the lenses of his spectacles. Afterwards, Jack apologises for having allowed the fire to go out and the lost opportunity of rescue is forgotten in a feast of roast park. Jack and his hunters’ re-enact how they trapped the pig, accompanying their description with wild-dancing and a chanted chorus of “Kill the pig. Cut her throat….”
Ralph versus Jack
Ralph, still angry about their lost rescue opportunity, returns to the beach and blows on the conch to summon an assembly. When everybody has gathered, he takes them to task: “Things are breaking up. I don’t understand why.” Jack blames the small boys for giving way to nameless fears and calls them “a useless lot of crybabies”. As hunter-in-chief. he adds, he has explored every inch of the island but has seen no trace of any beast in the forest. But a self-confident littlun Phil claims the previous night he had seen something big and horrid” moving among the trees. But the apparition turns out to have been Simon returning from his secret spot in the jungle. But another littlun’ Percival says that the beast lives in the sea. The “littluns’ then talk of ghost and the assembly ends in Pandemonium.
Jack now instigates the ‘Biguns’ against Ralph by saying the Ralph is not fit to be their chief or leader as he is a coward, he cannot hunt pigs, he cannot sing and, above all, he has spoken ill of the hunters. As a result, most of the ‘Biguns’ forsake Ralph and accept Jack as their chief. Only Piggy, Simon and the twins, Samneric, stick to Ralph besides the littluns’ in whom Jack is not interested at all. Jack now organises mere and more hunting expeditions. In the course of one such expedition, Jack offers the head of a slain pig to the beast in the hope that it would not harm the hunters.
Simon, who is at his usual haunt in the forest at this time, witnesses the scene. He imagines that the pig’s head, which had been stuck on a stick by Jack, has assumed the shape of the Lord of the Flies and is speaking to him. The Lord of the Flies tells Simon that evil is part of all the boys and cannot be removed from them. The Lord of the Flies, also known as Beelzebub, is a personification of evil. This, of course, turns out to be a hallucination that Simon experiences.
Jack now begins to adopt the primitive methods of tribal hunters, referring to his followers as his tribe’. He keeps his face painted all the time with red and white clay and charcoal, asking others to follow this practice. He organises mock hunts in the course of which the boys dance and sing; they also chant certain words relating to their hunting operations and the killing of pigs. In the course of one such mock hunt, Simon is killed by the hunters as they, in their frenzied excitement, mistake him to be a pig, Jack, however, expresses no regret over Simon’s death. Later, he raids Ralph’s camp and takes away Piggy’s spectacles in order to light a fire every time he and his followers wish to roast pig meat. It appears as if Jack has settled down on the island and feels no need to be rescued. But Ralph and Piggy are worried whether any rescue will ever come, especially as they now cannot light a fire and send a distress signal to any passing ship.
Piggy is distraught as, without his spectacles, he cannot see anything. He decides to approach Jack and retrieve his spectacles. Ralph offers to go with Piggy as he is still recognised as chief by Piggy, the twins and the littluns’. When they request Jack to return Piggy’s spectacles, he is very rude to them. Ralph calls Jack “a swine” and “a bloody thief,” and the two exchange blows. Piggy intervenes and asks Jack’s ‘tribe’ to behave as sensible, civilised people instead of behaving like savages. At this point, Roger hurls a rock at Piggy, who is thrown into the sea and killed. His dead body is carried away by the waves into the open sea.
Jack now attacks Ralph with his spear, tearing his skin above the ribs, Ralph realises the danger as he is now all alone against Jack and his followers. He flees from the spot followed by devilish screams and a shower of spears. Samneric, the twins, are seized and tied up by Jack’s followers, Roger gives them a beating, compelling them to become Jack’s followers
As the afternoon dies away, Ralph nurses his wounds in a thicket in the forest. When it is dark, he makes his way back to the shelters and cats some fruit. Making his way back again towards Jack’s end of the island, he comes upon the Lord of the Flies, now a fleshless grinning skull, which he lashes at in loathing. The sow’s head falls on the ground and Ralph takes up the stick on which it had rested to use a weapon.
As he approaches the rock, Ralph hears head the sounds of a feast and the familiar “Kill the beast!” chorus. Samneric, the twins, stand guard. They urge Ralph to go away in the interest of their own safety. They also inform him that Jack plans to hunt him down and kill him the next day, Ralph crawls back to the forest and falls into a nightmarish sleep.
Early next morning Ralph wakes up to the sound of Jack’s hunters spreading across the island in their search. He examines in the thicket, secure in the knowledge that only one ‘savage’ can attack him at a time. But Jack orders a rock to be pushed down in the hope that it might hit Ralph and kill him. Ralph runs till he is panting. Jack them orders his followers to set fire to the forest so that Ralph is burnt alive.
In a state of panic, Ralph runs down to the beach. He stumbles and falls down on the sand. Seeing that there is no hope for him, he cries out for mercy. When he looks up, he sees a British naval officer in uniform standing close to him. The officer, who was sailing past the island, saw the smoke rising from the forest set on fire by Jack and his followers, Ralph’s life is saved and he bursts into tears. The naval officer offers to rescue the other boys as well. Jack and his followers now appear on the scene, some with the distended bellies of small savages. One painted little boy wears the remains of the broken pair of Pigg’s spectacles at his waist. Overcome by exhaustion and the memory of his wise friend Piggy, Ralph bursts into tears and weeps openly. He bemoans the sad events that have taken place on the island, at the loss of innocence” and at the darkness of man’s heart.” Rescue has come at last, but his two noble minded and innocent companions, Simon and Piggy, have been killed by Jack’s brutality. Evil reigned supreme in the island for some time. Evil is ineradicable for human nature. Evil instincts surface in human beings and assert themselves as soon as man is liberated from the restraints of civilized life.
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Lord of the Flies Quotes
#1 “Maybe there is a beast… maybe it’s only us.”
#2 “The thing is – fear can’t hurt you any more than a dream.”
#3 “The greatest ideas are the simplest.”
#4 “I think women are foolish to pretend they are equal to men, they are far superior and always have been.”
#5 “What are we? Humans? Or animals? Or savages?”
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