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.


The setting for the novel is an unnamed tropical island in the Pacific Ocean, beautiful and uninhabited. It is a perfect place, with a coral reef around part of the island, which forms a beautiful clear lagoon. The island is covered with jungle and forest, with a mountain rising up out of it. It has two pink granite structures, one platform which forms a kind of jetty connecting the beach with the lagoon, and another type of platform at the edge of land, which they call the castle. The forests are full of fruit, and wild pigs, crab and fish offer the boys meat. They have a regular fresh water supply, and a warm-water bathing pool formed by sand at the end of the beach.

The island could not be more ideal as a place to be stranded, and this idyllic setting serves as a contrasting backdrop for the tragedy that unfolds. The darkness in the hearts of the boys is juxtaposed to the sunny, flawless setting. Though the land remains steadily cheery throughout, the weather often reflects the action, with a stifling heaviness when they look for the beast on Castle Rock and a dramatic thunderstorm intermittently lighting up the frenzied boys on the night of Simon's death.

The temporal setting for the story is at the end of World War II, perhaps during, or just after. This is not clearly defined, but some of Piggy's comments offer insight into what is going on in the world that the boys inhabited before they land on the island. Piggy mentions the atomic bomb, and his remark suggests that they were in flight around the time when the bomb was dropped. This provides a bleak time for the perfect island to exist, and fits the grim tale of savagery that unfolds. While the adult world wrestles with their own versions of good and bad, the boys create a microcosm in which to play out the fight between civilization and savagery. Without the need to band together in order to survive on a daily basis, the boys' individual impulses are given free reign, which in turn allows a clear distinction between the chiefs.


As the narrative style is direct and somewhat allegorical, there are some straightforward examples of foreshadowing. The first involves an ironic reference and occurs when Jack is attempting to describe to Ralph what it sensation of hunting. He explains that though he is the hunter, being in the forest makes him feel as if he is being hunted. Ralph answers that he does not understand, which becomes ironic in the face of the end of the book when Ralph becomes the hunted.

Another example occurs during Simon's conversation with the Lord of the Flies. Once he makes clear to Simon that the beast is within all of them, he tells Simon that he should go back to the others, but that Simon will meet him down where the others are. He mentions that he is going to have some fun on the island and "do" Simon. This foreshadows Simon's death at the hands of the other boys once they are worked into a frenzy by their death chant.

Piggy's death caused by a boulder being purposefully pushed is also foreshadowed. On the initial expedition to the top of the mountain, Piggy is left behind by Simon, Ralph and Jack, who then go on to dislodge and boulder and watch it roll down the mountain. This is repeated by a group of biguns at Castle Rock. Ralph wishes to move on, but they get wrapped up in pushing one of the many boulders off into the forest or the sea.

The foreshadowing of the two deaths makes them almost unavoidable, much like the sacrifices made to the beast. Their deaths are seen in advance, as they are outsiders, unable to be absorbed into the group's dynamic, so must be done away with. Ralph is the only one left, but he is cued in to the savage impulses enough to be able to survive on his own.


In this story, the conflict arises from a variety of sources. The boys crash land on the island, and the most basic conflict comes from their need to survive. This is not necessarily a problem in terms of physical survival, as the island supplies food and water, but existing outside the protection of their English homes brings new dangers, which they must face. Similarly, they must respond to the emotional pressures that are placed on them by being lost with an unclear chance of rescue. This is the stronger difficulty of the two, and it is the weight of this challenge that causes the most pressure. It is seen most obviously in the littluns, who do not have the complexity of mind to fully distract themselves with either maintaining their little civilization, as Ralph does, or having fun, as Jack does. The biguns can push away their fears more easily, and the significance of their situation is not fully felt until they are at the end of it and able to consider it from a distance. Ralph demonstrates this the most powerfully, as he breaks down in front of the naval officer who offers to take them off the island. It is only then that he feels the force of the emotional conflict of being castaway.

In this moment he also experiences the effects of the internal conflict based on his reassessment of Piggy. The theme that people are not what they seem is explored throughout the novel, as characters are forced to consider their pre-conceived expectations of the other boys, and the way they have misjudged them. Piggy, for example, must initially fight the stereotypes and superficial impulses that dictate the first impressions of children. He is immediately judged by Ralph to be a bore and a nuisance, with his asthma and his aunt. Piggy is collectively ridiculed by the boys for his weight, but he bears the abuse out of habit and experience, for it is the normal behavior to be expected of young schoolboys. He has been fighting that battle his entire life, and the new society on the island is no different. This conflict of individual versus society's standards of "normal" is not new to Piggy, but it is new for Ralph to be aware of it. As Piggy rises in his estimation, Ralph realizes that he did Piggy a disservice, which he relives when faced anew with the fact of his death.

The novel foregrounds the conflict between Ralph and Jack, as they battle for supremacy on the island. Ralph's main focus is on being rescued, but Jack's is on having control over the other boys, and thus he succeeds in becoming a leader in a way that Ralph cannot. The two boys represent opposite impulses; one is for law and order and behaving after thinking; the other for rejecting rules, having fun, and forcing one's personal will on others by violent means. These two ideas clash, and the terrifying conclusion is that the basest instincts will prevail, when tension mounts.

Point of View

The narrator is omniscient, allowing insight into the thoughts and feelings of each individual character. This attention on the internal is focused on Ralph and Simon, as they are the most aware of the true nature of the beast. The point of view is from the third person, which partly removes the story from an external source for comment. In this way, the novel's comment on the war that influenced Golding's writing is expressed only by the character' actions. In this way, the author's voice is strong, but not overpowering. It is less one person's view on a certain situation, and more a retelling of what might be considered a universal theme.


The tone of the writing is dark, almost bleak. On the one hand, the subject matter is tied to the time in which it was written, and the tone remains neutral when relating these events, allowing the information to be conveyed through the characters' comments and pieced together by the reader. On the other hand, the interest of the story is in universal themes, and consequently, the tone is practically biblical in its seriousness, as it relates the tale the conflicting impulses within the human spirit. The language is clear and straightforward, and quite spare in its descriptions, allowing the events to play out and speak for themselves, rather than interrupting the narrative by including the narrator's own philosophy.

His straightforward style and unflinching tone places emphasis on action, rather than description, thus highlighting the aspects of universality within the microcosm of the boys. Their actions just happen, which lends a feeling of unavoidability to the story, which suggests that the point put forth by this narrative would be true of all similar situations. In this way, the story communicates that its purpose is goes beyond a simple story of castaway boys.


The mood of the novel is dark and foreboding. Though the setting is cheerful and ideal, the boys are treated in an almost allegorical sense, as their clear characteristics are allowed to emerge through interactions with each other, rather than through remarks by the narrator. The contrast of the brightness of the setting and the seriousness of tone create a sense of uneasiness, which reflects the events of the story, and emphasizes the injustice of the rise of Jack's power and the deaths of Simon and Piggy. Ralph's frustration with the boys' growing refusal to think rationally permeates the mood of the narrative, creating an atmosphere of distrust and anxiety.

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