A desert island becomes the perfect place to observe William Golding’s much disputed portrayal of human society, when a plane-full of boys crash and begin to wreak havoc. The island itself seems a utopia, with everything the boys could ask for, until civilisation starts fading from their minds and the island begins to take its own revenge. The title of the novel comes from the Arabic for one of the manifestations of the Devil. Baal-Zebub – or Beelzebub – means ‘lord of the flies’. In the novel, the pig’s head on a stick, covered in flies, is a horrific symbol of how far the violence has come.
The pig was killed by Jack and his hunters and the head is put on a stick as an offering to the ‘beast’. Only Simon really appreciates that the ‘beast’ is actually the evil inside the boys themselves and it is that which is breaking things up. So, the title of the novel reinforces the idea that we all have something of the ‘devil’ within us – and that the ‘devil’ can be released all too easily. ‘Lord of the flies’ examines reality and deception and points to the terrifyingly large gap between these two states. The novel opens with the chapter name “The Sound of the Shell”.
This paints a dramatic picture of something responding to something else, the something else being the sound of the shell. As readers, we have yet to know what responds to it, and yet we can already deduce that the shell is a conch shell, the only shell which can be played musically. However, upon further research, one can find that to be able to play a conch horn, the shell needs to be pre-prepared by having the middle section knocked out. When Ralph first meets Piggy, he manages to play the conch without doing so. This may be interpretated as something that is “too good to be true”.
However, the sound of the conch brings the boys to one central point: the beach. “The boy with the fair hair” in the first line is Ralph, the first character we meet. He is lowering himself down the last few feet of a rock face, indicating that he has already explored a little. He begins to “pick his way towards the lagoon”, showing that he is a careful boy and civilisation has moulded him like this. William Golding lived during the Second World War, and in Germany, the fairest and strongest were those with blonde hair and blue eyes – the Aryan race.
The reader already knows that Ralph is blonde, and can couple that with blue eyes. This is the first indication that Ralph is a “natural leader”. He has taken off his school sweater, but is still carrying it. This indicates that he is still clinging to the outside world. Ralph is not accustomed to this heat, which Golding shows but writing “his grey shirt stuck to him and him hair was plastered to his forehead”. The long scar the Golding refers to is the ridge where the plane crashed and ploughed through the undergrowth.
It has left an almost permanent mark on the island, and it is as if the island is hurt in some way, and wants to take its revenge on the boys, as is shown throughout the novel. The bird, “a vision of red and yellow” which utters a “witch-like cry” is also a warning to the boys to stay away. The first bird sets off another, as if re-enforcing the message. The island is again depicted as both Heaven and Hell on Earth later on – “The water was warmer than blood and he might have been swimming in a huge bath. and “The heat hit him. ” are two entirely contrasting statements about the same place on the island.
A voice then speaks, saying, “Hi! Wait a minute! ” This is the first indication of another human on the island other than Ralph. Golding does not refer to the gender of the speaker, instead calling the speaker “it”. The voice speaks further on as well, saying “Wait a minute, I got caught up. ” This indicates to the reader that this person is not as careful as Ralph is, for Ralph has no described injuries.
Ralph then stops and pulls up his stockings “with an automatic gesture that made the jungle seem for a moment like the Home Counties”. This tells us that Ralph may be from the area around London, and therefore we can say that he is from England. The voice then speaks again, and this time, the reader may be getting slightly annoyed at the mysterious speaker, as they keep interrupting visual descriptions.
This is a trait which Piggy carries throughout the novel until his murder – the whining tone of voice which annoys almost all the main characters at some point. I can’t hardly move with all these creeper things” is an indication that the island is trying to stop the boys of wrecking the island. It also begins to show that the speaker (Piggy) is not very refined in that he uses a double negative. The speaker also uses the term “creeper things” also highlighting their lack of control in English grammar. The speaker then comes out of the jungle. Golding describes the injuries that the speaker has sustained. “The naked crooks of his knees were plump, caught and scratched by thorns”.
The word “plump” indicates the boy is fat and the injuries made by the thorns not only shows up the boy’s physical weakness, but also highlights his difference to Ralph, who has not yet sustained any injuries that the reader has been told of. However, he seems to be careful in his own way, “searching out safe lodgements for his feet”. He is also different to Ralph in characteristics – Piggy was restricted, closeted, and Ralph was free and energetic. This is highlighted when Ralph goes swimming, “I can’t swim. I wasn’t allowed. My asthma… ” and “I could swim when I was five.
Daddy taught me”. He also wears glasses, which not only highlights physical weakness again, but these become a source of power throughout the novel, which are eventually destroyed along with the conch, which indicates the breakdown of all democracy on the island. Piggy then asks, “Where’s the man with the megaphone? “, indicating that there was an adult with the boys at some stage before the novel begins. It also shows Piggy’s dependence on the adult world, leading the reader to believe that Piggy is a spoilt child and he was brought up “wrapped in cotton wool”.
He also refers to many things that he cannot do, because his “auntie said”. Later on, when Ralph says “there aren’t any grown ups anywhere”, Piggy looks startled, which again highlights his dependence on adults. Yet Ralph, when he realises that there are no adults, exclaims, “No grown-ups! ” and stands on his head. This is Ralph’s initial reaction to being alone on the island – he is delighted at the freedom presented by the lack of adult control. Ralph seems to stand on his head a few times throughout the novel. It becomes one of the actions that identifies Ralph as a character.
Ralph seems interested in where the adults have disappeared to, and when Piggy says that the pilots must have crashed, he looks towards the “scar” and asks “What happened to it? Where’s it got to now? “. Piggy then explains that the tube must have been pulled out to sea by a storm, which happened before the novel. Then he says, “There must have been some kids still in it”. This is the first indication of death in the novel – the boys still in the plane drowning in the tube, burnt by the flames or injured by the wreckage.
Piggy asks Ralph his name, and is rewarded with an answer, but “the fat boy waited to be asked his name… but this proffer of acquaintance was not made”. Ralph’s behaviour to Piggy shows his indifference to Piggy and Piggy’s sensitive and proper nature. Piggy also goes on to explain that he “was the only boy in our school what had asthma … I’ve been wearing specs since I was three”, seemingly proud of the medical conditions that most people would find annoying or weak. The “expression of pain and inward concentration” comes across Piggy’s face and he says “them fruit”.
The reader can now see that Piggy has been gorging on the fruit on the island (another sign of physical weakness and a lack of willpower), which have laxatives in them, and he now has diarrhoea. Ralph uses this opportunity to run away from Piggy, once again showing his indifference towards Piggy. Ralph then reaches the beach, and perceives it as a paradise, utopia. He then realises the heat that surrounds him and “kicked”, “ripped”, “pulled” and “lugged” off various part of his school uniform. This is the first symbolism of the descent into savagery – the uniform represents civilisation and order.
The language used suggests that Ralph has no use of the uniform any more and is getting rid of the pressure to behave in a civilised manner. Later on, in the description, there is an early signal that Ralph is an inherently good character – “eyes that proclaimed no devil”. He occasionally lacks the common sense of Piggy, for example, when Piggy suggests “we ought to have a meeting” to see if any others survived the crash. HE also laughs at Piggy when he tells Ralph his nickname – showing Ralph’s lack of awareness of Piggy as a person with feelings. Through this, Ralph avoids asking Piggy his real name, and so the reader never learns it.
The disparaging offhand comment from Ralph “Sucks to your ass-mar” again shows a lack of compassion towards Piggy. Piggy is then again sensible in that he says “We’ve got to find the others. We’ve got to do something”. Piggy’s arguments are mostly level-headed and rational throughout the novel, no matter how much he dislikes the person he is speaking to. He then cleverly identifies the shell Ralph finds as a conch, which along with Piggy, becomes a symbol of democracy.
When Piggy is murdered, the conch is also smashed, and this symbolises the true breakdown of order on the island. They saw that the darkness was not all shadow… the creature was a party of boys” This is the arrival of the choir. The term “creature” shows a hint of something sinister, evil, as is later shown in Jack and Roger. The only chorister who, like Ralph, is inherently good, is Simon, who is depicted as the Christ-like figure. Simon is the only boy to realise the true nature of the beast – that it is the evil inside the boys themselves. Golding describes what Simon is trying to say as “mankind’s essential illness”. What he means is that the bad always comes with the good.
Religion always is accompanied by sin. Here, Golding also explores the doctrine of original sin – the religious idea that we are all capable of evil, it is inherent in our nature, for example, it was all Eve’s fault that she took the apple off the Tree of Knowledge – the Snake tempted her. The Snake is also symbolised in the novel as a snake-beastie, one of the original ideas about the beast. He is described as a “slight, furtive boy… who kept to himself with an inner intensity of avoidance and secrecy”. He also faints in the heat, implying physical weakness. Simon is the most appreciative of the island.
He is always trying to help others, for example when Ralph is building the shelters, Simon is the only one to stay and help, and when Piggy is refused meat after Jack kills the first pig, Simon gives Piggy his own portion, and has another portion forced onto him by Jack. However, Simon is murdered in the “killing dance” after the pig is killed before he can tell anyone about the beast inside them all. Jack Merridew is the leader of the choir, “his face was crumpled and freckled, and ugly without stillness”, is already, from the physical description, the complete opposite of Ralph.
Jack’s appearance as “tall, thin and bony” suggests his link to “darkness”, because of his figure being skeleton-like. He also seems not to be able to function properly in daylight, which is emphasised by the “sun-blindness”. This is synonymous with the common view of the vampire, which can be enhanced by the “bat-like” shadow, the black cloak and his vampiric behaviour, for example, “vaulting onto the platform”, as vampires are said to have great physical strength. His eyes are “light blue”, often depicting coldness in personality, perhaps almost ice-like.
This conveys how he may have acquired this coldness through being a victim of bullying or teasing, as these events may have influenced his change in personality. This can be found in various other books, including Yassen Gregorovitch from the Alex Rider series, illustrating the removal from normal society. His figure implies weakness and the black cloak appears to hide the true nature of Jack Merridew. The grouping of the choir implies that he needs “friends” or “henchmen” to back him up to be able to assert his authority over others, to be able to show that he can be powerful.
His desire for power is highlighted by his physical strength and his confidence and arrogance, “”I ought to be chief,” said Jack with simple arrogance”. Jack’s facial unattractiveness seems to be one reason for his assertion of power. His face may have been disfigured from fights, another sin of possible bullying or being bullied. Jack’s hair is “red”, implying that he may have some link to the Devil, also synonymous to “darkness”. This however, clashes with the cross he wears on his cloak. This is a religious symbol, but Jack is the first to descend into savagery, closely followed by Roger and the rest of the choir.
Jack speaks with monosyllabic words – he is very blunt and clips his words. He never starts dialogue, implying that he may be socially awkward. He exacerbates situations and is quick to anger, like he is trying to prove something. The colour of his hair may also imply bullying again, for today, some people are branded as “ginger” and are bullied greatly for something they cannot change. Golding may have portrayed him in this way because he was the opposite to the Aryan race of Hitler’s dream. Jack is a dictator, much like Hitler. He makes himself seem needed and is a short term thinker, often saying “we need meat! “.
For example, in one passage, Ralph is contemplating how to keep the fire going, and Jack is thinking of meat, something entirely different, saying that the pigs lay on one side of the island at midday, his behaviour startling Ralph so much that Ralph is led to believe that there is a ship near the island. Ralph thinks in the long-term, about how to get rescued. Jack is also very unkind to several members of the eventual tribe. This first sign of this is when Jack says “Shut up, Fatty” to Piggy, which is a cruel and dismissive act. It shows Jack trying to prove his authority by bullying the easiest and weakest target, in this case, Piggy.
Jack’s assertion of authority on the island means he can order around his “band” to help his role-play his fantasies from books like Treasure Island. His physical malformation is a factor in his quest to prove himself by lording over people. When the meeting is first called, one by one, the children appear out of the jungle. The smaller and younger boys appear to have been stuffing themselves with fruit. When the first boy, Johnny, sits down in front of Ralph, the other also copy him, like sheep. It is something they are familiar with, a civilised action which reminds them of school being schoolchildren.
The difference between different types of leadership are highlighted in this section “what intelligence had been shown was traceable to Piggy while the most obvious leader was Jack… there was the conch” It shows again Golding’s influence from World War Two. The word “Wacco. ” shows the boys think that the exploration of the island is fun, they see no danger in exploring an unchartered island, like a game. The words “Wizard” and “Smashing” also show this, but also makes the reader note the use of dated slang, which identifies the boys and middle-class public or private schoolboys.
The feeling of ownership is shown ” The great rock loitered… smashed a deep hole in the canopy of the forest… the forest further down shook as with the passage of an enraged monster… “Like a bomb! “” The island is described very prettily, there are lots of references to pink, like icing, but highlights the unreality of the setting. The boys think they can disturb perfection and live in harmony with it, but the rock shows man destroying nature, they are the monsters of civilisation, as shown in the Second World War.
“This belongs to us” shows the arrogance of man, who thinks he can control and dominate everything. They savoured the right of domination. They were lifted up; were friends” The group appear happy and unified in their supremacy over a passive island, which masks the true nature of what is about to unfold. All the boys have hope of being saved and to survive. Even Jack, for he says “Hunt. Catch things… until they fetch us”. Jack has a primeval instinct to hunt and kill, but also still has hope of survival at this stage – he still believes this is just a short-term adventure until the adult world claims them. When Jack, Ralph and Simon come back down the mountain, they encounter their first pig.
Jack pulls out his knife to kill it, but he pauses. “The pause was only long enough for them to understand what an enormity the downward stroke would be” – here, the boys are struggling with the conscience of man over destruction of another living thing. The reality and game of hunting is a shock to them at this stage, which is a massive contrast to the end of the book. Jack, unable to bring himself to kill the pig, makes excuses like, “I was choosing a place”. He is humiliated and frustrated over his inability to kill as he has made such a thing of “hunting” – at heart, he is still a little boy.
He sees this as a wasted chance to prove himself – “next time, there would be no mercy” – Jack is determined to prove himself capable of slaughter, another sign that he is vicious and dangerous. However, all three boys know why Jack did not kill – “because of the enormity of the knife descending and cutting into living flesh; because of the unbearable blood”. The sanctity of flesh is still observed, the boys are remembering that they are not supposed to kill. They are still civilised, despite thinking themselves self-dependant. Golding uses blood or red to symbolise danger or death at this point.
In the next chapter, Fire on the mountain, Ralph describes the island to the rest of the boys. Jack later interrupts to say that the tribe need “an army – for hunting”. Jack is the first to introduce the idea of rules and punishment – and yet he is the first to break them. This is entirely contradictory to his nature later on in the novel. Ralph then introduces the idea of a fire, to help them survive and to signal any ships around the area. The fire becomes a symbol of hope and symbolic power, but the way it spreads over half the island also shows how the boys will eventually spiral out of control.
The boy with the mulberry-coloured birthmark is the first to introduce the idea of the beast. The birthmark is a symbol of prophetic irony – the mark looks like a burn, and after the first fire, we do not see him again, presumably, he is burnt to death. There is also a reference to the Bible here – a mulberry bush is set on fire. The beast is created from doubt and fear. The boy saw it in his nightmare, implying that he may have been sleepwalking and wandered into some creepers. The “talking creepers” are again, a symbol that the island does not want the boys there.
At the beginning of the third chapter, perhaps about a week later, Jack is hunting for pig meat. He is holding a spear, the first sign that he has become a hunter and he is walking on all fours, like a primitive ape. This is echoed later, “a furtive thing, ape-like”. He is sniffing the air – tracking the pigs using all his senses. His hair has grown, making him become more savage. He is the most “in touch” with nature at this point. His skin is peeling, meaning that he has not taken kindly to the sun on the island – unlike his second-in-command, Roger, who has become tanned.
He has his first argument with Ralph when he meets him by the beach. Ralph is making the shelters with Simon, who again, is depicted as the Christ-like figure, always helping others. Jack and Ralph argue about Jack always hunting but never helping, yet never bringing back any meat either. The first signs of discord between the boys is beginning to show. In chapter four, Golding describes the hierarchy of the boys’ society. There is Ralph, Jack, Roger and Piggy, the unspoken leaders, the other older boys, a “dubious region inhabited by Simon Robert and Maurice” who are more mature than others their age, and the “littluns”.
One may notice that the younger boys are first called small boys, then little’uns, littl’uns and finally, littluns. The language of the boys gradually degenerates throughout the book – Sam and Eric become Sam’n Eric and then Samneric. Jack starts off as Merridew – the name he would have been called at school – but soon becomes Jack, then Chief. His followers – originally the school choir – become his tribe and are eventually seen as savages, having lost their individual identity. Percival Wemys Madison gradually forgets his name and address.
When the naval officer finds them, he has forgotten it completely. The progressive disuse of good grammar shows the boys slowly drifting away from society. Roger and Maurice destroy the smaller boys’ sandcastles on the beach – it is the first sign that Roger will be the most destructive as an individual. He deliberately spoils the littluns’ games. Later, he relishes sharpening a stick at both ends with which to kill Ralph. He is an executioner. He kills Piggy and, in the final hunt, Ralph fears Roger because he “carried death in his hands”.
He throws stones at Henry, but “throws to miss” because he still feels that there is a sense of protection around the younger boy, “the protection of parents and school and policemen and the law”. Jack paints his face to camouflage himself from the pigs and in the forest. The colours he uses are red, white and black – another reminder of World War Two, the colours of the German swastika. The mask hides the old Jack and makes him into the hunter that he wishes to be. The mask symbolises the darkness inside Jack. He then uses this method to kill a pig, letting the fire out in the process.
During this time, a ship goes by, and the second argument between Jack and Ralph ensues, another reminder of the terrible end that the island will come to. Jack, in his fury, also breaks one side of Piggy’s glasses. These, along with Piggy himself and the conch, is a reminder of the society breaking down. However, since only one half is broken, it symbolises the gradual breakdown. Ralph calls a meeting, and in walking to it, notices how dirty and unhygienic his clothes and body are. This shows how even the most “perfect” boy can become uncivilised without the influence of human society.
Ralph’s meeting has “too many things”, as one boy says. Ralph first explains the problems of the society in detail then shortens them to something everyone can understand – “the rocks for a lavatory. Keep the fire going and the smoke showing a signal. Don’t take fire from the mountain. ” Here, he is giving orders, he has truly become chief in his own right. He also tries to deal with the problem of the “beastie”. He asks several of the younger boys for descriptions of the beast, but they all seem to say different things. This suggests that the boys are simply seeing what they each think their worst nightmare is.
Each person’s fear is individual to them. Jack attempts to show the “littluns” that the beast is merely an animal that can be killed, although it does not exist. Piggy’s view is not much different – he tries to explain the beast scientifically, but he is saying almost the same thing as Jack – the beast does not exist. One of the younger boys who is called forward at this point is shy, and refuses to tell his name, but when Ralph asks him twice, he recites this statement, “Percival Wemys Madison, The Vicarage, Harcourt St.
Anthony, Hants, telephone, telephone, tele-“. After all this time on the island, he has forgotten the words that, in normal society, would have helped him get home. This is also another example of how the boys have conformed to civilisation. Percival then cries at not being able to remember, and the other younger boys begin to cry with him, for their mothers and friends. We are not told that the “littluns” have cried before this point in the novel. Once again, this shows how the younger boys all copy each other like sheep, and about very little.
There is an undefined space of time between Ralph and Jack’s first argument and the killing of the pig – enough time for the logs to become “polished by restless seats along the top”, the “grass worn away in front of each trunk” and the colours of he conch to have “bleached the yellow and pink to near-white and transparency”. The undefined length of time symbolises how easy it is to settle into a routine and lose track of time. The fragile conch also shows how close the tribe is to breaking apart. Percival suggests that the beast may come out of the water.
This would be a very real danger to the boys, should the beast truly be water-dwelling, for they live on an island where water completely surrounds them. Maurice then adds another element of fear by saying that not all the creatures in the oceans have been discovered yet, subconsciously telling the boys and the reader that the “beastie” may be among those. Another idea introduced as to the shape and form of the beast is a ghost – another link to “darkness” and fear. Jack then fights with Piggy for the right to speak in the assembly, then yells out “Who cares? .. Bollocks to the rules! We’re strong – we hunt! “.
This is the first sign that Jack has gone mad in his hunger for power, blood and violence. Ironically, he is breaking all the rules and bringing upon himself all the punishments that he set out for the tribe. He no longer cares whether he is to be rescued or not, the island is his land now, and he wishes to continue dominating it. He is leading the way in the eventual true breakdown of the tribe. He leads the boys to the beach in a flurry of “noise and excitement, scramblings, screams and laughter”.
They turn away from Ralph, Piggy and Simon, highlighting their turning away from civilisation and human society. Without the tribe to back him up, Ralph begins to question whether there really is a beast on the island. Ralph is quite self-sufficient, but after depending on the tribe to back him up for so long, he is beginning to ask himself whether what he has told them is true. Piggy, Simon and Ralph wish for the adults to come back and to save and help them – another sign that children, however self-sufficient they deem themselves to be, they still need adult to look after them.
The novel can be separated into three distinct parts – Innocent boys on a paradisiacal island, threat and fear appear on the island, and the consequences of creating evil. Part one, innocent boys on a paradisiacal island, is mostly squashed into one day, before lengthening out into the day-to-day routine. The boys arrive, have their first assembly and finalise on the early decisions about what to do. There is much emphasis on the island as a paradise, and at this point, there is still some hope of rescue. Then the pace slows down to describe the pleasures of the day-to-day events.
All these things are contained within the rules of law, order and sense. There is still a strong sense of the forbidden and what is right and wrong. For example, Jack cannot bring himself to kill the pig because of “the enormity of the knife descending and cutting into living flesh; because of the unbearable blood”. Roger throws stones at Henry, but he throws to miss, because “round the squatting boy was the protection of parents and school and policemen and the law. ” There change in this situation occurs when the expected control from parents, teachers and the like, are not shown and the games run on – no one stops them.
Part two, threat and fear appear on the island, begins with the arrival of the dead parachutist – fear becomes real and is a physical threat. Destruction occurs, which is caused by the boys’ actions. The fire leads to one boy presumably dying, the conch is smashed, the glasses smashed and Piggy murdered, which illustrate the failure of democracy. There is the beginning of the idea that everyone has evil within them. For example, Simon’s realisation that, “What I mean is… maybe it’s only us”. Evil has now been created on the island – this fact is established with the killing of Simon.
If the reader is careful, they may notice that the parachutist disappears – he is no longer needed to symbolise evil. Part three, the consequences of creating evil, is where moral anarchy is released by the murder of Simon. Rule and order is destroyed – this is signalled by Piggy’s death, the torture of Samneric, the hunting of Ralph and Ralph’s will to kill or be killed. The boys lose their individual identities and become a mass or mob, for example, Jack loses his name and simply becomes “the Chief”.
This part also strongly highlights that the events are not a dream. This is made clear when the naval officer appears to remind the reader and the boys how far they are from the normal expectations of British public school boys. It is underlined by Ralph’s own realisation about the loss of innocence and the darkness of men’s own hearts. The only hope by the end of the novel is that Ralph and the others will have learnt something from their experiences on the island. The hope is that they will carry this knowledge back to civilisation and save it from itself.