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

Ralph waits in the forest, near Castle Rock, and considers his wounds. When someone brings Robert, the watchman, a piece of meat, Ralph realizes that he is safe for a time while the tribe has its feast. Ralph comes across the Lord of the Flies, and he knocks it down, breaking the skull into two pieces. He hears Sam and Eric take over as watchmen, and he asks them about the situation. They warn Ralph that Jack is determined to find Ralph and kill him, and he returns to the forest.

When he wakes up, someone is close, and he leaves the ferns in time to miss being discovered by one of the members of the tribe. He finds himself in a relatively safe spot. They set fire to the forest around him in an attempt to smoke him out.

He finds a new hiding spot and lies in wait, with his stick, in case a savage bends down and peers into his hiding place. The fire continues to spread and someone finally reaches the spot where Ralph is hiding. As they look underneath, Ralph screams and flees, heading for the edge of the forest. He emerges onto the beach and finds himself facing a naval officer.

He tells Ralph that he saw the smoke from the fire and stopped to investigate. Ralph tries to explain, but he breaks down and begins to weep. The other boys join in, and the naval officer looks on as Ralph cries for Piggy.

Detailed Summary

Ralph waits in the forest, near Castle Rock, and considers his wounds. He listens for further pursuit, but does not hear any. After time passes, he sees smoke rising from a fire and smells meat cooking. When someone brings Robert, the watchman, a piece of meat, Ralph realizes that he is safe for a time while the tribe has its feast. He tries to convince himself that they will leave him alone, but he is unable to, knowing that Jack will not stop until Ralph is dead.

He eats a dinner of fruit and then decides against returning to the platform. He makes his way back to Castle Rock, where he will attempt to regain contact. Ralph comes across the Lord of the Flies, and he stares at it, trying to work out the strangeness of it. He knocks it down and the skull breaks into two pieces. He feels his isolation completely and bitterly. He hears the chanting at Castle Rock, and he hears voices near him. He notices the familiarity of them and realizes that it is Sam and Eric, taking a turn as watchmen. He approaches them quietly and asks them about the situation. They tell him that they were forced to join the tribe. They warn Ralph that Jack is planning to lead a hunt for him the next day. He is determined to find Ralph and kill him. They give him some meat and Ralph retreats back into to the forest.

Ralph eats his meat and thinks about what to do. He hides in a group of ferns and falls asleep. When he wakes up, someone is close, and he leaves the ferns in time to miss being discovered by one of the members of the tribe. He finds himself in a relatively safe spot and overhears a conversation between Jack and one of the twins. They know that he is close and he prepares himself for battle. Jack and the others return to Castle Rock and send boulders crashing into the forest, near where Ralph is hiding. The first misses him, and the second does not hit him, but sends him flying. Someone comes in after him and he manages to spear them before they reach him. They retreat and develop another plan, this time they set fire to the forest around him in an attempt to smoke him out.

Ralph makes his way, spearing a savage as he goes. He hides under a cover of vines, and considers his next move. He thinks about climbing a tree, or wait, and try to break the line of savages that are looking for him. He runs, looking for a place to wait for the line to pass, and finds one under a tangled mass of plants. He lies in wait, with his stick, in case a savage bends down and peers into his hiding place. The fire continues to spread and someone finally reaches the spot where Ralph is hiding. As they look underneath, Ralph screams and flees, heading for the edge of the forest. He emerges onto the beach and flings himself down, ready to be attacked. Instead, he finds himself facing a naval officer.

The officer asks Ralph about the boys on the island, and if they are playing war. The tribe stands still as the officer considers them. He tells Ralph that he saw the smoke from the fire and stopped to investigate. He asks, jokingly, about any dead bodies, to which Ralph responds with the information that two had been killed. The officer informs him that they can all be taken off the island, and that he is surprised that a bunch of British boys did not behave better. Ralph tries to explain, but he breaks down and begins to weep. The other boys join in, and the naval officer uncomfortably looks on as Ralph cries for Piggy.

Chapter Twelve Analysis

In this final chapter, Ralph is completely alone in his battle against the beast, which has taken possession of all the remaining boys on the island. He has become the hunted, and now the civilization that he tried so hard to maintain can no longer help him. The tone of his thoughts shift, as he begins to think like a wild beast, trying to decide the best place to hide.

In his search of the forest, he comes across the Lord of Flies. Without Simon's sensitivity, the pig's head is a disturbing, but inscrutable symbol. Even though it does not speak to Ralph in the way it did to Simon, its presence conveys enough meaning to make Ralph uncomfortable. It makes him angry and frustrated, though he knows not why. Unable to understand it but knowing its danger, Simon knocks it down, cracking the skull. Though he fractures the symbol, what it represents is even more powerful, as Ralph takes the stake on which the head was placed to use in his defense. By taking up this part of what was the Lord of the Flies, he gives in to the impulses that Jack has been encouraging since his arrival on the island. He is forced to sink to Jack's level in order to survive. It is no longer a matter of talking or arguing, and all of his dreams of rescue have vanished. He is focuses solely on living through the night and hopefully the next day. The theme that unchecked violence will win is evident, as Ralph is completely outnumbered and powerless.

All that Jack has learned about hunting and killing is combined in an effort to track down Ralph. The objective is to kill him and offer him to the beast like the sow in the forest. The frustration, jealousy and self-consciousness that Jack once felt as a result of Ralph's leadership over him combined with his new freedom from rules and morals is translated into one single bloodthirsty impulse. The steady demise of negative feelings into aggression and violence is outlined in Jack, as he becomes ever more horrible in his need to hurt others in order to prove his domination.

The tone continues in its unflinching, straightforward manner as the irony of the boys rescue is revealed. The boys set fire to the forest as a way to mock Ralph before his death, yet it is the one thing that saves him from them as well as gets them off the island. The giant plume of smoke from a burning forest is what brings the naval officer to their island. Likewise, he responds in the way that Piggy always talked, criticizing the boys inability to react to their situation the way that a group of proper British schoolboys should. Faced with this confirmation of Piggy's wisdom, Ralph is faced with his own failure to maintain order, and the senseless deaths of Piggy and Simon.

In this final moment, Golding supplies a lasting comparison, to further place the novel into context. The naval officer refers to Coral Island, a Victorian-era adventure novel for boys by R.M. Ballantyne about a group of boys marooned on an island. Ralph and Jack's namesakes come from this book, and the narratives share similarities in terms of settings. Ralph is faced with the painfully sharp contrast between that moral tale with a happy ending, and the incredibly dark events that played out on his own island. The contrast between the endings of the two stories could not be more pronounced, as in Coral Island the boys sail away, waving to their native friends, and the missionary who lives with them, and Ralph and the boys sobbing on the burnt out island that reflects the state of their souls. This difference between the two stories demonstrates the way in which innocence that people take for granted is questioned and twisted, as the twin impulses of the human soul battle for supremacy.

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