“Lord of the Flies” is a famous novel written by William Golding. This book marks the debut of the author’s career, whose mastery of writing would later be distinguished by a Nobel Prize in Literature in 1983. The novel itself is about young boys stranded on an uninhabited piece of land after a plane accident. Throughout the whole text, they are trying to survive and bring order into their lives. Despite their decent upbringings, without connection to civilization, the kids soon descend into savagery and primitivism. This “book about kids on the island”, as it’s often referred to by its readers, was published in 1954. Due to its worldwide popularity, the book was turned into a movie, twice – in 1963 in Britain by Peter Brooke & Lewis Allen, and in 1990 in the US by Harry Hook & Lewis Allen. The book itself bears many references to an earlier novel, “The Coral Island”, which was written by Robert Michael Ballantyne in 1857. Both texts occupy a central place in the body of juvenile fiction literature heritage.
Below you will find a detailed study guide on “Lord of the Flies”. It features a short summary of its plot, descriptions of its main themes and symbols, as well as key facts about the book. This information was compiled to support students writing essays about the novel, scholars conducting research on William Golding’s writing, and book lovers trying to find out whether or not this novel will satisfy their literary taste.
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TABLE OF CONTENTS:
Overview: Lord of the Flies at a Glance
Author: William Golding (British novelist, 1911-1993)
Genre: Juvenile fiction, allegory (uses realistic situations to send a message about general notions and ideas)
Title meaning: Lord of the flies is the nickname of the pig’s head that one of the boy survivors – Jack – erected on a stick. It is associated with the escalating violence among the boys.
Lord of the Flies Characters
The characters in “Lord of the Flies” are boys in their teenage years. Before the text’s plot begins, we assume that the airplane passengers were being evacuated from Great Britain because of war (it’s not clear what war exactly). Most of them hadn’t known each other before landing on the island, apart from the group of choir boys led by Jack. The main characters – Ralph, Jack, and Piggy – demonstrate the differences in human reactions to the crisis. While some of them try to keep a clear mind and use reason to survive, others give into natural animal instincts and go wild.
Ralph is a main character whose point of view is heard the most by the readers – he is tall, fair-haired, and not very talkative. He is smart, likes order, and is recognized at first as the leader of the group. He is one of the few characters that manage to keep a sense of order and civilization without descending into savagery. Unfortunately, when the other boys begin to go completely wild, they hunt him, and he runs for his life until he meets a naval officer on the beach.
Piggy is Ralph’s right hand. He is intelligent and quick-witted, however, his excessive weight and other physical impairments don’t allow him to join the hunters. He is the source of support for Ralph in his darkest moments when the rough behavior of the hunters makes Ralph consider stepping down as the boys’ leader. Piggy is the one who proposes to build a solar clock, which signifies his practicality and smart mind. His glasses are a crucial instrument used to start and keep the rescue fire. He dies tragically in an attempt to recover his stolen glasses from Jack and his hunters.
Jack Merridew is a well-behaved boy who used to lead a local school choir. Once on the island, he becomes upset about the absence of the grown-ups. However, he quickly abandons his “good boy” image, becomes the lead hunter, and actively contests Ralph’s authority. He has the urge to dominate others and a wild desire to see other living creatures get hurt.
Roger is a typical bully who finally gets an unlimited opportunity to exercise his inner violence and rage without facing any risks of punishment. He uses his position as a hunter to harass others, which he greatly enjoys. He is the one who launches a huge rock off of Castle Rock, which kills Piggy. Towards the end of the book, his rage gets out of control and even the reader doubts whether Jack has any power over this rogue violence-thirsty teenager.
Samneric is actually the name for two characters: Sam and Eric, who are identical twins. The boys are so inseparable that they are treated as one, as Piggy says in Chapter 8: “You got to treat Samneric as one turn. They do everything together”. These characters signify the inability to grow and develop their own personalities among contemporary youth. They are typical followers who agree with the leading force – be it Ralph, at first, or Jack later.
Simon is one of the characters with a more subtle and humane role. He helps others and is curious to discover the world around him. His soft and intrinsic character makes him a perfect victim for the hunters’ aggression. Based on his behavior, it’s likely that he suffers from epilepsy. He talks in his head to the pig’s head, which he calls the Lord of the Flies, and these conversations confirm his suspicions that beasts are actually living inside of him and his friends. Simon is the first character to die in the hands of the hunters that go wild.
The Beast is a mysterious creature nobody has seen, but everybody is afraid of. The younger boys are the first to bring him up during the second general meeting. At first, the older boys convince everyone that there are no beasts on the island. Then, they believe that the dead parachutist’s body that landed on the island is the Beast. It is the symbol of the group’s primitive fear and wild emotions. The boys are afraid of the Beast and yet fascinated by it simultaneously. Jack uses the idea of the beast to undermine Ralph: he makes a promise to find and kill the beast. Simon gets killed during a ritual hunting dance when nobody could see clearly so the kids treated him like an animal.
The naval officer is the head of the marines that come to rescue the boys. The presence of such a character is one of the key references to “The Coral Island” novel, where there is an officer with a very similar description. He is also the one who literally sarcastically says the name “Coral Island” when he sees the boys' terrible conditions.
“Lord of the Flies” Study Guide: Key Facts
- The book was created as a response to another novel, “The Coral Island”, published in 1857 by Robert Michael Ballantyne. However, in “Lord of the Flies”, the events take an absolute opposite turn.
- The youngest kids are the first to notice a mysterious “beastie” (Chapter 2) on the island and the older boys make fun of them. In the end, it turns out that some of the older boys were the monsters everybody had feared.
- Simon is the one who gives the pig’s head that was mounted on the stick the nickname – “Lord of the Flies”
- It’s not clear how many boys were there on the island in LOTF (“Lord of the Flies”). Two of them, Piggy and Simon, fell victim to the hunters’ violence and died.
- The language of the text has an abundance of teenage slang, which makes it even more realistic. The younger kids are called “littluns”: “They talk and scream. The littluns.” (Chapter 3); and the older boys were called “biguns”.
- The main “Lord of the Flies” themes are the role of civilization, the integrity of the human soul, and the equivocation of values. This text serves as an excellent source for essays about friendship, the difficult process of becoming a young man, civil order, and reactions of the mind to tough circumstances.
Summary of “Lord of the Flies” and Analysis
“Lord of the Flies” chapter summaries for all 12 chapters of the book demonstrate a gradual descent into madness by the boys isolated from civilization. The author doesn’t mention dates in the chapters of the book, thus, it’s not clear how long the boys lived on the island. Perhaps, the 12 chapters refer to 12 calendar months—but it’s just speculation. The text is abundant in monologues that make the text an easy read. Hidden instincts of the characters, which are among key symbols in “Lord of the Flies”, unfold in the pages chapter by chapter, demonstrating that people are able to adapt all too well to the absence of external constraints.
Summary of Chapter 1: The Sound of the Shell
The events begin on the island where two boys – Ralph and Piggy – talk about the plane crash that landed them here. Piggy doubts that anybody is coming to their rescue since he heard something about an atomic bomb during the flight, and therefore believes that the whole world has been destroyed and that they are all alone. The boys talk a little bit about themselves – Ralph talks about how his father is “a commander in the Navy. When he gets leave he’ll come and rescue us” (Chapter 1). Piggy is the complete opposite to Ralph, he says that: “I used to live with my auntie. She kept a candy store. I used to get ever so many candies. As many as I liked” (Chapter 1). He is chubby, suffers from asthma, and doesn’t know how to swim.
Ralph swims in the bay where he finds a pretty shell:
“In color the shell was deep cream, touched here and there with fading pink. Between the point, worn away into a little hole, and the pink lips of the mouth, lay eighteen inches of shell with a slight spiral twist and covered with a delicate, embossed pattern” (Chapter 1).
He uses the shell to call a general meeting. Other kids come from around the island—among them are the members of the boys’ choir led by Jack Merridew. Jack obviously has a lot of authority among his “group of cloaked boys”. All in all the boys seem disappointed that there are no grown-ups on the island. They discuss the need to organize themselves. Since Ralph was the one to call the meeting, the boys voted him to be “chief” of the group.
Jack is dissatisfied with such a decision since he proposed his own candidacy for the leader position:
“I ought to be chief… because I’m chapter chorister and head boy. I can sing C sharp” (Chapter 1). Ralph wants to make peace with Jack and offers him leadership over the choir boys: “Jack’s in charge of the choir. They can be—what do you want them to be?” (Chapter 1).
From this day on Jack proclaims his group “hunters”.
Summary of Chapter 2: Fire on the Mountain
After the meeting, the kids explore their new homeland. From the highest point, they realize that it’s an island:
“We’re on an island. We’ve been on the mountain top and seen water all round. We saw no houses, no smoke, no footprints, no boats, no people. We’re on an uninhabited island with no other people on it” (Chapter 2).
On their way back, they encounter a pig; Jack wants to stab it but doesn’t dare. The boys decide that they are going to have a good time on the island before the adults come to rescue them. They notice flowers, fruits, and the sea:
“This is our island. It’s a good island. Until the grownups come to fetch us we’ll have fun” (Chapter 2). Suddenly, the younger boys, who have been staying somewhat aloof, raise a question about the island beast: “He wants to know what you’re going to do about the snake-thing” (Chapter 2).
The boys laugh and try to convince the youngsters that there are no beasts on the island:
“You couldn’t have a beastie, a snake-thing, on an island this size… You only get them in big countries, like Africa, or India” (Chapter 2).
The boys decide that they will make a fire on the top of the mountain to ensure that the rescue ship finds them. They use Piggy’s glasses to burn the dry leaves and tree branches. At first, they have trouble with lighting it, then keeping it alive, then the fire spreads into the nearest woods. Finally, Jack assumes responsibility for keeping the fire going:
“Ralph, I’ll split up the choir–my hunters, that is–into groups, and we’ll be responsible for keeping the fire going” (Chapter 2).
Summary of Chapter 3: Huts on the Beach
During the first days, the only policies established by Ralph were to survive, to have fun, and to maintain the fire going while waiting for a rescue mission. The boys attend regular meetings, but nobody seems to work too hard: Jack hunts all by himself, the choir boys spend more time swimming than working, and the younger kids hang out on the beach and eat fruits. The boys quickly realize that their only sources of food are fruits and wild pigs. Simon puts the most effort into the construction of shelters – he is kind, soft, and protective of the younger kids. Meanwhile, Piggy experiences more and more bullying from the ex-choir hunters:
“There had grown up tacitly among the biguns the opinion that Piggy was an outsider, not only by accent, which did not matter, but by fat, and ass-mar, and specs, and a certain disinclination for manual labor” (Chapter 3).
The fragile order on the island begins to fail.
Summary of Chapter 4: Painted Faces and Long Hair
Discipline on the island was absent from the very beginning, and the leftovers of ascertaining order were lost soon thereafter. The boys roamed the island and spent their days lazily. In the abundance of free time they started to notice mysterious things in the woods. The idea of some beast hiding somewhere grew in their minds. Ralph continued to appeal to the kids’ reason, however, Jack used this opportunity to undermine his rival. Jack fed their fears and promised to find and kill the beast to keep everybody safe.
Jack summons all of the hunters to go explore the island in the pursuit of pigs and beasts. This meant that nobody was watching the signal fire on the top of the mountain. On one of their hunting trips, Jack, Bill, Sam, and Eric find a river with white and red clay. Jack smears his face with the clay:
“For hunting. Like in the war. You know—dazzle paint. Like things trying to look like something else” (Chapter 4).
The hunters then kill their first pig and bring it to the camp. During this time, a ship passes the island, but doesn’t stop since there is no smoke for a rescue signal. Jack triumphs on account of his hunting victory and Ralph is upset because of the lost fire. This leads to their first major argument. Piggy tries to express his support for Ralph, which makes Jack even angrier as he breaks one side of Piggy’s glasses.
Summary of Chapter 5: Beast from Water
Ralph calls another meeting where he reiterates the rules: the fire should be maintained at all times, the toilet should be in one designated place, and the food should be prepared only on the fire on the top of the mountain. As tensions between boys intensify, the younger kids continue to complain about the beast. One of the boys, Percival, claims that the beast comes from the waters. It becomes harder and harder to convince them that the beast is the product of their imagination:
“… the littluns were no longer silent. They were reminded of their personal sorrows; and perhaps felt themselves to share in a sorrow that was universal. They began to cry in sympathy, two of them almost as loud as Percival” (Chapter 5). The meeting turned into chaos. Ralph, Piggy and Simon discuss the need for adults: “Grown-ups know things… They ain’t afraid of the dark. They’d meet and have tea and discuss. Then things ’ud be all right” (Chapter 5).
Summary of Chapter 6: Beast from Air
One night there is an air battle not far from the island:
“… there were other lights in the sky, that moved fast, winked, or went out, though not even a faint popping came down from the battle fought at ten miles’ height” (Chapter 6).
The dead body of a man with a parachute lands on the island. When the twins – Sam and Eric – take their guard positions around the fire, they see the body and run away—calling Ralph for help. However, Ralph and Jack can’t find anything when they examine the island. The boys notice that the fire is out again and decide to go up the mountain. It begins to get dark.
Summary of Chapter 7: Shadows of the Tall Trees
On their way towards the mountain top, Jack decides to hunt something, because, as Roger says: “We need meat even if we are hunting the other thing” (Chapter 7). They spot a boar. Ralph hits it with a rock, but the animal escapes. In the heat of the hunt, one of the boys, Robert, starts to imitate the pig and everybody else plays the hunters. They circle around Robert and scream:
“Kill the pig! Cut his throat! Kill the pig! Bash him in!” (Chapter 7). They really hurt their friend: “Robert was screaming and struggling with the strength of frenzy. Jack had him by the hair and was brandishing his knife” (Chapter 7). The rage was so intense that Ralph wasn’t able to inhibit the hunters.
After the massive and violent ritual, Ralph, Roger, and Jack go up the mountain in the middle of the night. They notice the corpse of the dead pilot stuck in the tree branches with his evacuation parachute:
“Behind them the silver of moon had drawn clear of the horizon. Before them, something like a great ape was sitting asleep with its head between its knees. Then the wind roared in the forest, there was confusion in the darkness and the creature lifted its head, holding toward them the ruin of a face” (Chapter 7).
Due to their impassioned emotions, they convince themselves that the dead man is the beast and the three of them flee as fast as they can back to their camp.
Summary of Chapter 8: Gift for the Darkness
Ralph is terrified of the beast, he even thinks that the creature was camping around the fire to make sure that the boys didn’t get rescued. Once the boys are back at the camp, Jack calls a meeting and accuses Ralph of being a coward and being unable to protect them from the dangers they’ve encountered:
“Ralph thinks you’re cowards, running away from the boar and the beast… He’s like Piggy. He says things like Piggy. He isn’t a proper chief” (Chapter 8).
However, the boys don’t agree to replace Ralph with Jack, so the angry hunter goes into the woods to start his own tribe with the other choir boys:
“I’m not going to be a part of Ralph’s lot… I’m going off by myself. He can catch his own pigs. Anyone who wants to hunt when I do can come too” (Chapter 8).
Day after day, Jack tries to attract other boys to join his clan by promising them feasts with delicious pig meat. Eventually, Bill, Roger, and Maurice join the hunters. The boys now call Jack “chief” and hunt all things that are alive on the island. They believe that as long as they leave something for the beast to kill and eat, they will be safe. During one of their hunts, they kill a pretty big pig. Jack mounts its head on a stick:
“Jack held up the head and jammed the soft throat down on the pointed end of the stick which pierced through into the mouth. He stood back and the head hung there, a little blood dribbling down the stick “ (Chapter 8). Jack proclaims: “This head is for the beast. It’s a gift” (Chapter 8).
Simon watches the hunters from a quiet place he found for himself in the middle of the woods. While looking at the mounted pig’s head surrounded by insects he decides to call it the “Lord of the Flies”. Simon begins to hear the pig’s voice in his head:
“You are a silly little boy… just an ignorant, silly little boy” (Chapter 8).
The Lord of the Flies tells Simon that the beast is inside each of the boys and that his life is in danger. Hearing that, Simon faints. Eventually, Ralph and Piggy decide to visit one of Jack’s feasts.
Summary of Chapter 9: A View to a Death
A big storm begins to brew over the island. Simon decides to go up the mountain to confront the beast himself. He sees the dead parachutist and gets the straps off of the corpse. Realizing that there is no beast, the boy rushes back to tell everybody the good news. At the same time, Ralph once again enters into an argument with Jack over the title of being the island’s authority. Ralph insists that he’s been democratically elected as their leader. In response, Jack, whose face is painted with clay, starts a ritual dance while singing his favorite song:
“Kill the beast! Cut his throat! Spill his blood!” (Chapter 9).
The boys, scared of the storm, are also scared to be hungry and hunted by the imaginary beast – so they join Jack in his savage dance:
“The movement became regular while the chant lost its first superficial excitement and began to beat like a steady pulse” (Chapter 9).
Unfortunately, Simon enters the camp in the moment of their total madness. All the boys could see was a dark figure approaching from the woods, they quickly surround the figure, ignore all cries from ‘some man’ on the hill, and used their sticks to kill the creature:
“The beast struggled forward, broke the ring and fell over the steep edge of the rock to the sand by the water. At once the crowd surged after it, poured down the rock, leapt on to the beast, screamed, struck, bit, tore” (Chapter 9).
Once the madness subsides, everyone realizes that Simon is dead. The body of the parachutist is blown away from the island during the storm.
Summary of Chapter 10: The Shell and the Glasses
Piggy tries to rationalize the cruel and inhumane murder of Simon:
“It was an accident… that’s what it was. An accident. Coming in the dark—he hadn’t no business crawling like that out of the dark. He was batty. He asked for it” (Chapter 10).
But Ralph realized that the boys have crossed a line and there is no turning back. There are only a few boys left that haven’t joined the hunters: Ralph, Piggy, the Samneric twins, and some youngsters. The boys are desperate to keep the fire on the island—as it’s their only chance for rescue and survival. One night Jack sneaks into their shelters and steals the glasses used to start the fire.
Summary of Chapter 11: Castle Rock
The hunters now live in a rock cave that kind of resembles a castle, therefore they call it Castle Rock. Ralph, the twins, and Piggy decide to go there and get Piggy’s glasses back from Jack. The boys prepare for a fight as much as they can – they take spears with them, tie their hair back, and take the conch shell. Since Piggy can’t see anything without his glasses, Ralph orders him to kneel down and stay behind once they approach Castle Rock. A fight breaks out. Roger starts throwing stones from the top of the mountain. Jack stabs Ralph with a spear. And Ralph tries to appeal to the hunters to be reasonable and invest common effort into getting the fire going:
“Don’t you understand, you painted fools? Sam, Eric, Piggy and me— we aren’t enough. We tried to keep the fire going, but we couldn’t. And then you, playing at hunting... “ (Chapter 11).
The hunters surround the twins, take their spears away, and tie them up. Ralph loses his temper and calls out to Jack:
“You’re a beast and a swine and a bloody, bloody thief!” (Chapter 11).
The heated argument results in Roger throwing a massive rock off of the mountain:
“The rock struck Piggy a glancing blow from chin to knee; the conch exploded into a thousand white fragments and ceased to exist… Piggy fell forty feet and landed on his back across the square red rock in the sea. His head opened and stuff came out and turned red. Piggy’s arms and legs twitched a bit, like a pig’s after it has been killed” (Chapter 11).
In complete silence, the boys watch how the sea began to take away Piggy’s dead body.
Summary of Chapter 12: Cry of the Hunters
Ralph runs away to escape the hunters, “the bruised flesh was inches in diameter over his right ribs, with a swollen and bloody scar where the spear had hit him” (Chapter 12). He realizes that Jack will not leave him alone now. Sam and Eric get beaten until they accept Jack’s rule as chief. During a secret meeting, Samneric warn Ralph that the next day hunters will begin to look for him around the entire island. The hunters prepare to mount Ralph’s head on a stick as a new tribute to the beast. The boys torture the twins to give up Ralph’s hiding place and set the woods on fire in search of their enemy.
When Ralph almost gets caught by the hunters, he suddenly stumbles into a man on the beach. This man is a naval officer who is very surprised to see all of the boys painted in clay and running around with spears. The sky over the island turns black as a result of the fire started by the hunters. The officer thinks the boys are playing fun games about war.
“The officer inspected the little scarecrow in front of him. The kid needed a bath, a haircut, a nose-wipe and a good deal of ointment” (Chapter 12).
Ralph gives into tears and is happy that they are finally safe.
“Lord of the Flies” Symbolism
Piggy's Glasses are a symbol of civilization. The boys use them to make their first fire. It’s symbolic that Jack breaks Piggy’s glasses during his first fight with Ralph. This is a symbol of the beginning of the uncivilized era on the island. An attempt to recover his stolen Glasses gets Piggy killed.
The Conch Shell was used to call the first meeting in Chapter 1. During the following meeting in Chapter 2, Ralph realizes the need to keep the group organized. So the kids agree that whoever is given the conch can speak at the meeting:
“That’s what this shell’s called. I’ll give the conch to the next person to speak. He can hold it when he’s speaking” (Chapter 2).
It’s a symbol of some sort of democracy, where everybody deserves to be given the conch and receive the attention of the group while speaking their minds.
The Pig's Head is the easiest answer to “what is the Lord of the flies?” question. It is a symbol of raw instincts, priority of basic needs over spiritual needs, and reason. It’s also important that the pig’s head was treated as a tribute to another imaginary beast that supposedly lived on the island. Therefore, it has double symbolism in “Lord of the Flies” – it’s the representation of being wild in the boys’ temperaments, but it’s also the source that feeds upon their internal fears and makes them do even more crazy things.
The War Paint is a way for the boys to camouflage their actions. The hunters use clay to paint their faces. At first, it’s an attempt to look like the hunters they saw in movies, but then the war paint becomes their mask. It represents the distinction between them on the island from the way they were back home in Britain.
Uncontrolled Fire is present in a couple of chapters in the book. The boys’ first attempt to start a fire results in it spreading into the woods. Finally, the boys set the whole island on fire trying to smoke Ralph out. It’s a symbol of lost hope and internal and external destruction. It vividly demonstrates how easy it is to ruin the things that grow and develop over time.
Lord of the Flies Themes
Civilization vs savagery is the main theme of “Lord of the Flies”. The author of the book was curious to explore the nature of “animal” instincts that may be hidden in humans and the degree to which evolution has suppressed it. He demonstrates that despite centuries of evolution, men are still susceptible to degradation once the pressures of civilization have been eased off. The boys quickly abandon their civil masks, follow their wild temperaments, and begin their journeys into the course of being a primitive tribal community.
Youth and loss of innocence. At first, after the plane crash, the boys are excited to be free from adults ruling their lives and enjoy their unexpected freedom. The author demonstrates that it’s a natural instinct of the youth to first look for adults for guidance and then, once they have found out that they are on their own, to enjoy the ability to rule themselves. However, the circumstances of living on a wild island and the need to survive quickly force the youth to grow up. Very quickly the boys turn from gentlemen into cavemen.
Fear and the nature of evil are present throughout the entire “Lord of the Flies” summary. At first, it’s the fear of being alone without adults, then it’s the fear of a mysterious beast, and then it’s the fear of themselves. Eventually fear becomes their guiding instinct on the island. Once degradation starts and their civilized nature is let go, reason is substituted by fear and hunger for being the decision-making force in the boys’ minds. The main lesson delivered by the text is that evil lives inside of us and nobody but us can help make peace with it.
Power and religion. Towards the end of the book, power is in the hands of those who can demonstrate physical force, are able to provide food on the table, and are able to protect their followers from real and imaginary dangers. Force becomes their only religion, and rage becomes their only true emotion.