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.

Beside the mere, his sinewy body held up a mask that drew their eyes and appalled them. He began to dance and his laughter became a bloodthirsty snarling. He capered towards Bill, and the mask was a thing on its own, behind which Jack hid, liberated from shame and self-consciousness.

In this quote, found in chapter four, Jack's need to hunt is highlighted, as he looks for ways to improve his technique. He strikes on the idea of painting his face with clay, in order to mask himself from the pigs. He is convinced that the pigs see his pinkness before anything else, which warns them of his presence. He demonstrates his new face paint in front of a group of boys, and the transformation that he undergoes is striking. He becomes a different person, a different thing, once he is wearing the mask. By creating a new identity for himself, he is freed from any ties to his former personality and all the baggage that holds. Moreover, by painting his face with clay, he begins to detach himself from the trappings of civilization which restrict his actions on the island.

From the beginning, Jack is aggressive and belligerent. He confronts Ralph, and attempts to become chief. When this is frustrated, he shifts all of his attention to hunting, and becomes focused on killing a pig. Spending so much of his time with this idea, the notion of killing becomes separated from its normal meaning, and becomes a positive objective, rather than something slightly taboo and only done for physical survival. As he becomes a successful killer, Jack loses sight of what is taboo and what is not, and the line between acceptable flexibility needed for survival and the forbidden boundary of murder is blurred beyond recognition. The mask lets Jack act outside of the rules put forth by civilization. He need not feel the embarrassment that comes with interacting with other boys his own age, and as the mask frees him, he acts with such a focus that he draws the other boys to him, even as they are frightened by his ferocity.

Jack stood up as he said this, the bloodied knife in his hand. The two boys faced each other. There was the brilliant world of hunting, tactics, fierce exhilaration, skill; and there was the world of longing and baffled common sense.

This quote, from chapter four, introduces the beginnings of the fracture in Jack and Ralph's relationship. Though they face off in the beginning over the selection of chief, during their initial expedition they find that they are both strong characters and kindred spirits in their enthusiasm and energy. As time passes, they become interested in different things, and begin to represent what might be seen as two sides of human nature, or the conflicting impulses of savagery and civilization.

Jack is solely interested in hunting, and showing his dominance over other things; he aggressively works towards demonstrating his prowess as a hunter. In this way, he is beginning to show the signs of the purely savage, purely evil incarnation that he becomes by the end of the novel. He lives in the moment and thinks only of satisfy his hunger, whether it be for food or for blood. He paints his face, and rejects the rules that Ralph sets forward. When he splits from the group and forms his own tribe, he has two simple objectives, to hunt and to have fun. He is not concerned about rescue and thinks only of his pleasure in the present.

On the other hand, Ralph wants to build shelters and maintain the smoke signal so they can be rescued. He thinks as reasonably as he can, and tries to make decisions that best plan for the future. Though they do not need shelters at present, they will if it rains, and though the fire is difficult to maintain, there is the possibility of a ship, and it is their only hope for rescue. He makes rules about sanitation, and encourages everyone to follow the guidelines he sets forward. Exasperated when the boys would rather play than work toward making the island more comfortable, he is all that civilization has to offer--hopes for the future, and rational planning for the present. Ralph wants to maintain the rules, and as the novel progresses, becomes increasingly dismayed at his dirty and disheveled appearance. In the end, he finally recognizes the benefit of Piggy's straightforward, no-nonsense manner, and strives to maintain the civilization that they all arrived from.

With a convulsion of the mind, Ralph discovered dirt and decay; understood how much he disliked perpetually flicking the tangled hair out of his eyes, and at last, when the sun was gone, rolling noisily to rest among dry leaves.

Like the quote in which Ralph's civilization is confronted by Jack's savagery, these lines from chapter five demonstrate some of the changes that Ralph has undergone since his arrival on the island. He has just been with the boys at the top of the mountain, where he informs Jack that they missed a possible rescue because the fire was out when a ship passed by. Though Jack apologizes, it is in this moment that Ralph begins to realize that he and Jack are not kindred spirits and that his power as chief is slipping away, along with their chance for a rescue. He calls for an assembly, and walks down the mountain in order to prepare for it.

As he is pacing and thinking, he is finally able to remove himself enough from his situation in order to understand it better. It is then that he notices his own dirtiness, and his desire for civilization and order is most contrasted with Jack's savagery. He realizes his similarity to beasts, with his unkempt hair and bed of leaves. These thoughts will be revisited on the trip to Castle Rock, as he dreams of having a bath and a haircut. While Jack fantasizes about killing the beast, and gutting pigs, Ralph is thinking only of rescue and the comforts of home.

This contrast is evident in the ways that Ralph and Jack each act as chief. Ralph is a good public speaker and his demeanor inspires confidence. He is likable and friendly. Though he is not a great thinker, his never-ceasing thoughts of the fire and rescue maintain a connection to the society they left behind. He is always thinking of getting off the island, and thinking of home, so he keeps most of the identity of a young English schoolboy. He never forgets what it is like to be there, and how clean sheets feel, or how cornflakes taste. He has difficulty maintaining power because he focuses so much on rescue, and getting off the island, that he is not very interested in the fun that could be had while they are there.

Jack, on the other hand, is ugly, aggressive, and gains his power by bullying. He forces his choir to respect him, so they do, and do it for so long that it becomes habit and they do not question his authority. He challenges Ralph's authority, but does not have the popular appeal to win the vote, either the initial one, when Ralph is first elected chief, or the vote he calls to boot Ralph out of office. He becomes chief by breaking off from the group, and then tempting the boys in with feasts of meat. His way of ruling is one of belligerence, but the boys are hypnotized by his energy as well as his authority as a hunter. While Ralph attempts to appeal to their intelligence, by reminding them of the need for sanitation, and their desire to be rescued, Jack appeals to their basest instincts, telling them that his tribe is about having fun and hunting. He encourages their frenzy and drives them to murder without a second thought. Violence is the way he achieved power, and the way he intends to maintain it.

"Fancy thinking that the Beast was something you could hunt and kill!" said the head. For a moment or two the forest and all the other dimly appreciated places echoed with the parody of laughter. "You knew, didn't you? I'm part of you? Close, close, close! I'm the reason why it's no go? Why things are what they are?"

This quote, from chapter eight, makes clear that the "beast" that everyone fears is not a form of animal, like they all think, but actually something that is within them all. The beast is made up of the dark, uncivilized impulses that make them aggressive and angry. The Lord of the Flies, which is a head from a sow Jack killed, which he placed on the end of a stake stuck in the ground, is speaking to Simon. Simon has just witnessed the placement of the sow's head as an offering to the beast. Jack, who thinks that the beast is in animal form, leaves the head as a gift the beast could eat, but in fact, takes part in a kind of ceremony, much like a tribe might do for a god. By performing this ritual, part of him recognizes that the beast is something greater than an animal, something that is not just physical, but spiritual as well. Though he does not seem to understand that what has torn the group apart is the savageness within his own soul that he has let loose, his performance of this totemistic act demonstrates a kind of unconscious awareness of it. By doing so, he creates a physical form that the Lord of the Flies can inhabit, and a way for Simon to discover that he was right all along.

The Lord of the Flies confirms what Simon believed all along, but could never quite articulate, that the fracture in the group of boys is the result of the dark part of their own souls. The animal form that the littluns imagine is just a way to manifest the thoughts that they are not mature enough to understand. Simon tries to explain to the group his thoughts about the matter, but he is not a good public speaker, and the words come out wrong. He is laughed at and ridiculed and he gives up trying to express himself. Here, the Lord of the Flies, gives him the words he was looking for.

His voice rose under the black smoke before the burning wreckage of the island; and infected by that emotion, the other little boys began to shake and sob too. And in the middle of them, with filthy body, matted hair, and unwiped nose, Ralph wept for the end of innocence, the darkness of man's heart, and the fall through the air of the true, wise friend called Piggy.

One of the main tropes of the book focuses on the loss of innocence, and in this final moment, in chapter twelve, the weight of his experience is more than Ralph can bear. Though hints of the significance of his situation on the island occur to Ralph before this moment, his young mind is unable to grasp them, and he is spared from the dark conclusions that are intertwined within them. Here he is confronted by a representation of the adult world of reason, civilization and knowledge, as well as a representative of authority and power. In the shadow of this man, he is faced with his and the other boys' utter failure to maintain any sense of order or society. Earlier in the novel, he had increasingly felt his inability to act like a grown-up, and make responsible decisions that would be followed by the other boys. Instead, he constantly forgets what he wants the boys to do, and the reason why what he does is important. He has the weight of responsibility, but not the maturity to deal with it, and when he finally meets the adults that he longed for, his shortcomings are fully revealed.

The naval officer immediately confirms everything that Piggy had suggested would happen. The officer had seen the smoke created by the forest fire lit by Jack's tribe and come to investigate. He asked for the number of boys on the island, which Ralph could not supply since they had never followed Piggy's advice and make a list of everyone's names. The officer expresses disappointment that a group of English boys could not have maintained better order, which echoes Piggy's initial complaints about the boys' rash decisions. In the officer, he meets a reincarnation of Piggy, and he is immediately faced with the reality of his situation on the island. He sees the remains of the burnt out forest, which is juxtaposed with the image in his memory of the island as he first saw it.

These two images, considered in tandem, reminds him of the innocence he first felt, but at the same time, demonstrates the way in which the darkness that was to come after was there, lurking in the background the entire time. In this way, the notion that no one is innocent, not even young boys who have not yet experienced the difficulties that come with adult life. Ralph's past, before the island, only contains memories of ponies and cornflakes with sugar, and Jack is most likely very similar; there is nothing there to suggest that either could experience the sinister impulses that Jack would thrive on and Ralph would feel fleetingly from time to time. Faced with rescue, Ralph sees that they are innocent no longer, and possibly never were. He weeps because the beast is within them all.

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