Lord of the Flies Study Guide

Lord of the Flies

Lord of the Flies by William Golding

Lord of the Flies is the story of a group of boys whose plane crashes during the wartime evacuation of English schoolchildren. All adults are killed in the crash, and despite early attempts at organization, spearheaded by a boy named Ralph, the boys quickly descend into inhuman behavior that begins with the taunting of an overweight boy known as Piggy and ends with the formation of a savage, bloody society. When the boys are rescued they are confronted with the horrors of their own actions.


William Gerald Golding was born at St. Columb Minor in Cornwall in 1911. He was born into a progressively-minded family, which greatly influenced Golding. They wanted him to go into the natural sciences, so he studied Physics at Oxford, beginning in 1930, but in 1932 abandoned it in favor of English Literature. After graduating, he worked as a teacher, as well as published his first book of poems. In 1940, he joined the Navy. He was much involved in World War II, serving in cruisers, destroyers, mine-sweepers and ships with rocket launchers, and was present at the sinking of the Bismark and at the D-Day landings at Normandy.

After the war, from 1945 until 1961, he served as a schoolmaster at Bishop's Wordsworth's School in Salisbury. In 1952, he wrote a novel entitled Strangers from Within , which was rejected by several publishers. Faber and Faber accepted it in 1953, and after some changes were made, it was published in 1954 as Lord of the Flies . It did not gain critical success immediately, but became a bestseller in the years following, and his achievement as a writer was recognized. A year after the publication of Lord of the Flies , his novel The Inheritors , was published, which was followed by the novel Pincher Martin , in 1956.

In 1962, he held the position of resident writer for one year at Hollins, a small women's college in Virginia, and then moved back to England. He continued to write short stories, poetry, reviews, a play, a travel book about Egypt and several other novels.

In 1980, he won the Booker Prize for Rites of Passage , a novel. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1983, cited by the Nobel Foundation for "his novels which, with the perspicuity of realistic narrative art and the diversity and universality of myth, illuminate the human condition in the world of today." He was knighted in 1988.

He died of heart failure in 1993 at his home in Cornwall, near Truro.

Historical Context

William Golding saw a good deal of action during World War II, from a variety of points of view. This experience proved to be one of the greatest influences on his writing, as the lessons he learned, most notably about humanity and innocence, can be seen as the major issues that his novels explore, especially Lord of the Flies . The book was published in 1954, long enough after the war that the memory was still fresh, but the effects were beginning to be apparent. During the war he experienced first hand the effects of the loss of innocence that many young men who were involved in the conflict went through, and he questioned the belief that innocence can actually exist in such a world. England had been hit hard during the war, the atomic bomb had been dropped, and the Communist threat was growing, thus creating a further fear for the future. Though the war against the Nazis was won, total destruction felt closer than it ever had, leaving people feeling world-weary, cynical and unprotected. These ideas are reflected in the novel's plot, as the boys land on the island, seemingly full of innocence and good intentions, which quickly vanishes as they face the issues of survival.

This change in the group castaways from innocent school-boys to bloodthirsty savages creates a situation, which can be interpreted in several ways. Some see it as a kind of religious allegory, demonstrating the eternal conflict of good versus evil, and the ways in which sin inhabits all souls. Others see it as a fable sketching the history of civilization. Yet others see it the conflict as one between the id, the ego and the superego, following Freud's theories of psychoanalysis. The universality of the themes speak to each of these issues in a different way. But, at the same time, the book is rooted in the social milieu in which it was written, echoing the thoughts and fears of a country that had been wracked by war, with an uneasy future ahead.

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