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Lord of the Flies

William Goldillg


Despite its later popularity, William Golding's

Lord of the Flies was only a modest success when it was first published in England in 1954, and it sold only 2,383 copies in the United States in 1955 before going out of print. Critical reviews and British word of mouth were positive enough, however, that by the time a paperback edition was published in 1959, Lord ofthe Flies began to challenge The Catcher in the Rye as the most popular book on American college campuses. By mid-1962 it had sold more than 65,000 copies and was required reading on more than one hundred campuses.

The book seemed to appeal to adolescents' natural skepticism about the allegedly humane values of adult society. It also captured the keen interest of their instructors in debating the merits and defects of different characters and the hunting down of literary sources and deeper symbolic or allegorical meanings in the story-all of which were in no short supply. Did the ending of the story-a modem retelling of a Victorian story of children stranded on a deserted island-represent the victory of civilization over savagery, or vice versa? Was the tragic hero of the tale Piggy, Simon, or Ralph? Was Golding's biggest literary debt owed to R. M. Ballantyne's children's adventure story The Coral Island or to Euripides's classic Greek tragedy The Bacchae?

Though the popularity of Golding's works as a whole has ebbed and grown through the years, Lord ofthe Flies has remained his most read book. The questions raised above, and many more like

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them, have continued to fascinate readers. It is for

this reason, more than any other, that many critics consider Lord of the Flies a classic of our times.

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From an unknown schoolmaster in 1954, when Lord ofthe Flies was first published, William Golding became a major novelist over the next ten years, only to fall again into relative obscurity after the publication of the generally well-received The Spire in 1964. This second period of obscurity lasted until the end of the 1970s. The years 1979 to 1982 were suddenly fruitful for Golding, and in 1983 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. How does one account for a life filled with such ups and downs? There can be no one answer to that question, except perhaps to note that Golding's motto, "Nothing Twice," suggests a man with an inquiring mind who was not afraid to try many different approaches to his craft. He knew that while some of his efforts might fail, others would be all the stronger for the attempt.

Born in 1911, Golding was the son of an English schoolmaster, a many-talented man who believed strongly in science and rational thought. Golding often described his father's overwhelming influence on his life. The author graduated from Oxford University in 1935 and spent four years (later described by Golding as having been "wasted") writing, acting, and producing for a small London theater. Golding himself became a schoolmaster for a year, after marrying Ann Brookfield in 1939 and before entering the British Royal Navy in 1940.

Golding had switched his major from science to English literature after two years in college-a crucial change that marked the beginning of Golding's disillusion with the rationalism of his father. The single event in Golding's life that most affected his writing of Lord ofthe Flies, however, was probably his service in World War II. Raised in the sheltered environment of a private English school, Golding was unprepared for the violence unleashed by the war. Joining the Navy, he was injured in an accident involving detonators early in the war, but later was given command of a small rocketlaunching craft. Golding was present at the sinking of the Bismarck-the crown ship of the German Navy-and also took part in the D-Day landings in

William Golding

France in June 1944. He later described his experience in the war as one in which "one had one's nose rubbed in the human condition."

After the war, Golding returned to teaching English and philosophy at the same school where he had begun his teaching career. During the next nine years, from 1945 until 1954, he wrote three novels rejected for their derivative nature before finally getting the idea for Lord of the Flies. After reading a bedtime boys adventure story to his small children, Golding wondered out loud to his wife whether it would be a good idea to write such a story but to let the characters "behave as they really would." His wife thought that would be a "first class idea." With that encouragement, Golding found that writing the story, the ideas for which had been germinating in his mind for some time, was simply a matter of getting it down on paper.

Golding went on to write ten other novels plus shorter fiction, plays, essays, and a travel book. Yet it is his first novel, Lord ofthe Flies, that made him famous, and for which he will probably remain best known. Golding died of a heart attack in 1993.

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On the Island: Chapters 1-2

William Golding sets his novel Lord of the Flies at a time when Europe is in the midst of nuclear destruction. A group of boys, being evacuated from England to Australia, crash lands on a tropical island. No adults survive the crash, and the novel is the story of the boys' descent into chaos, disorder, and evil.

As the story opens, two boys emerge from the wreckage of a plane. The boys, Ralph and Piggy, begin exploring the island in hopes of finding other survivors. They find a conch shell, and Piggy instructs Ralph how to blow on it. When the other boys hear the conch, they gather. The last boys to appear are the choirboys, led by Jack Merridew. Once assembled, the boys decide they need a chief and elect Ralph. Ralph decides that the choir will remain intact under the leadership of Jack, who says they will be hunters.

Jack, Ralph, and Simon go to explore the island and find a pig trapped in vines. Jack draws his knife, but is unable to actually kill the pig. They vow, however, to kill the pig the next time. When the three return, they hold a meeting. The conch becomes a symbol of authority: whoever has the conch has the right to speak. Jack and Ralph explain to the others what they have found. Jack continues his preoccupation with his knife. The boy with the clearest understanding of their situation is Piggy. He tells them they are on an island, that no one knows where they are, and that they are likely to be on the island for a very long time without adults. Ralph replies, "This is our island. It's a good island. Until the grownups come to fetch us we'll have fun." One of the "littluns," the group of youngest boys, says that he is afraid of the "beastie." The "biguns" try to dissuade him, saying there are no beasties on the island. However, it is at this moment that Jack asserts himself against Ralph, saying that if there were a beastie, he would kill it.

Discussion returns to the possibility of rescue. Ralph says that rescue depends on making a fire so that ships at sea could see the smoke. The boys get overly excited, with Jack as the ringleader, and all but Piggy and Ralph rush off to the top of the mountain to build a fire. They forget about the conch and the system of rules they have just made. At the top of the mountain, Ralph uses Piggy's glasses to light the fire. They are careless and set fire to the mountain. Piggy accuses them of "acting like kids." He

reminds the older boys of their responsibility to the younger boys. At this moment they realize that one of the littluns is missing.

The Beast: Chapters 3-11

The story resumes days later with Simon and Ralph trying to build shelters on the shore. Jack is away hunting. When he returns, there is antagonism between Ralph and Jack. Jack is beginning to forget about rescue and is growing tired of the responsibility of keeping the fire going, a task for which he has volunteered his choir. The growing separation between the boys is marked by Ralph's insistence on the importance of shelter and Jack's on the hunting of meat.

In the next chapter, Golding describes the rhythm of life on the island. By this point, Jack has begun to paint his face with mud and charcoal when he hunts. At a crucial moment, the fire goes out, just as Ralph spots a ship in the distance. In the midst of Ralph's distress, the hunters return with a dead pig. In the ensuing melee, one of the lenses in Piggy's glasses gets broken.

Ralph calls an assembly in order to reassert the rules. The littluns bring up their fear of the beastie yet again, saying that it comes from the sea. Simon tries to suggest that the only beast on the island is in themselves; however, no one listens. Ralph once again calls for the rules. Jack, however, plays to the fear of the boys, and says, "Bollocks to the rules! We're strong-we hunt! If there's a beast, we'll hunt it down! We close in and beat and beat and beat-!" The meeting ends in chaos. Ralph, discouraged, talks with Piggy and Simon about their need for adults. "If only they could get a message to us.... If only they could send us something grownup ... a sign or something."

The sign that appears, however, comes when all the boys are asleep. High overhead rages an air battle and a dead parachutist falls to the island. When the boys hear the sound of the parachute, they are sure it is the beast. Jack, Ralph, and Simon go in search. Climbing to the top of the mountain, they see "a creature that bulged." They do not recognize the figure as a dead parachutist, tangled in his ropes, and swaying in the wind.

When the boys return to the littluns and Piggy at the shelters, Jack calls an assembly. He calls Ralph a coward and urges the boys to vote against Ralph. They will not, and Jack leaves. Ralph tries to reorganize the group, but notices that gradually most of the biguns sneak off after Jack. The scene shifts to Jack, talking to his hunters. They go off

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on a hunt in which they kill a sow, gruesomely and cruelly. They cut off the pig's head and mount it on a stick in sacrifice to the beast. Meanwhile, Simon wanders into the woods in search of the beast. He finds the head, now called in the text "The Lord of the Flies." Simon feels a seizure coming on as he hallucinates a conversation with the head:

Simon's head was tilted slightly up. His eyes could not break away and the Lord of the Flies hung in space before him.

"What are you doing out here all alone? Aren't you afraid of me?"

Simon shook.

"There isn't anyone to help you. Only me. And I'm the Beast."

Simon's mouth labored, brought forth audible words.

"Pig's head on a stick."

"Fancy thinking the Beast was something you could hunt and kill!" said the head. For a moment or two the forest and all the other dimly appreciated places echoed with the parody of laughter. "You knew didn't you? I'm part of you? Close, close, close! I'm the reason why it's no go? Why things are what they are?"

Simon falls into unconsciousness. When he awakens, he finds the decomposed body of the parachutist, and realizes that this is what the boys think is the beast. He gently frees the dead man from his ropes.

Back at the shelters, Ralph and Piggy are the only ones left. The two go to see Jack and the hunters, and they find a big party. At the height of the party, a storm breaks and Simon arrives to tell them that there is no beast. In a frenzy, they kill Simon. Later, Ralph, Piggy, Sam, and Eric are alone on the beach. All the boys agree that they left the dance early and that they did not see anything. The four boys try to keep the fire going, but they cannot. Jack's hunters attack the boys and steal Piggy's glasses so that they have the power of fire. Enraged, Ralph and Piggy go to retrieve the glasses. There is a fight, and Roger, the most vicious of the hunters, launches a rock at Piggy, knocking the conch from his hands, and sending him some forty feet to the rocks in the sea below.

The Rescue: Chapter 12

The scene shifts to Ralph, alone, hiding from the rest of the boys who are hunting him. The language used to describe the boys has shifted: they are now "savages," and "the tribe." Ralph is utterly alone, trying to plan his own survival. He finds the Lord of the Flies, and hits the skull off the stick.

From the film Lord of the Flies, 1963.

Ralph sees Sam and Eric serving as lookouts for the tribe and approaches them carefully. They warn him off, saying that they've been forced to participate with the hunters. When Ralph asks what the tribe plans on doing when they capture him, the twins will only talk about Roger's ferocity. They state obliquely, "Roger sharpened a stick at both ends."

Ralph tells the twins where he will hide; but soon the twins are forced to reveal this location and Ralph is cornered. However, the tribe has once again set the island on fire, and Ralph is able to creep away under the cover of smoke. Back on the beach, Ralph finds himself once again pursued. At the moment that the savages are about to capture him, an adult naval officer appears. Suddenly, with rescue at hand, the savages once again become little boys and they begin to cry. The officer cannot seem to understand what has happened on the island. "Fun and gamnes," he says, unconsciously echoing Ralph's words from the opening chapter. Ralph breaks down and sobs, mourning Simon and mourning Piggy. In the final line of the book, Golding reminds the reader that although adults have arrived, the rescue is a faulty one. The officer looks out to sea at his "trim cruiser in the distance." The world, after all, is still at war.

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Like Maurice, Bill is initially confused by the clash of values among the boys. At first he seems seduced by Jack's painted face into joining the hunters in their anonymity; yet he then turns fearful and runs away. Eventually, however, Bill imagines group hunting and "being savages" as "jolly good fun" and thus a way of banishing these fears. He tries to convince Ralph's group to accept Jack's invitation to the feast, thinking that Jack is less fearful than Ralph about going into the jungle to hunt. Soon he has defected to Jack's group and is seen painted like a savage and stalking Ralph.


See Samneric


Henry is the biggest littlun and a relative of the littlun with the mulberry-marked face who disappears after the first big fire. Henry is the object of Roger's seemingly innocent game of throwing stones. Later, Henry defects to Jack's camp and is part of the raiding party that steals fire from Ralph and Piggy.


Along with Percival, Johnny is the smallest of the littluns. He is described as "well built, with fair hair and a natural belligerence," which he soon shows by throwing sand in Percival's face. Later, Johnny is shown crying when he thinks Eric may be bleeding from his encounter with Jack's firestealers.

with Johnny, Percival is the smallest littlun. When Ralph and Piggy are trying to seek a rational explanation for Phil's dream of having seen and fought with "twisty things in the trees," they call on Percival as someone who was supposed to have been up that night and who might have been mistaken for the fearful thing that has so terrorized the littluns. But Percival's mere recitation of his name and address is enough to set off sad memories of his former life. His wails, along with his speculation that the beast comes from the sea, soon set off the other littluns on similar crying jags.


One of the "biguns," he is next in size to Jack among the choir boys. Like most of the boys, he is a mixture of potentially good and bad traits. Which traits are developed depends on how strong the call of society and law is over the powers of darkness and savagery. In the beginning Maurice is helpful by suggesting that the boys use green branches on the fire to make smoke. He also makes the "littluns" forget their sorrow by pretending to fall off the twister log and making them laugh. Like Piggy, Maurice wants to believe that the world is a scientific place where human fears can be explained and needs can be met. Yet Maurice, who "of all the boys ... was the most at home" on the island, is still fearful that "we don't know [about the beast], do we? Not certainly, I mean...." Giving in to his fears, Maurice joins Roger in asserting his power by kicking over the littluns' sand castles. He also suggests adding a drum to the mock pig-killing ritual. Maurice's capitulation to his repressive leanings is complete when he defects to Jack and helps him steal fire from Piggy and Ralph.

The littlun with the mulberry-marked face

Otherwise unidentified except as a distant relative of Henry, this littlun was noticed immediately after the boys came on the island; he is the first boy to mention seeing a "snake-thing," a "beastie [who] came in the dark." He is not seen after the fire got out of control. He is therefore the focus of much anxiety, especially among Ralph's group, which had tried to make a special point of looking after the littluns.

Percival Wemys Madison

Percival Wemys Madison, of the Vicarage, Harcourt St. Anthony, Hants, as he has been taught to introduce himself, is "mouse-colored and had not been very attractive even to his mother." Along

Jack Merridew

Jack would have preferred to be called Merridew, his last name, rather than a "kid name." This attitude may suggest the "simple arrogance" that causes Jack to propose himself for chief. After all, he exclaims, "I'm chapter chorister and head boy." (The rough American equivalents of these positions might be president of the glee club and head of the student council.) It's true that Jack has the advantage of being tall; his direction of the choir is another sign of an "obvious leader." As a political animal, however, Jack recognizes that choir conducting won't get him far on a deserted island. His decision to turn the choir into a group of hunters with himself as leader shows that he can be a wily strategist. In other ways, however, Jack is careless and destructive, as when he accidentally steps on

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Piggy's glasses and breaks a lens. Similarly, Jack becomes so fixated with hunting that he neglects the fire, which goes out before the boys can signal a passing ship. Nevertheless, Jack is successful in daring Ralph to come with him to hunt the mysterious beast when darkness is falling. On that hunt Jack and Ralph, joined by Roger, perceive through the falling darkness the dim, shrouded figure of the dead parachutist-an image of the adult world that suggests the destruction of the rational society envisioned by Ralph and Piggy.

As Ralph's civilized world disintegrates, Jack's savage society becomes more distinct and powerful. Jack separates his group from Ralph's when the group fails to dethrone Ralph and recognize Jack as leader. Then Jack sets about wooing away the other boys to his group. One way is by inviting everyone to a pig roast. Another is by painting his hunters' bodies and masking their faces, thus turning them into an anonymous mob of fighters who can wound and kill without fear of being singled out as guilty. Significantly, it is Jack who is the first of the older boys to see the possibility of the beast's existence, and ultimately the ways to use the fear of the beast to his advantage: as a motivation for hunting, and as a means of keeping the littluns under his control. When Simon seeks to expose the beast as just a "dead man on a hill," he is killed by Jack's group.

With Jack's successful theft of Piggy's last glass lens, the hunters' raid on Ralph and Piggy's fire, the capture and defection of Sam and Eric, and finally Piggy's death, as engineered by Jack and Roger, the "savages"' power is almost absolute. Only the intervention of adult society, represented by the British captain, is able to save Ralph from being killed and to reduce Jack to embarrassed silence at his failure to harness the powers of evil.


One of the more self-confident littluns, Phil straightforwardly describes his dream of the "twisty things" when requested by Piggy.


Piggy is an intelligent and rational boy whose excess weight and asthma often make him the butt of the others' jokes. Yet because of his scientific approach to problems, Piggy is a voice of reason without whom Ralph's leadership would have been undermined far sooner. It is Piggy who not only recognizes the significance of the conch but whose spectacles enable Ralph to start the fire, whose smoke is their only chance of being saved. It is

Media Adaptations

* Lord of the Flies enjoys the unusual status of being one of the few serious contemporary novels to have been made into a movie twice. The first, directed by Peter Brook in 1963 with an all-English cast, as has been described as "compelling," but was only moderately successful at the box office. Available from Home Vision Cinema and Fusion Video.

* The remake in 1990 featured an American cast and was directed by Harry Hook. While wellphotographed and "visceral," with R-rated content, it is generally regarded as inferior to Brooks's version. Available from Columbia Tristar Home Video, The Video Catalog, and New Line Home Video.

* An 89-minute sound recording on cassette (JRH 109), book, and study guide, produced in 1984 and featuring excerpts from the novel, are available from the Listening Library, Old Greenwich, CT.

Piggy who realizes that building the shelters is at least as important for their long-term survival as keeping the fire going. It is Piggy whose understanding of the depths of Jack's hatred for Ralph forces Ralph to confront his despair at their prospects for getting along. And it is Piggy who makes the brilliant, however simple, suggestion that the fire be moved down to the beach away from the "beast from air."

For all his intellectual powers, however, Piggy is basically ineffectual without Ralph. Piggy is a man of thought, not of action, and he is physically weak because of his asthma. Without his spectacles, he is blind and helpless. After Jack has broken one lens from his glasses and stolen the other, Piggy is doomed in a society where irrational fears and physical strength are more respected than science, law, and dialogue. It is significant that Piggy and the conch are both destroyed at the same time by a huge rock rolled down a cliff by Roger, who

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