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.

Brief Summary

The three boys return to the platform, and Ralph tells the gathered boys that they are on an uninhabited island. He puts forth some initial rules to follow while on the island, and points out the benefits and beauty of the island.

A small boy asks about a snake-like beast that has been spotted around the island. Ralph and the older boys deny the snake's existence, but the small ones are sure of it, and no definitive answer is reached.

Ralph turns the conversation towards being rescued. To him, and so consequently to the rest of the boys, rescue is certain. In order to speed the rescue, Ralph expresses the need to build a fire on the top of the mountain, so that the smoke is visible to passing ships.

The moment he suggests this, the entire assembly of boys leaves the platform and follows Jack to the mountain to build a fire. Ralph and Jack find themselves working together, and it is clear that a friendship is forming between them. Ralph and Jack use Piggy's glasses to focus the sun and start a blaze. Ralph discovers that the fire is mostly flame, and not enough smoke. In the face of the difficulty of maintaining the fire, Ralph concludes that they need a group whose sole purpose is to tend it. Jack volunteers to divide his choir into two groups, which would take turns maintaining it.

Piggy suggests that they build shelters on the beach, and scolds the boys for acting without thinking. During his speech, Piggy realizes that the boy who had talked about the snake is not present. The group becomes silent as they consider the fact that the boy is not to be found.

Detailed Summary

The three boys return to the platform, and Ralph blows on the conch shell to call a meeting. The boys crowd the platform, and not sure what to do, Ralph addresses the assembled group. He tells them that they went to the top of the mountain, and confirmed that they are on an uninhabited island. Jack interrupts to talk about the pig that they saw tangled in the vines. Ralph explains that since there are no grown ups to supply law and order, they will have to make rules for themselves. Once a hand is raised, the conch shell will be passed, and the holder of the shell must be listened to. Jack becomes excited at the prospect of making lots of rules, but Piggy takes the conch from Ralph and redirects everyone's attention back to Ralph, and what Piggy feels is most important--the fact that no one knows where they are. Ralph mentions that this is significant, and all the more reason to take care of themselves. Everyone falls quiet, and Ralph gives the conversation a positive spin by pointing out the benefits and beauty of the island. There is a good supply of food and water, and he intends to have fun until they are rescued.

A small boy is forced by his friends to speak, and he asks about a snake-like beast that has been spotted around the island. Ralph and the older boys question him about it, making fun of him as they do. Ralph insists that no such thing exists, but the little boy persists in his assertion. Jack assures the boy that they will look for it during their hunt for pigs, and Ralph gives up denying the snake's existence and turns the conversation towards being rescued. He tells them that his father is in the Navy, and that his dad told him that there are few, if any, unknown islands left. He promises them that the island that they are on is included on a map in the Queen's map room. To him, and so consequently to the rest of the boys, rescue is certain. In order to speed the rescue, Ralph expresses the need to build a fire on the top of the mountain. The smoke will be visible to ships, and alert them to their presence.

The moment he suggests this, the cry is taken up, and Jack calls for everyone to make their way to the top of the mountain in order to build a fire. Ralph tries to maintain order, but the entire assembly of boys leaves the platform and follows Jack into the jungle. Piggy is angered by the immaturity of the group rushing off disorganized, and Ralph is befuddled, but soon he joins them, and Piggy reluctantly follows after.

At the top of the mountain, they find a ready source of fuel, and Jack orders his choir to gather it. All the boys but Piggy chip in, bringing wood up the slope for the pile. Ralph and Jack find themselves working together, and it is clear that a friendship is forming between them. Well into the fire building process, Jack and Ralph realize that they have no way for starting the fire. Jack then sees Piggy, and suggests that they use his glasses to focus the sun and start a blaze. It works, and they soon have a giant fire burning hot and bright. The fire quickly burns through the dry, rotten wood, and the boys race to keep the fire going. The process is exhausting and once they stop to rest, Ralph points out the fire is mostly flame, and not enough smoke. The idea of keeping that large of a fire going seems impossible, especially to Piggy, but his negative comments are returned with insults and more negativity from Jack. One boy named Maurice suggests adding green branches to the fire to create more smoke. Ralph agrees and concludes that they need a group whose sole purpose is to tend the fire. In an attempt to stop the bickering between Jack and Piggy, he also mentions that the rules concerning the conch apply on the mountain as well as the beach.

Jack takes the conch and agrees with Ralph, expressing the need for civilized behavior, as young Englishmen. He volunteers to divide his choir into two groups, which would take turns tending the fire. Ralph agrees, and the roles are assigned. Piggy complains of unfair treatment, and during his speech, he is the first to notice that a large portion of the forest below them is on fire. He continues criticizing the others, and no one is listening, but he is holding the conch so he continues to speak and to try and get people to pay attention to him. He tells them that they should build shelters on the beach, and scolds the boys for immaturely mobbing the mountain without thinking about what should be the best thing to do first. He also expresses the need to take everyone's name. Ralph reminds him that it was his job, but Piggy explains the difficulty of performing the task when everyone leaves the moment Ralph leaves, or makes a suggestion for action. During their argument, Piggy realizes that the boy who had talked about the snake is not present. The group becomes silent as they consider the fact that the boy is not to be found. The fire burns on, and Ralph does not have an answer.

Chapter Two Analysis

The boys' roles are further established, as Ralph's appeal as a leader becomes more evident. In these early chapters, he is unused to the role, and it is clear that though he enjoys it, he is uncomfortable with making decisions on the spot, and being more forceful in taking command of the other boys. This will change as he grows familiar with the other boys and becomes less self-conscious about stopping to think about the best course of action. In the subsequent chapters, he inadvertently begins to follow Piggy's advice from this chapter about thinking before acting, and considering the best course of action before launching into something half-planned. It is then that he realizes the importance of considering all options, and comes to understand the truth of Piggy's statements.

In this chapter, though, Ralph is still resistant to Piggy's forceful talk, and doubtful of his value as a member of the tribe. At this time, physical effort is all that has importance, as they build the fire. Piggy cannot help, except with his glasses, and therefore is only of secondary importance. When he makes his speech scolding the boys for their immaturity, he is met with jeers; he is attempting to wield the authority of a grownup, without the appeal that would allow him to do so. He is only listened to when he shows that he is the only one who has the presence of mind to realize that they have already lost one of their members. The fear that this evokes stuns the boys to silence, but only Ralph seems to be truly affected by the significance of Piggy's statement.

In this chapter, the notion of the 'beast' is introduced. This is an important symbol that the boys return to repeatedly, and the story uses to explore notions of civilization and savagery. The littluns think of the beast as something physical that threatens their survival, a fierce animal with sinister intentions. The older boys know that such a thing cannot exist on their island, yet the fear that the littluns experience is so strong and deep that it is difficult to dismiss. The way that the older boys react varies, and will change over the course of the narrative, but in this initial mention of it, Piggy, Ralph and Jack are uniform in their rejection of the idea. Jack gives it some credence, by offering to look for it while hunting, but his lack of belief in its existence is clear.

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