Lord of the Flies
By William Golding
First published in 1954
I read Blackbirds 1991
Jack and the other hunters think there’s a beast on the island. They want to give it a gift, so it won’t harm them. The gift is a head of a pig, they caught during the hunt. They would put the head on a spear and put it in the ground. Because it’s very hot on the island the head starts to rot and attracts flies. Due to the flies the head is called the lord of the flies.
The expression "Lord of the Flies" is also a translation of Beezlebub, the name of the devil in the Old Testament.
"Lord of the Flies" is a future-fiction novel, because the author sets his story somewhere in an imagined future. "Lord of the Flies" takes place while an atomic war is going on.
The story is about a group of English boys, who were transported somewhere because an atomic bomb had fallen on England. They don’t arrive at that destination because the plain was attacked. Before the plain went down, the boys were dropped on an island. Because the pilot didn’t survive the crash, nobody knew where the boys were. There also weren’t any adults to tell the boys what to do. They had to look after themselves.
In the beginning the boys were able to manage quite well. They had chosen a leader, Ralph and they had formed some rules. They chose him, because he had found the conch. This was a shell, which Ralph used to call assemblies, by blowing on it. It made a loud noise, which attracted the other boys. The group consisted out of a few choir-boys, their leader Jack, Piggy, the twins Sam and Eric and a few others. Because it was difficult to remember all the names, they made a distinction between the big boys and the little ones. They called it biguns and littluns. Jack didn’t want Ralph as a leader, he wanted to be chief himself. Ralph had a solution for that. He made Jack leader of the hunters, who used to be the choir-boys.
When the boys found out that they were stuck on a island, Ralph decided that they should have a fire. Ralph thought this was very important, because this fire would signal smoke to the passing ships and then they would be rescued. Jack and a few others volunteered to make the fire, but they started the fire with too much enthusiasm. They set a part of the forest on fire and they probably burnt one of the little ones. They felt ashamed because of this.
The little ones were scared, because some of them said they had seen a beast. This frightened the others too, but Ralph said it was nonsense an they no longer spoke about it. Soon life on the island developed into a routine. They build huts, went to the meetings, swam, ate and more or less followed Ralph’s rules. Life became a bore and Jack had enough of it. He started to annoy Ralph and Piggy. The group started to argue more often and didn’t obey the rules like they used to do. Ralph lost control over the group.
At night a dead parachutist landed on the mountaintop. The twins, who supposed to keep the fire going, noticed the noise of the parachute and thought it was the beast. They hurried down from the mountaintop and they told the others what they had seen and heard. Ralph could no longer ignore this, so he decided that he and a few big ones had to go look for the beast and kill it. When they arrived at the mountaintop they saw a strange shadow. They were scared and ran away. The next day Jack decided to have a meeting and said that Ralph was a coward, because he had ran away. Jack said that Ralph was no good leader and suggested he would be the new chief. He wanted a group of hunters, who only partied and killed pigs. Jack didn’t get support, so he decided to leave the group.
Eventually more boys decided to join Jack’s group. Soon Ralph, Piggy, Simon and a few little ones, were the only ones left under Ralph’s leadership. The others had joined Jack and had become real savages.
It all got out of hand. Jack’s group was very cruel and mean. They killed Simon, because they thought he was the beast. They stole Ralph’s fire and Piggy’s glasses, so they could light the fire themselves next time and they also killed Piggy. They threw a big rock at him and because he could not see, he bounced of the cliff. Jack did not mind that Piggy was dead, he hated him anyway. The twins who were on Ralph’s side were captured by Jack. Ralph was the only one of his group that could escape.
But this didn’t mean that Ralph was safe. The next morning Jack would go hunting. But Jack and his group of hunters would not hunt at pigs, they would hunt at Jack. They would stab him to death with their spears. Then Jack would cut his head of and put it on a stick, which he would put in the ground. Jack used to do this with pigs, too. He would leave the head on a stick for the beast, so it wouldn’t come after them.
The twins secretly told Jack’s horrible plans to Ralph. He decided to hide. When the morning came, the hunters set the forest on fire, so Ralph had to leave his shelter and run for his life. Ralph was terrified. He ran for the beach. The savages were not far behind him. When he arrived at the beach, Ralph thought that he was a goner. But then he saw an officer in a naval uniform. On that instant he knew he was safe and could finally feel the loss over Simon, Piggy and all the other horrible things that had happened. Ralph started to cry and a few moments later the other savage boys behind him started to cry, too.
Time and place
The story happens in the future when an atomic war is going on. When the boys are dropped on the island there has just been an atomic attack on England.
The story takes place on a uninhabited island, somewhere in the pacific ocean I guess. On the island there is a beach, a lagoon, a mountain, a castle-shaped rock and a jungle. Golding uses these elements to test the possibility and strength of a new society.
The story is told by an omniscient author, who may enter the minds of any of his characters, but who also remains at a distance, and is rather objective. Golding seems to demand reason and common sense from his readers, two characteristics that gradually disappear from the island.
The story is written in chronological order. There are no flash-backs. The story has twelve chapters and is written in the past tense. There are also many dialogues, mainly between Ralph, Jack and the other boys.
I think the story takes about a year, maybe longer, because of the boys’ long hair. Hair doesn’t grow very fast, so I think the story takes at least one year.
The boys are from Great-Britain and they are all raised well. The boys can be divided into two groups. First there is a group that consists of boys who feel they need to stick together, because then they are strong and have the best chance to survive and to be rescued. They accept the need for leadership and they choose Ralph in a democratic way. Then there is the other group under Jack’s leadership. He is more like a tyrant. The second group consists of Jack’s choir-boys. They are well organized, because they look the same (clay on their faces) and everybody knows his place. But it appears that the members of this group only joined in because it lend them power.
Ralph is the main character of the story. He is one of the oldest boys. He is an attractive boy, unlike Piggy and he has blue eyes and fair hair. In the beginning Ralph is the leader and the boys obey him. He likes having rules and he wants things to be organized. Ralph isn’t a fighter, unlike Jack, he rather talks in stead of using his fists. Ralph thinks it’s very important to keep a fire going, so they have a chance to be rescued. He’s a good leader except for one thing. He can’t control his men. If he had been a little tougher, the boys would never have run off to Jack.
Jack is really irresponsible. He only thinks of himself and doesn’t look after the others. Jack only wants three things. He wants power, he wants to hunt and he wants to kill, to see blood. Jack is one of the older boys, just like Ralph. You could see Jack coming from far, because of his red hair. Jack detested, maybe even hated Ralph and Piggy.
Piggy isn’t the boy’s real name. It is a nickname because he’s so fat. In the beginning nobody listens to him, because he’s clearly different from the rest. He’s fat, wears glasses and has asthma. Without his glasses Piggy could hardly see. This killed him eventually, because he could not see the rock coming his way and he fell of a cliff. Piggy liked to read books and think. He was really smart and was good in finding solutions for problems. The sad part was that nobody listened to him. Except for Ralph. In the end they became friends. Piggy wasn’t the only boy who was different from the rest. Simon was also different. It’s funny that both boys died in the story. Maybe Golding wishes to say that those who are different die first.
Simon was very quiet, imaginative and fainted sometimes. He wasn’t totally sane, because he talked to the lord of the flies and the dead head talked back. But besides from his insanity he was a good boy. He sometimes stood up for Piggy and shared his meat with him, when Piggy didn’t get any from Jack.
There were a few other boys, but their contribution to the story is small, so they aren’t worth mentioning.
Golding believes, that a man is only civilized, as long as he is part of a social structure; take away the structure, and he becomes a beast. This is also the theme is Lord of the Flies. In everyone there is evil and if the rules no longer count the evil will present itself and work as a destructive force. Then civilization is destroyed by the basic savagery in man.
Golding has this opinion about men, because when the Second World War broke out, he joined the Royal Navy and took part in the D-Day landing in Normandy in 1944. His war-experiences changed Golding for good. When he returned home after the war he had lost a good deal of his hope in the future of mankind. This shows in "Lord of the Flies". Eventually there are no rules on the island anymore end they end up killing each other like beasts.
Symbols and Motives
1) The "Lord of the flies" (pig’s head on stick).
This represents the devil ( See explanation title) Because the Lord of the Flies is a human invention ( the boys themselves sacrificed the head on the stick), one can say that the evil it represents must be in man himself. This means that the evil is in the boys.
2)The conch shell.
This shell was used by Ralph to summon the boys on the beach. You could say it’s a symbol for unity and order. When the conch broke when Piggy fell of the cliff, all the order and unity between the boys broke, too. The conch was the last piece of order they had and when it was smashed, the order disappeared.
3) Piggy’s glasses.
This was a symbol of insight, understanding and intelligence. The hunters stole the glasses from Piggy and the only thing they did with it was setting the forest on fire to kill Ralph. From this you can see that Jack and his hunters weren’t very smart, because otherwise they wouldn’t have used the object in this way.
4) The Beast
What the Beast symbolises is the irrational fear that lurks deep in the human heart, and that only comes out when we are cut off from the laws and certainties that society provides. In the story the growing fear of the Beast is equal to the growing need for blood and savagery.
The book is written after the Second World War, because William Golding changed his opinion about mankind after he had fought on D-Day. From that day on he thought that all men were evil if there weren’t any rules. This is also the theme of his book, so it must be a book written right after the war.
I read this book, because Lord of the Flies is a real boys’ book. It made me curious, because I haven’t read many of those books and I got fed up reading all that romantic crap. When I think of a boys’ book, I think of killing, blood, science-fiction and especially no romantic stuff. So this was the right book for me and my predictions, of what the book would be like, weren’t far off. All the elements, which I said earlier, were ingredients of "the Lord of the Flies".
I thought that "the Lord of the Flies" would have been more bloody and cruel. When I read more than half of the book hardly any bloody and cruel thing had happened. They only blew the horn sometimes, followed the rules and had some assemblies. I was a bit disappointed then. I was really waiting for the dirty stuff.
I can’t say I was really happy when I finally got to that part. It got from very boring to very dirty. It was horrible. I was really caught in the book, and I could imagine the events like in a film only now in my head. I almost got sick when Piggy fell of a cliff and his scull cracked in two, so all that slimy stuff came out of Piggy’s head. That was a bit to much for me.
I felt sorry for Piggy and also for Simon. He was killed by those savages only a short time before Piggy. It maybe sounds cruel, but I hoped that Jack would die. He deserved it, because he was so mean. Besides Jack I also disliked the hunters. They enjoyed to see a pig suffer and they enjoyed beating Simon to death.
I had compassion for Ralph. I liked him from the beginning, no matter how difficult the situation was, Ralph always kept an open mind and tried to find the right solution. I think that I would panic, when I would be stuck on an uninhabited island. I wonder if a group of girls would act the same way as the boys did. Would they turn into savages, too? William Garner says that there is evil in every human, so from his state of view girls would be savages, too. Only I have my doubts about that. I even question if boys would act like that if this happened in real life.
Although there were many characters, the book didn’t become complicated or hard to understand. That’s because William Garner doesn’t introduce his characters all at ones, but in small groups. At first you get to meet Piggy and Ralph and when you got to know them then you get to know a few others. Because of this it feels like you get to know every boy on that island. This makes the book easier to read.
I liked the book’s structure. It was very clear. There were no flash-backs or flash-forwards, so the story didn’t become complicated. William Garner loves to use difficult words, so sometimes I had to look up some of them in a dictionary. But I never lost the main lines of the book.
I think that William Garner did a great job writing this book. The only remark I can make is that the first half is a bit boring, but the writer makes up for that in the rest of the book. I don’t agree that "the Lord of the Flies" is mainly a boys’ book, girls should read it as well.
Golding, Sir William Gerald (1911-1993), British novelist and Nobel laureate. He was born at St Columb Minor in Cornwall and educated at Oxford University where he read English. He spent a short time working in the theatre as a writer and actor, but then trained to be a schoolteacher, a profession he left during World War II whilst he served in the Royal Navy. After the war he began writing again.
His first novel The Lord of the Flies (1954), filmed by Peter Brook in 1963, was extremely successful and is considered one of the great works of literature of the 20th century. An allegory of the intrinsic cruelty of man, based on Golding's own wartime experiences, it is the story of a group of schoolboys marooned on a desert island following a plane crash and their descent from a state of relative innocence to one of vindictive barbarism. Novels with similar themes of good and evil in humankind followed: The Inheritors (1955), and Pincher Martin (1959). Much of Golding's writing explores moral dilemmas and man's reactions when placed in extreme situations. His trilogy Rites of Passage (1980, winner of the Booker Prize), Close Quarters (1987), and Fire Down Below (1989), also expresses his passionate interest in the sea and sailing. His other works include two collections of essays, The Hot Gates (1965) and A Moving Target (1982), and one play The Brass Butterfly (1958). He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1983 and was knighted in 1988.
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