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

Getting ready for the assembly he is about to call, Ralph paces at the water's edge. He thinks about their situation on the island, and the sense of his own dirtiness overwhelms him. He compares his own ability to think with Piggy's.

He is clear and direct at the beginning of the meeting; he discusses drinking water, building shelters, lavatories and the fire. He reminds them that they elected him chief, and orders them to do what he says. He mentions the fear that some of the boys are feeling, and Jack continues on the topic of the beast. He asserts that there are no harmful animals on the island. Piggy takes up the conch, and agrees with Jack's claim that the beast is imaginary. One littlun describes seeing something moving the dark and Simon confesses to going into the forest at night. Another says that the beast came out of the sea.

Simon suggests that perhaps there is a beast, not an animal, but something inside them. He is laughed at and the meeting goes out of control. Ralph attempts to regain order. Piggy responds with anger at the talk of ghosts, and confronts them all. Jack becomes angry and begins speaking out of turn and challenging Ralph. He leaves the platform, shouting, and the rest of the boys follow in a tumult.

Piggy, Ralph and Simon are left, considering the possible situation in which Ralph is not chief and Jack takes control. Simon and Piggy both encourage Ralph to continue being chief, and Ralph bemoans the lack of grown-ups who could tell them what to do.

Detailed Summary

Getting ready for the assembly he is about to call, Ralph paces at the water's edge. He picks a smooth place in the sand so he does not have to think where to put his feet, and in doing this he realizes that it is a metaphor for their life on the island. The boys constantly have to watch what they are doing, which makes Ralph tired to think about it. He thinks about the changes that have happened since his first idealistic exploration of the island. The sense of his own dirtiness overwhelms him and he craves a proper bath and a haircut.

He reaches the platform, which looks different since it is much later in the day than the time when they usually meet. He thinks about what he wants to say and grows frustrated at his own inability to formulate clear, coherent thoughts about what needs to be done. In thinking through this, he considers the fact that Piggy can think in a way that none of the other boys can. Though he is dull, he has the ability to work through the problems logically. Ralph considers this, and then blows the conch to summon the boys.

Most come quickly, aware that the meeting was going to be called. He is clear and direct at the beginning, expressing the need for seriousness in the meeting. He brings up the fact that though things are discussed in meetings, nothing is done. He refers to the plan to gather drinking water, as well as build shelters. He renews the instruction to defecate only by the rocks, since the practice of going anywhere and everywhere is unsanitary. The boys respond to this with laughter and silliness, but Ralph persists in being serious, and then comes to the point that everyone is waiting to hear about. He informs everyone about the ship passing by, and the lack of smoke. He reiterates the importance of the smoke signal for their rescue, but is answered with snickers from the hunters. He responds by telling them that the fire is more important than meat, and continues to his next point about keeping the fires together, rather than making them anywhere on the island. This is met with scorn, but he holds the conch and holds his ground. He reminds them that they elected him chief, and orders them to do what he says. Jack tries to take the conch to say something, but Ralph holds on, bringing up the fear that the littluns have been feeling. He tries to make it clear that the changes that have happened since their arrival, and the unhappiness that has crept in can be ended with a decision to concentrate on the important things, like the fire.

With that, he ends his speech and Jack takes up the conch. He addresses the littluns, criticizing them for being paralyzed by fear and shirking their share of the work. He asserts that there are no harmful animals on the island. Ralph is confused at the mention of animals, and Jack explains that the littluns and some of the hunters talk about a dark thing or beast on the island. Jack declares that he has been to all parts of the island and has never seen anything but pigs.

Piggy takes up the conch, and agrees with Jack's claim that the beast is imaginary. He stresses that life if scientific and that they all stand in danger of collapsing into foolhardy mysticism. He suggests that they talk through their fears to discover the cause and thus dispel them. The littlun who talked about a beast is addressed. This littlun, Phil, describes the dream he had in which he was fighting twisted shapes outside his shelter. He awoke to find the twisted shapes gone, but saw something moving at the forest's edge. Simon confesses to going into the forest at night, and the explanation is found. Another littlun, Percival, is brought forward, and under questioning begins to cry violently. This unleashes a wave of feeling among all the littluns, which is only relieved by some clowning by Maurice. Jack brings the assembly's attention back to the beast, and questions about where the beast could possibly live, since he had been to all parts of the island. Percival finally answers that the beast came out of the sea, which silences the group.

The assembly breaks into an argument over this possibility and Simon speaks up. He suggests that perhaps there is a beast, but when pressed, attempts to express that he feels that the beast is not an animal, but something inside all of them. He is unable to express his ideas further, and becomes the laughingstock. Someone suggests that Simon meant that the beast is a ghost, which Piggy loudly rejects, which Jack responds to with an insult. The assembly begins to break down, and Ralph attempts to regain order. He ends the meeting with a vote about ghosts, to which many more respond than he anticipates. Piggy responds with anger at the prospect of believing in ghosts, and confronts them all. Jack becomes angry and begins speaking out of turn and challenging Ralph. Ralph points out that the rules are the only thing they have, and Jack reacts by rejecting rules and venerating the hunt. He leaves the platform, shouting, and the rest of the boys leave in a tumult.

Piggy, Ralph and Simon are left and feel despair over the situation. Piggy and Ralph discuss the possibility of blowing the conch to bring them all back, but Ralph argues that if they do not come back, the rule of law is lost completely and their chances of rescue gone. They consider the situation in which Ralph is not chief and Jack takes control. Piggy fears for his safety in such a situation, knowing that Jack hates him. Piggy tells Ralph that Jack hates him, too, which surprises Ralph. Piggy has considered Jack a great deal, and feels that he knows him well. Simon and Piggy both encourage Ralph to continue being chief, and Ralph bemoans the lack of grown-ups who could tell them what to do.

Chapter Five Analysis

The previous chapter ends with Ralph confronted by Jack's growing power over the boys. Having successfully killed a pig at last, Jack's reputation grows considerably. The boy listen to Jack, and he has something to show for all of his effort. Ralph grows frustrated at his lack of support and decides to call a meeting. He is looking for a way to re-exert his own influence over the boys. He desperately searches for a way to convey the seriousness of their situation, especially in the face of Jack's emphasis on fun and games. While considering his plan, he is able to remove himself from his situation, in order to review it, in a way he could not before. Similarly, he is able to evaluate his own ability and compare it to Piggy's. Piggy has become valued in Ralph's eyes, as he recognizes Piggy's ability to think in a logical way that Ralph has yet to develop. Upon pondering this, he is faced with his own shortcomings as a leader and a thinker, which then gets translated into a recognition of his own physical dirtiness. Like in the story of the Garden of Eden, Ralph has bitten the apple of knowledge and as his understanding of his situation increases, so does his grasp of his own inability to accomplish what he wants. He gains insight into his relationship to the boys, but that insight is tinged with frustration as he discovers he still is not skilled enough to make them follow his command.

During this meeting, the changes that Ralph is undergoing as a leader are present; he is far more comfortable with speaking in public, and he is not afraid to remind the boys of his position of power. Though his influence on them is beginning to wane, especially in light of his increased seriousness, he makes a final attempt to snap them back to reality. This attempt fails, and led by Jack, the meeting collapses into a mystical chaos, as the boys stop talking about lavatories and signal fires, and begin talking about beasts and ghosts. The boys' collective progression from civilization to savagery is reflected in the trajectory of the meeting. Ralph begins in control, and the boys listen and agree, but by the end, he has been silenced by the fearful frenzy of speculation about the beast.

At the end of the meeting, Jack's full-scale rebellion has begun, as he challenges the rules outright. Ralph's impassioned defense of the rules is no help as they are the last remnants of control Ralph has over Jack, and therefore something to be ignored. The beast is the source of Jack's power; the meeting begins to break up once Jack mentions the beast, and it is this major source of contention that will eventually drive all of the boys, except for those that remain true to Ralph, to Jack's tribe. The boys begin to fear the beast, and so they seek the fiercest boy to protect them. The tragic irony is that the beast is the boy, and they have just delivered themselves to his lair.

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