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 boys fall into the regular rhythm of days. All of the small boys now have the generic title "littlun," and a live a life of their own. They respond to the Ralph and the conch shell because it is the closest thing to authority.

One littlun named Henry is playing, when Roger approaches and then hides from him. He throws stones at Henry, not quite hitting him. Jack interrupts the game by showing Roger the clay that he found to paint his face. He creates a mask, which frees him from his self-consciousness. He orders the boys to join him in the hunt.

Meanwhile, Ralph is swimming, when he sees a ship in the distance. The boys discover that they are not showing any smoke from their fire. Ralph runs up the mountain in despair and finds the fire out. The hunting party arrives, carrying a pig's carcass on a stake and chanting.

Jack excitedly begins to describe the process of catching the pig. Ralph then points out that the fire is dead and tells him about the ship. Jack is untroubled and Ralph continues to chastise Jack, which, in addition to Piggy's comments, makes Jack angry. He hits Piggy, which breaks Piggy's glasses. Eventually Ralph gives the order to rebuild the fire, which Jack takes charge of, ordering his hunters around.

Ralph uses the one good lens on Piggy's glasses to relight the fire. With the fire blazing, Jack distributes the pig meat. Everyone is upset about the missed rescue, but the boys recover their excitement by telling the story of the hunt. They begin to chant and dance but Ralph interrupts them, ordering them down to the platform for a meeting, and walks away, down the mountain.

Detailed Summary

More time has passed since they all arrived on the island. They fall into the regular rhythm of days, though do maintain a schedule reminiscent of their Western upbringing. All of the small boys now have the generic title "littlun," and a live a life of their own. They eat all day, suffer intestinal complaints often, play at all other times, and scared at night, huddle together for safety and comfort. They respond to the Ralph and the conch shell because it is the closest thing to authority and they enjoy the meetings, but they keep to themselves and do not involve themselves with the activities of the older boys.

One of their favorite pastimes is playing in an area where they had built sandcastles. One particular day, three littluns are playing together at the castles--Percival, Johnny and Henry, the biggest of the three. Maurice and Roger, two older boys, come out of the forest and kick their way through some of the castles. The three littluns notice, but do not protest since their castle is untouched. Maurice goes away after feeling guilty for kicking sand into Percival's eye, but Roger remains. Henry wanders off, leaving Johnny and Percival behind. Roger follows him, but keeps out of sight.

Henry stations himself at the water's edge and entertains himself by watching the sea creatures gathered in the pools brought in by the tide. Since Henry is completely absorbed, Roger walks out onto the beach from his hiding spot, standing in full view. Roger picks up a stone and throws it near Henry. He picks up more stones and throws them, one by one, aiming at an area just around Henry. Henry begins to notice the stones, looking at them as they fall into the water. He finally turns to see who is throwing them, but he does not see Roger, who has stepped back into hiding. Roger hears his name and turns to see Jack beckoning him. Jack has not seen what Roger is doing; he is too excited by his own thoughts.

At the pool at the end of the river, Sam, Eric and Bill are waiting and Jack uncovers two large leaves that contain white clay and red clay. Jack explains to Roger that he thinks the pigs see him in time to get away, so he intends to paint his face as a disguise. After a failed attempt, Jack develops a pattern of charcoal, red and white that satisfies him. He dances about and orders the boys to follow him.

Meanwhile, Ralph is swimming in the bathing pool with Simon, Maurice and Piggy. He gets out of the water, and Piggy joins him where he is sitting on the side. Piggy, whose hair has refused to grow like the other boys', and whose glasses still flash in the sun, tells Ralph about his plan to make a sundial. Ralph answers with sarcasm that is lost on Piggy. Ralph smiles at the ability to make fun of Piggy inadvertently, without Piggy's knowledge. Piggy misinterprets the smile as friendship, and continues talking about his plan. Ralph ignores him, and Piggy mentions rescue, which makes Ralph frustrated, and he swims away from Piggy. He gets out at the other side of the pool and looks to the horizon. There, he spots smoke in the distance, from a ship. They gather and look for the smoke, and see it, coming from a faint black dot that has to be a ship. Ralph immediately thinks of the their smoke, sure that the ship can see it. Piggy, who is looking in the direction of the mountain, says that he cannot see any smoke. Ralph turns to the mountain and sees that it looks as if the fire has gone out. Ralph still watches the ship, but Simon looks to the mountain and cries out.

Ralph begins to run, looks up at the mountain and then beats himself in anger. With blood all over him, he considers what to do--whether to run back and get Piggy's glasses to restart the fire, or to run up the mountain in the hopes that the fire is still going and put more wood on it. He runs up the mountain in despair and finds the fire out, fuel piled up to be put on, and nothing but cold ashes. Simon and Maurice arrive to see Ralph's despair and express their own. They see the boys who let the fire go out in the distance. A procession is making its way along the water's edge on the far side of the mountain. They are carrying a bundle and chanting. When they are closer, Ralph and the others see that they are carrying a pig's carcass on a stake and chanting about killing a pig.

The hunters reach the group gathered at the ashes, and excitedly begin to describe the process of catching the pig. Jack, the leader, dances around with excitement. Ralph then speaks, pointing out that the fire is dead. Jack is untroubled, but as Ralph repeats himself, Jack notices the blood on Ralph and realizes that something significant must have happened. Embarrassed but unfazed, Jack returns to his story about the pig, and Ralph tells him about the ship. Jack is confronted with terrible implications and tries to ignore them, but Ralph continues and voices the lost possibility of rescue. Piggy breaks down and blames Jack's bloodthirstiness.

Ralph ignores Piggy and continues to chastise Jack. He continues to work at the pig, explaining that he needed everyone for the hunt, and that it had been decided that they needed meat, which he supplied. Ralph is not convinced and the two confront each other; one is the fierce, tactical hunter and the other one filled with longing and common sense. Piggy speaks again, and this, accompanied by cries from some of his hunters, is more than Jack can stand and he punches Piggy in the stomach. Piggy sits down after the blow, and Jack smacks him on the head. This sends Piggy's glasses flying. Piggy feels around for them, but has trouble, and Simon finds them and gives them to Piggy, one of the lenses, broken. Piggy expresses his anger, which Jack mocks. Ralph is quiet and tells Jack that his actions are out of order. Jack finally gives up and apologizes for the fire. By doing so, he gains the respect of his hunters, but not of Ralph. Eventually Ralph gives the order to rebuild the fire, which Jack takes charge of, ordering his hunters around.

Ralph uses the one good lens on Piggy's glasses to relight the fire. With the fire blazing, the feelings of rage diminish slightly and Jack distributes the pig meat. Piggy is passed over, so Simon gives his portion to him. Jack angry but is forced to give more to Simon. Everyone is upset, but Maurice then asks about where they found the pig, and the boys, Jack especially, recover their excitement in the telling of the story. They begin to chant and dance but Ralph interrupts them, ordering them down to the platform for a meeting, and walks away, down the mountain.

Chapter Four Analysis

The description of the littluns at the beginning of the chapter demonstrate the emotional strain that all of the boys are under, though the biguns are able to mask it by focusing their attention on other things. They cry and huddle together and focus on the necessities of life, keeping to themselves. They are surviving, but all is not perfect. At the same time, all of the boys are in a rhythm, and something that passes for normalcy is established on the island. Things seem as if they are going as smoothly to be expected, but as the story suggests, by quickly passing into a description of Roger's torment of Henry, there is something darker that lies underneath.

Roger wants to hit Henry with the stones he throws, but it is only the remnant of the society which he was so lately in that keeps him from throwing directly at Henry. It is the memory of teachers, parents, policemen and judges that makes him hold back. There is a line that he still cannot cross; the elements of civilization are still within him, though he would not have it that way if he could choose. By the end of the chapter, the first stage of erasing that boundary has begun. Jack, hiding behind his newly found disguise, successfully kills a pig and it serves as a kind of initial climax for the narrative; the way is cleared for the savageness within Jack to build, and the sadism that dominates Roger is given free play. Ralph and Jack begin to be at odds with each other more and more. After this first major conflict between them the tension will build until the point that Jack separates himself and establishes his own tribe.

The theme exploring the conflicting impulses of civilization and savagery comes into full play in this chapter, as Ralph and Jack face off. Ralph sees the civilization he is attempting to rejoin in the distance, but the signal that he has been sending is interrupted by Jack's savagery. In this skirmish, the barbarian wins, as Ralph's portion of civilization sails away, but the meat is present and shared among all the boys. Jack's influence among the boys can be seen growing, as his success in his chosen endeavor is obvious to the boys, while Ralph has nothing to show for his efforts. His actions satisfy a physical need, hunger, and so he taps into their basest impulses. As his skill as a hunter improves, he will rise in the boys' estimation, even as they begin to fear him.

The mask is the key for Jack, the turning point in his life as a hunter. It is paint on his face to hide from the pigs, but more importantly, it is a facade that hides the civilizing, order-obeying impulses, and lets the violence-loving savage take control. Roger is unable to cross the line because he has no mask to hide behind. Jack is able to bury his insecurities and his inhibitions and allow the deepest, darkest impulses to emerge.

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