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Title: Lord of the Flies
Author: William Golding
Date of original publication: 1954
The setting of Lord of the Flies is somewhat vague. The island is unnamed, and besides stating that it is during wartime, there is no specific date given. The island is uninhabited, and characterized by a beach, jungles, orchards, and a rocky mountain. The jungle that surrounds the characters represents death. It is dark and entangled in vines, which remind the small boys of snakes, and instill fear. This setting is also significant because it is isolated from civilized society. As the plot progresses, the lack of civility causes the society, built by the children, to deteriorate.
At about twelve years old, Ralph is among the oldest of the boys on the island. He is described as a “fair-haired” boy with mild facial features. He is the first character introduced and plays the role of the protagonist. He is somewhat charismatic, but is admittedly frightened by the situation. Ralph begins as an innocent boy but ends up very mature from dealing with conflicts and adult decisions throughout his leadership. He believes that survival can only be achieved by the presence of peace and order. He tries, somewhat unsuccessfully, to build a stable, civilized society. Ralph is a perfect character however. He struggles as a leader, and has to rely on Piggy, a boy who he respects for his maturity and knowledge, for advice. As the chief, Ralph notices that many of the boys are not following the rules, but he does not subject anyone to punishment. This leads to anarchy, and the creation of Jack’s tribe. Eventually, many of the boys abandon Ralph, and although against his initial values, he tries to join Jack to escape the loneliness he has experienced. Toward the end of the novel, Ralph is hunted by Jack and his followers, but is able to the beach where he finds a naval officer to rescue him. This is the first time that Ralph is relieved from his internal and external conflicts.
Piggy, who is about the same age as Ralph, never reveals his actual name throughout the novel. He is overweight, asthmatic, and wears glasses. These physical weaknesses cause him to be whiny and less useful in work. He is described as a bad looking character, who is disrespected and considered an outsider by the rest of the boys.
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One of the major themes of the novel, Lord of the Flies, deals with the struggle between good and evil and the moral integrity of a society. As soon as the boys realize that they are alone on the island, the battle between good and evil begins. Ralph emerges as the chief and plans to begin a civilized society. When the boys are left to their own devices, chaos ensues. Some of the boys would rather hunt and kill than build shelter, so Jack’s tribe becomes increasingly popular. Without the existence of rules and refinement, there is little hope for the future of the boys. The beast plays a significant role in this theme because it lurks inside everyone. The evils lie within and choices have to be made to survive, whether through rational thinking or through anarchy. This theme also ties into another: the loss of innocence. The boys start out innocent and playful, but as the novel progresses, all of the boys grow into different people, products of their society.
There are several conflicts within the characters in this novel. Ralph is a key character in these because he is physically involved in one of them, and is internally affected by another. Ralph is the chief of the boys and is rivaled by Jack, who has created his own tribe. Ralph relies on order and reason to create a humane society. Jack is chaotic and disorderly. Jack thinks of the situation as a big game and doesn’t follow any of Ralph’s rules. Instead of fulfilling a responsibility of keeping the fire going, Jack runs away and hunts for fun. This results in the fire burning out as well as the passing of a potential rescue ship. The rescue was very important to Ralph because he is terrified of being stuck on the island. The fire represents hope to him, and when it goes out, so does his hope of rescue. He struggles with his inner problems because he cannot let anyone see his fear, for that would cause the rest of the boys to become afraid.
A key event in the novel took place when Simon was alone in the jungle. He was sitting, staring at the dead pigs head that Jack's tribe had left as a gift for the beast. He could not get the image of the pig out of his mind, even when he closed his eyes. Then, the Lord of the Flies began to speak to him. It told Simon that it was the best, and that he couldn't hide from it. The head reveals that it is a part of everyone and that it is the reason that nothing is going right on the island. Finally, after being threatened by the Lord of the Flies, Simon faints. This scene is significant because it shows that the beast is not something that can be hunted and killed, it is actually an evil that lies inside everyone. Unfortunately, Simon is the only one with this understanding.
· “I agree with Ralph. We’ve got to have rules and obey them. After all, were not savages.” Pg 15
· “…The mask was a thing on its own, behind which Jack hid, liberated from shame and self-consciousness.” Pg 64
· “There was the brilliant world of hunting, tactics, fierce exhilaration, skill, and there was the world of longing and baffled commonsense.” Pg 71
· “Things are breaking up. I don’t understand why. We began well. We were happy. And then---…Then people started getting frightened.” Pg 82
· “…Ralph wept for the end of innocence, the darkness of man’s heart, and the fall through the air of a true, wise friend called Piggy.” Pg 202
Lord of the Flies is full of symbolism. Some of the recurring symbols throughout the novel were the beast, the fire, Piggy's glasses, and the conch shell. The Beast, in the boys' imagination, creates all the evil on the island. The beast actually symbolizes the evil in everyone. Only Simon realizes that it lies within. The pig's head said, "Fancy thinking the beast was something you could hunt and kill! O You knew, didn't you? I'm part of you?" (Pg. 143). The Fire is a symbol, especially to Ralph. He starts the fire with the hope that the smoke would attract a rescue ship. When the fire goes out, Ralph's hope diminishes. He begins to think that there will never be a rescue and has to rely on Piggy for advice. Piggy's Glasses are a symbol in the novel. In the beginning, they represent his knowledge. When they are broken, it seems that some of his knowledge and reason has escaped him. Finally, when the glasses are stolen, the island begins its descent into anarchy. It is almost as if the glasses were the only way to view a civilized society. The Conch Shell is found in the first chapter. Ralph and Piggy use it to gather the boys of the island. It represents order and authority. Later, when Piggy is killed, the conch shell is crushed. This represented the loss of order, and the eventual downfall of the island.
The storyline of the novel is fast moving. Golding varies sentence lengths to make the story more calm or dramatic. For example, towards the beginning, Golding uses long, fluid sentences to describe the surroundings. Later, when Ralph is being chased and faces his fate, the sentences and short and choppy, and almost make it seem like the reader is running alongside him. The novel is told in different points of view. It is narrated, but is sometimes shown from the views of the characters presented.
I found this novel to be very interesting. I thought that everything was written very clearly and I even understood the symbols and what they represented. The theme made me think of the evils of man, instead of believing that all the evils lay in society and only affect men. I felt both compassion and animosity towards the characters. I had initially thought that the novel would be more directed toward a male audience, but I found it enjoyable.
Howard Babb's critical essay of the novel, Lord of the Flies covers different areas of the book. He analyzes the defects of society and the effects society has on the characters. Babb outlines how the characters created their own society. Ralph emerges as the leader with the conch shell, but many of the boys are irresponsible and do not want order. Babb explains how "society's attempt to build shelters proves as ineffective as its effort to keep a signal fire going." The boys are too absorbed in having fun and pleasure that they do not stay on task. Piggy, who is the only logical thinker questions, "Which is better, law and rescue, or hunting and breaking things up." In the critique, Babb points out that Golding took a lot of time to make sure that the reader understands that through all of the events and conflicts, that the "children are indeed children". He also supports how Jack is the leading force in destroying the society on the island. Ralph is depicted as a slower regressing version of Jack. Babb says that Ralph began as innocent, but eventually went toward savagery when he betrays the others. He describes Simon as an outsider because nobody understands him. In spite of this, he "constantly reveals a kindness that no other could possess".
Paul O’Flinn has a more general analysis of the novel. He claims that it is one of the most influential post-war novels. He explains the plot of the story. He says that the story turns into one of how paradise is "turned into hell by the nature of the boys themselves". O'Flinn explains that Ralph, Piggy and Simon try to maintain their standards, but that the rest of the islanders end up following Jack. He believes that Golding selected middle class private school boys, but then had them they are generalized into humanity as a whole. He states that human nature is "not so much truth as ideology". O'Flinn believes that a group, or its spokesman interpret the world in terms that keep a groups interest in mind. Finally, he says that when authority figures are taken away, "chaos follows, as the novel fully illustrates".
O'Flinn, Paul. Them and Us in Literature
July 14, 2001, December 7, 2001
Babb, Howard S. The Novels of William Golding
Ohio: Ohio State University Press, 1970