The Lord of the Flies

“The Lord of the Flies” is a novel written by William Golding and published in 1954. This novel was Golding’s first and was not a huge success at the time of it’s release, selling only about 3,000 copies in the United States during it’s first year on the market before going out of print. However, the sales picked up later on and it became a best seller before the onset of the 1960’s. Since then it has been adapted into a film one three separate occasions, once in 1963, again in 1976 as a Filipino film with a gender-flipped cast and most recently in 1990. It has also been adapted into plays and radio broadcasts and has influenced many famous authors and filmmakers.

The plot of the novel is the story of a group of boys who are in a plane that is shot down by enemy forces and crash lands on a deserted island. The main character, a young boy named Ralph is, at 12 years old, one of the oldest of the group. He is quickly elected as the group’s leader and takes charge of the boys, instructing them how to build a shelter and hunt for food. Unfortunately, Ralph develops a rivalry with one of the other older boys named Jack who wishes to lead the group himself.

Due to hysteria and stress, the younger boys begin to suspect that there is a frightening monster on the island and the group devolves into a frenzy where Jack splits away and announces that he is starting his own group. Many of the boys join him, leaving Ralph on his own. The other group becomes savage under Jack’s rule and accidentally kills one of the boys after suspecting him of being a shape-shifting monster in the dark of night. Jack’s tribe sets out after Ralph to kill him and are only stopped by the arrival of a Naval ship on the island which has come to rescue them.

Book Summary

The novel opens with a fair-haired boy climbing down some rocks toward a lagoon. Once he reaches the lagoon he sees that another boy is already there. The boy is chubby and wears thick glasses. The fair-haired boy introduces himself and says that his name is Ralph. The chubby boy says that his name is Piggy. The two boys begin to speak and their conversation introduces us to the plot of the novel.

The children were on a plane that was attacked and shot down over the ocean. The plane contained a group of boys being transported from England during wartime. The plan crashed onto a deserted island that is thick with plant life and jungle. After the boys who survived managed to make it out of the plane wreckage, they lost each other and are unsure if the pilot survived as they cannot find him either. Ralph and Piggy find a large pink conch shell and Piggy suggests that they use it as a trumpet to call the other boys. At the sound of the shell, the surviving boys begin to follow it and straggle onto the beach.

All of the boys are under twelve years old and the youngest ones are only six years old. Some of the boys are dressed in black choir gowns who are led by a boy named Jack who is intent on continuing to lead them even in the unfathomable situation. He leads them onto the beach in two straight lines. The boys decide to vote for a leader. The choir boys vote for Jack but all of the other boys vote for Ralph. Jack is obviously upset by this and Ralph placates him by saying that the choir boys can be their hunters and that Jack can lead them.

Ralph chooses Jack and another boy named Simon to explore the island and tells the others to stay on the beach. The boys are exhilarated to be exploring a jungle and begin to feel a bond forming between them. They make it to the other side of the jungle where there are a lot of high rocks. They boys climb the rocks and from the top, can see the entire island. They see that the island is deserted except for them. Instead of feeling afraid, Ralph feels as though they have discovered their own land.

As the climb down and head back to the beach, they find a wild pig trapped in some vines. Jack draws his knife and steps forward to kill the pig but hesitates. As he is willing himself to act, the pig manages to escape and Jack vows that he will never hesitate to kill again. The boys return to the beach and meet with the other boys. Ralph tells them that they are alone on the island and begins organizing the boys into tasks to help them survive. He says that they will have meetings and that the conch shell will be held by anyone who wants to speak. The others will have to listen patiently until they get their turn with the shell.

Piggy begins panicking that no one will know that they have crashed on the island and no one will come looking for them. The thought scares the boys into silence. One of the younger boys tells the others that he saw a snakelike monster in the jungle the night before. The other boys then become scared about a potential monster in the jungle. The older boys try to reassure the younger ones that there is no monster and that the little boy was only having a nightmare.

Ralph considers the idea of signaling for help and suggests that they go to the top of the central mountain on the island and build a large fire so that passing ships might see the smoke. The boys all rush off together to build the fire, using the lens from Piggy’s glasses to focus sunlight and start it. They manage to get a fire going but it dies quickly. In an effort to get it restarted the boys accidentally set a section of trees on fire. Piggy becomes furious by the group’s irresponsibility and announces that the little boy who saw a monster in the jungle was playing by the fire and is now missing. The boys are shocked and Ralph is ashamed that one of them went missing under his care. They inevitably end up pretending that nothing happened as they assume the boy was killed in the fire.

Later on, Jack begins tailing the pig that evaded him earlier. He sharpens a stick into a spear and trails the pig but it continues to get away. Frustrated, he returns to the beach where Ralph and Simon are working to make huts for the boys to live in. Ralph is frustrated because he cannot get the huts to stay up and no one besides Simon is helping him, the other boys not realizing that the huts are vital to their survival. Ralph says that all of the boys act excited at the meetings over the plans being made but none of them actually want to help when it comes down to putting the plans into action. He is also worried about the smaller children who are having nightmares and cannot sleep.

Jack is busy thinking about how to kill the pig with his hunters and does not want to listen to him. Ralph complains that Jack is using his hunting job to get out of the real work on the island. Jack replies that they need to eat and the two continue to bicker and grow more hostile toward each other. While this is going on, Simon walks out into the jungle alone and stumbles across a beautiful open glade with flowers and birds.

Daily life on the island soon begins to find it’s rhythm. The mornings are more pleasant as the sun doesn’t beat down as heavily and the boys are able to play. However, by midday the temperature becomes too hot and the sun beats down over the boys. Many of the boys are concerned about strange images they think they see floating over the water. Piggy tells them that they are just seeing mirages. Evenings are cooler for the boys but when the night falls they become scared of the jungle. The smaller boys are hounded by strange dreams and nightmares. They are convinced that a monster lives on the island and hunts them in the darkness. The heavy fruit diet that they eat begins to make the boys ill and some of the older boys taunt them when they can.

Jack becomes obsessed with hunting the pig and paints his face with clay and charcoal before going into the jungle to hunt with a few other boys. Ralph and Piggy spot a ship on the horizon but realize that the signal fire has gone out. They hurry to relight it but cannot manage to do it in time and the ship does not see them. Ralph, knowing that it was the choir boys job to keep the fire maintained, becomes furious with Jack. He returns to the beach, intent on giving Jack a piece of his mind but just as he gets back the hunters return with a dead pig on a stick. The hunters are so filled with victory and blood lust that they don’t notice Ralph scolding them for letting the fire go out. Piggy begins shouting at Jack and the other boy slaps him hard across the face, breaking his glasses. Ralph lights into Jack again and after some time Jack admits that he was wrong for letting the fire die down but he does not apologize to Piggy.

The boys roast the pig, using Piggy’s glasses to light the fire again and the hunters dance around the fire in celebration, reenacting the hunt and chanting a strange song. Ralph announces that he is calling a meeting and stalks down to the beach alone. He berates the boys for their failure to meet the group’s rules. None of the boys have worked to build shelters, gather drinking water or keep up the signal fire and they are not even using the bathroom area that they agreed upon. Ralph tries to impress the importance of following these rules on the boys. The small boys bring up their fear of the monster and their nightmares again but both Ralph and Jack tell them that there is no monster. One of the small boys tells them that he saw the monster and they ask him where it could go in the daytime if it actually is on the island, as they can see everything from the signal fire mountain top. He tells them that it might be coming up from the ocean at night. This idea scares all of the boys all over again and the meeting devolves into chaos. Jack announces that he and his hunters will look for the beast and if it exists, they will kill it.

Jack then leaves the meeting with his hunters un-dismissed. Piggy tells Ralph to call the boys back with the conch shell but Ralph says that he worries that the call would be ignored and the younger boys would realize that he is not as in control as he appears to be. He tells Piggy and Simon that he is considering giving up the leadership of the group but they tell him that the little boys need someone to guide them.

That night a fierce battle between war planes takes place on the island. The boys who were supposed to watch the signal fire fell asleep, so the fire died out. The planes do not see the island below but from one of them, a dead parachutist descends and his chute catches on some rocks and flaps in the wind. The shape casts frightening shadows on the ground and when some of the boys see it they mistake the body for the snake-like beast and run back to the camp to tell Ralph.

Ralph calls for a meeting and the two boys tell him that a monster assaulted them. The other boys are frightened by the claims and decide to organize a search party to search the entire island for monsters. The boys set out, leaving Piggy and the small boys behind on the beach. Ralph and Jack set off together and begin to make friends again. The other boys begin to play games and Ralph is forced to sternly remind them of the purpose of the hunt. He tells them that they will be heading toward the signal fire to rebuild it and the boys grudgingly agree.

While they are crossing the jungle, the group spots another wild pig and Jack suggests that they hunt it. Ralph agrees and although they do not manage to catch the pig, Ralph gets caught up in the rush of his first hunt and manages to throw his spear so that it glances off of the pig’s nose. After the pig escapes, the boys are still pleased with their athleticism and reenact the hunt with each other, with a boy named Robert playing the part of the pig. Unfortunately, the boys get carried away and accidentally beat Robert quite badly before they remember themselves and stop. Robert suggests that they use a real pig in the next reenactment and Jack sarcastically suggests that they use one of the small boys instead. Ralph reminds everyone that they were just playing a game.

Simon volunteers to return to the beach to tell Piggy and the small boys that the group is not going to be returning that night. After darkness falls, Ralph, Jack and another boy named Roger climb the signal fire mountain to see if they can spot the monster. They see the shadow of the dead parachutist and, thinking that it is a large, strange ape, flee down the mountain in fear. The boys return to the beach to warn the others of the monster. Jack takes the conch shell and says that there is a monster and that Ralph should be removed from the head of the group. However, the other boys refuse to vote him out of power. Jack becomes furious and storms away saying that he is leaving and anyone who wants to join him can do so.
Simon suggests that they return to the mountain and hunt the monster but the boys are dismayed by this idea. Piggy suggests that they abandon the other signal fire and build a new one on the beach and Ralph agrees.

The boys begin building a new fire. Some of the other boys sneak off in the middle of the night to join Jack’s group and Piggy tells Ralph that their group is better off without them. On the other side of the beach, Jack declares himself the chief of his new tribe and the hunters kill a sow together. The boys leave the sows head on a sharpened stake in the jungle as an offering to the ape-like beast that they saw. The boys are frightened of their own tableau when they see the blood dripping from the sow’s teeth and run back to the safety of the beach.

Some of the hunters descend on Ralph’s camp and steal burning sticks to light their own fire. They tell Ralph’s boys that they can follow them to join Jack’s tribe and get meat from the sow and some of the boys are sorely tempted by the idea of eating meat. Simon returns to the beautiful glade and finds the pig’s head there instead. He sits down and stares at the head and eventually begins to think that he is hearing it speak. It speaks to him in the voice of “The Lord of the Flies”, telling Simon that he will never escape him because he lies within all humans. Simon is so terrified that he faints. He wakes some time later in a daze and wanders onto the mountain with the old signal fire. He stumbles across the dead pilot and realizes that the boys have mistaken him for the monster. Simon begins stumbling toward the light of Jack’s fire to tell the boys what he has seen.

Ralph and Piggy decide to go to Jack’s feast to maintain some control over the boys. At the feast, the boys eat the pig and laugh while Jack sits like a king, his face painted, issuing commands and being waited on by the other boys. After the meal, Jack asks Ralph’s followers to join him and most of them accept, much to Ralph’s dismay. It begins to rain on the beach and Ralph asks Jack how his tribe is going to weather the storm since they have no shelter. Jack orders his tribe to do their hunting dance and the boys become caught up in the frenzy of dancing and reenacting the hunt. As they are dancing, a shadowy figure emerges from the forest and, thinking it is the monster, the boys fall on it and start attacking. However, the figure is really Simon, who tries to tell the boys that he is not the beast but as he is trying to get away from the boys he trips and falls over a rock and the boys violently attack him while he is down, killing him.

The storm finally breaks over the island, washing Simon’s body out to sea as the boys run for shelter. The storm knocks the body of the parachutist free from his perch and down onto the beach and the boys begin screaming and running off into the darkness. The next morning Ralph, Piggy and the handful of small boys that are left on Ralph’s side, regather to confront what happened the night before. They now realize that they killed Simon and Piggy insists that it was an accident. Ralph, who is gripping the conch shell and laughing in an unhinged way insists that they murdered Simon in cold blood.

Jack brings his tribe to the mountain which has been dubbed Castle Rock and rules over them with an iron fist. He punishes boys for minor things and ties up and beats a boy named Wilfred. Jack convinces his tribe that Simon really was the beast and that the beast can shape-shift and take on any form it wishes. He tells them that they have to keep on guard for the beast because it can never truly be killed. Jack’s tribe decide to raid Ralph’s group for more burning sticks to start a fire. Jack’s hunters badly beat Ralph in the raid and steal Piggy’s glasses so that they have the power to make fire.

Ralph and his group decide to travel to Castle Rock to speak to Jack’s tribe and get them to see reason. However, once they get there they are met with armed guards who throw stones at them. Jack and a group of his hunters come out of the forest with another dead pig and Jack demands that Ralph leaves his camp. Ralph insists that Jack gives Piggy back his glasses and tries to make Jack understand that they need to relight the signal fire and keep it burning if they ever want to get off of the island. Ralph and Jack end up in a physical altercation while Piggy struggles to shout at them to get them to stop. Roger shoves a large rock down the mountainside and the boulder hits Piggy, breaks the conch shell he was holding and knocks him off of the mountain and to the rocks below. Ralph barely manages to escape with his life and flee the mountain.

Instead of returning to the beach, Ralph hides in the jungle and thinks about how he has failed and the way the vestiges of civilization have been stripped from the boys. He finds the sows head and knocks it over, taking the spear to use as a weapon. That night Ralph sneaks back over to Castle Rock and some of his old friends inform him that Jack is intending to send the entire tribe after him tomorrow. Ralph falls asleep and wakes up the next morning to find the boys trying to reach him in the thicket he took shelter in. Ralph smells smoke and realizes that Jack has set the forest ablaze to try and smoke him out. Ralph leaves the thicket and struggles to get to the beach where he collapses in exhaustion, knowing the other boys aren’t far behind.

Ralph looks up and realizes that a Naval officer is standing over him. The officer tells him that his ship saw the fire in the jungle and reset their course to investigate it. Jack and his hunters spill out of the jungle and stop in their tracks when they see the officer. The officer assumes that the boys are playing a game but when he finds out the truth he is furious. He asks them how they could have let themselves become so savage. The boys begin to sob as they are so happy to be rescued and ashamed of what they have become. The officer, embarrassed, turns his back so that the boys can have a moment to compose themselves.

Character Analysis

Ralph – the main character of the novel. Ralph is one of the older boys on the island who is voted as the leader of the group because of his will to take charge in bringing the surviving boys back together after the plane crash. Ralph is the illustrative character of human progress and gainful initiative in the novel. While a large portion of the other young men are more concerned with playing, having a great time, and staying away from work, Ralph begins building shelter and considering approaches to boost their odds of being saved right away. Because of this, Ralph’s leadership over the boys is secure for the first part of the book. However, as the novel progresses the group gradually gives in to their savage instincts and Ralph’s influence begins to waver. Eventually Ralph is left alone as all of the boys in his group have either been killed or joined Jack’s tribe.

Ralph’s morality and dedication to maintaining some dignity and civilization on the island are strong and his main wish is to be saved by responsible adults so that he may return to their world. At the beginning of the novel, Ralph cannot understand why some of the boys would give in to their savage instincts, but as the novel goes on he begins to understand that this savagery exists within everyone and determines not to let it overwhelm him. Ralph does hunt a boar and participates in the killing of Simon after being swept up in the hysteria and this knowledge of the darkness that lurks within him plunges him into despair.

At the end of the novel, Ralph is happy to be rescued by the officer but the burden of what he has seen on the island and what he now knows exists within him causes him and the others boys to weep hysterically.

Jack – the main antagonist of the novel. Jack is a troublemaker from the start, insisting that he is more qualified to lead the boys than Ralph and regularly getting so distracted and worked up by the hunt for the first wild boar that he forgets to do his other duties for the camp. Jack is the novel’s main representative of the savage and ego maniacal inner nature of man. He is quick to start his own tribe and set it up so that the boys are waiting on him hand and foot and treat him like a king, as opposed to Ralph’s more equal tribe who work together to meet their goals. Jack begins torturing boys for no reason in his own tribe and rules over his group with an iron fist.

The first time that Jack is called upon to kill something in the novel, he is unable to but by the end, he wounds and kills without thought. He paints himself like a barbarian and gives himself completely over to blood lust and the inner darkness. Jack is the least civilized of the boys by the end of the novel and the more savage he becomes the more control he creates the group who are desperate to survive and consider him their best shot at it.
Jack learns to use the boy’s fear of the ape-like beast to control their behavior and make them do his bidding.

Simon – Simon is character that embodies something of a spiritual connection with the earth and a deep human goodness. While the other boys begin to abandon their morality now that there are no adults around to punish them anymore, Simon continues to act morally throughout the novel and behaves kindly toward all of the boys. The killing of Simon by the boys is the symbolic killing of what is left of their good natures, as it is not only a malicious act of violence but one visited upon the kindest character in the book. In a way Simon’s death serves to deliver the boys to complete savagery and kicks off the climax of the book wherein complete chaos descends on the island.

Piggy – a short, chubby boy with glasses who becomes Ralph’s second-in-command or lieutenant. Piggy is an intellectual boy who nevertheless comes off as whiny and gets picked on by the other boys – particularly Jack, often. However, Piggy is a voice of reason in the novel and his inventiveness saves the boys on several occasions. Piggy’s character represents the scientific side of civilization which is killed when a primitive boulder is rolled onto him.

William Golding Biography

Sir William Gerald Golding was born on September 19th 1911 in Newquay, Cornwall, England. The son of a science master at Malborough Grammar School, Golding was born into a family that respected scientific rationality and socialism. His mother was also an active campaigner for female suffrage. Golding began attending Brasenose College, Oxford in 1930 where he attained a B.A. Degree in English Literature in 1934. Later that year he was published for the first time as a poet.

He became a schoolmaster in 1939, teaching English and Philosophy. That same year he married an analytical chemist by the name of Ann Brookfield with whom he had two children. In 1940, Golding joined the Royal Navy and fought on board a destroyer ship. He was involved in the sinking of the German battleship, Bismark and participated in Normandy and D-Day.

After the war, Golding began writing again and after suffering some rejection from publishing houses, managed to publish his first novel, “The Lord of the Flies” in September of 1954, following it in succeeding years with with “The Inheritors” and “Pincher Martin”. After publishing another book in 1959, Golding achieved enough success that he was able to quit his teaching job and move to the United States and become a writer-in-residence at Hollins College in Virginia. Throughout the 1960s and 70’s, Golding continued to publish fiction novels and several plays.

In 1980, he won the Booker Prize and three years later was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature for his work. In 1988 he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II and was made a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

On June 19th of 1993, Golding died suddenly of congestive heart failure. He was scheduled to attend the First International William Golding Conference in France only a few months later.