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.

Symbols

Conch Shell

The conch shell is the source of Ralph's power, and it represents civilization and control. It is a tool for communication--a beckoning call that cannot be avoided. Ralph becomes chief, partly because he is the boy holding the conch shell, which summoned them all to him. The shell becomes part of the rules governing the assemblies; it becomes established that one must hold the conch in order to speak in a meeting. The boy who wishes to address the others must borrow the clout of the shell before they have the right to speak. The shell has its own authority, which is difficult to deny. When Jack becomes frustrated with Ralph's leadership, he blows the shell on his own, breaking a precedent of the island. It is a signal of his willingness to reject the system entirely, and provides the prelude to the creation of his own tribe.

Glasses

Piggy's glasses, much like Piggy himself, represent insight, as well as intelligence and rational thought. An artifact of civilization themselves, the glasses are the antithesis of the wild, natural world that Jack seeks to inhabit. In the beginning, Piggy proudly mentions that he was the first in his glass to get glasses, which seems like a doubtful achievement, but as the narrative progresses, this fact represents the mental development that Piggy has and the other boys do not. Ralph eventually recognizes that Piggy can think in ways that he cannot; Piggy has the power for logical deduction that escapes Ralph. Though Ralph improves in his abilities as a leader as well as a thinker, Piggy remains at the peak of mental prowess, as far as the boys are concerned.

As the glasses represent intelligence and civilization, their condition echoes the state of the boys' own society. When Jack first challenges the rules, he is still partly under control, but beginning to chafe under the system established by Ralph. In response, he hits Piggy and breaks one of the lenses in his glasses. Just as Jack is dealing a blow to the order of the system, he affects Piggy's glasses. Once Jack and his tribe steal the glasses, the shift of power is complete, and Piggy's influence is lost, and the boys who remain true to Ralph are effectively blinded--incapable of maintaining their society.

Beast

The beast is used throughout the novel as an outlet for the boys' general fear for their survival. It is first mentioned by one of the youngest boys, but quickly dismissed by Ralph and the other older boys. When that little boy goes missing, everyone realizes that beast is not something to take lightly, but something very serious, even if the older boys still do not believe in the presence of a vicious animal on the island.

Simon is the first to understand the true nature of the beast. In an assembly, he attempts to convince the other boys that the beast is not an animal, but something inside them all. He is unable to fully describe what he means, and with Jack offering a derisive comment, Simon becomes the butt of everyone's jokes. Simon sinks back into silence and solitude, and it is in his secret spot that he finally grasps the reason everyone is being pulled apart. He has a conversation with the Lord of the Flies, who informs him that the beast is the dark part of human nature. As an outsider, Simon does not seem to experience the influence of the beast in the way that the other boys do, which gives him the distance from the situation that is needed to gain understanding. He discovers that the beast is inside all of the boys, and though youth is often equated with innocence, this is not the case, as the boys' society proves. The theme that savagery is within everyone is tied to the symbol of the beast, as the boys battle the nameless fear that possesses them all.

Lord of the Flies

The Lord of the Flies is an incarnation of the quality that drives the beast, the darkness within every person's soul. It is the head of a pig on a stake, which Jack set up as an offering to the beast. As Simon watches, the pig's head becomes covered with flies, and is personified in such a way that it has a conversation with Simon. It is a representation of a satanic figure, the combination of all things bad and evil.

Fire

For the boys in general, fire is a necessity of life, and therefore, a source of power for those who hold it. The power shifts over the course of the novel, from Ralph to Jack, once he steals the glasses. Piggy's glasses are the source of fire on the island--the only way that the boys can create a light to start a blaze. Though the fire is something from the natural world, which has nothing to do with society or culture, the glasses are a representation of civilization. Since the glasses are the boys' only connection to fire, their survival is irrevocably tied to civilization, no matter how feral Jack becomes. In a way, this suggests that human survival is ultimately tied to responding to the civilizing impulse.

Motifs

Natural beauty

The island has an undeniable beauty. It is perfect in every way and offers everything that boys might need for survival. This is repeatedly contrasted with the violence and conflict that the boys bring, indicating that the darkness that drives the story does not stem from the natural world, but from the humans that invade it. The island is scarred by the plane crash; the human arrive and immediately their presence has a negative effect on the beauty of the island. In the same way, Jack invades the perfect silence of the clearing next to Simon's secret spot, driving away the butterflies that are always found there and setting up the Lord of the Flies in their place.

Strength versus Weakness

Ralph's physical attractiveness is described from the beginning, and he is immediately appealing to the other boys because of it. He is a strong character, and they respect him. Jack is a strong character because of his willingness to exploit his authority over his choir and eventually over the other boys. Both Ralph and Jack give orders easily, and feel comfortable acting superior to the other boys. Though Ralph does not abuse his power, Jack repeatedly takes advantage of the weakness of other boys. He insults Simon and ignores the littluns. Most of all, he preys on Piggy, who is the weakest of all. He holds little authority for anyone but Ralph, and proves to be an easy target for most. Examples of the way that children strengthen the bonds among themselves by uniting against a common outsider are found in the novel, as the boys often release tension by making fun of Piggy or Simon.

Biblical parallels

The tone of the narrative can be almost biblical, as the allegorical qualities of the novel unfold. Simon is an almost Christ-like figure, perfect in his innocence and seemingly untouched by the beast. He helps the littluns and Ralph when he can, and makes the prophetic statement to Ralph that he will be rescued. When Simon tells Ralph this, he suggests that he knows that he will not make it off the island, though Ralph will. Likewise, the perfect setting of the island is like a Garden of Eden, marred by the intrusion of a sin-like force found within the boys themselves.

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