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Summary
During an unspecified war, a British airplane crashed on an uninhabited Pacific island, and only some young boys survived. Ralph and Piggy, two of the older boys, found a conch and used it to call all the boys together, who then elected Ralph chief. Ralph then established a rule that a smoke signal must be maintained at all time to attract rescue ships. To do this, the boys used Piggy’s glasses to start a fire. The boys also formed a democracy, where during a meeting, the boy who had the conch got to speak and receive the group’s attention. At first, the boys began making progress in establishing a settlement and order, but it quickly began to wane. The boys became idle and did not help with building shelters. Instead, they had fun, and everyone slowly started to believe that a monster called the beast lived on the island. Ralph insisted that there was no beast, but Jack, an influential boy who wanted more power, promised to kill the beast if they found out it existed (p. 40).
One night while the boys were sleeping, a fighter pilot died and dropped down onto the island’s mountain with a parachute, getting tangled in the trees. Soon, the twins, Sam and Eric, see the pilot’s corpse and mistake it for the beast. Once they told everyone, Jack, Ralph, and a boy named Roger went to the place where the beast was sighted. They all saw it and fled, and during a meeting, the three boys told everyone about the beast and Jack tried to impeach Ralph. No one supported him, so he stormed away to start his own tribe. Roger quickly snuck off with him, and slowly, most of Ralph’s tribe joined his, baited by feasts of cooked pig. One night, Ralph and Piggy went to one of Jack’s feast. That same night, Simon, a boy who faints frequently, went to a secret hideaway, and Jack put an offering for the beast there, a pig’s head mounted on a stick. Simon had an imaginary discussion with it, whom he dubbed the “Lord of the Flies”. The Lord of the Flies taunted Simon and warned him that the others would kill him. Simon ran to the dead parachutist, only to discover that the beast was not real, so he went back to Jack’s camp to tell the other boys, who were doing a ritual dance. Mistaking Simon for the beast, the boys beat him to death.
Eventually, Jack decided that Piggy’s glasses were crucial to him exercising his power since they were the only way to start a fire, so at night, he and a few others raided Ralph’s camp and took the glasses. Then, Ralph, Piggy, Sam, and Eric went to demand the return of the glasses. Jack ordered Sam and Eric to be bound and tortured until they joined the tribe, and from above, Roger dropped a boulder on Piggy, killing him. Ralph managed to escape, and later, he secretly met with Sam and Eric, who warned him that Jack would lead a hunt to kill him. The next day, Jack and his tribe searched the island for Ralph and set the island on fire. They eventually found Ralph, who fought back and ran. He then tripped, and looking up, saw a British naval officer who had come to investigate the fire. The officer was very disappointed to see British boys becoming savages and decided to take them off the island.
Thematic Analysis
There are two major themes in Lord of the Flies, with human nature being the central one. Each of the main characters embodied a human trait, and Golding showed us how these feelings battle each other for influence inside us. Another theme was that savagery lied beneath the boys’ miniature civilization, and when law and order deteriorated, some of the boys no longer cared about doing the right thing and descended into savagery. Another major theme is the loss of innocence.
Each main character in the novel represented a major human trait, and how much each of these characters succeeded shows the reader which human traits overpower. For example, Piggy was intellect and logic, as shown when he suggested to use the conch “to call the others and have a meeting” (p. 13), and Ralph represents order, as shown when he said, “Now I say this and make it a rule, because I’m chief” (p. 99) to use his executive powers to keep order. Roger exhibited sadism when he, “with a sense of delirious abandonment, leaned all his weight on the lever” (p. 231) to drop the rock to kill Piggy. Jack showed his brutality when he “viciously … hurled his spear at Ralph” (p. 232). Finally, the beast, projected in the Lord of the Flies, represented the inner savagery of the boys. In the Lord of the Flies’ imaginary dialogue with Simon, the Lord of the Flies said, “Fancy thinking the Beast was something you could hunt and kill! You knew, didn’t you? I’m part of you?” (p. 182). All of these character’s major traits are inside every human, battling for power. In the novel, Jack’s brutality overpowered Ralph and Piggy’s order and logic, and the beast’s savagery took over the boys, showing how more negative traits often prevail. Often, when humans act on impulse, they exhibit Jack and the beast’s traits of brutality and savagery.
Another way human nature was shown in the novel was when the boys’ miniature civilization deteriorated and they all became savages due to the lack of order. At first, they were very civilized and proper; they voted Ralph as chief (p. 21), established a formal meeting system, and assigned roles to make a society. However, when Ralph’s authority began to wane, the majority of the boys began to fool around and not play their role in the society. Eventually, Jack and some other boys established their own tribe, which had no rules except “Listen to Jack, the chief”. Over time, all the living boys except Ralph joined the tribe, and since there was no order, they all became savages and started strange rituals to please the beast. This example tells us that humans and civilization need structure and order to succeed and thrive.
The last major theme in Lord of the Flies is the loss of innocence. At the beginning of the book, all the boys were polite and civilized, but at the end, they became violent savages. The boys had witnessed the deaths of Piggy and Simon so they were scarred. “Ralph wept for the end of innocence … and the fall through the air of the true, wise friend called Piggy” (p.261). Ralph also said when talking about Simon’s death, “That was Simon. … That was murder” (p. 199). He was very disturbed.
Purpose
William Golding, the author of Lord of the Flies, had many purposes in writing his book. Golding, who served in the British Royal Navy during World War II, saw the horrors of war firsthand and reflected some of them in his book. In war, people tend to be more violent since their own lives are at stake and because they are instructed to kill. This is shown in all of the stranded boys in the book, whose inner savageness came out when they realized that they had to kill if they wanted meat. They also discovered that the greatest threat to their survival was their companions, since they were all competing for resources. Also, two characters have similarities to Adolf Hitler. Roger, a sadist, took pleasure in killing Piggy and torturing Sam and Eric. This is similar to Hitler’s concentration camps and torture methods. Jack also resembled Hitler. Jack was very power hungry and wanted to have ultimate authority. He was willing to burn down the entire island to kill his enemy, Ralph. Hitler and his allies tried to take over all of Europe and kill the whole Jewish population.
Golding also wanted to comment on the savagery of modern society. Golding was telling the reader that the only thing holding civilization together and away from savagery is authority, which, in the book’s case, was adults. When that order and authority deteriorates or simply does not exist, civilization descends into savagery. In general, savagery has been an enduring theme in history. In the past, there was the Holocaust, the Cultural Revolution in China, the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Assad’s gas attack on the Syrian people, and many more. Today, we still see police brutality, terrorist attacks, and shootings.
Reflection
Lord of the Flies was a very good book. I loved how the book had multiple layers, so no section is especially unenjoyable. The plot, a quest for survival was very exciting. The part where Jack’s tribe was hunting Ralph was very thrilling. Then, when I looked deeper, I saw many hidden themes and lessons from which I learned a lot about human nature. For example, I learned about the savagery lurking within every human as well as the human desire to build a hierarchy. Also, I learned a lot about myself from this book. Since each of the main characters embodied a major human trait, I found it very interesting to see how each of these traits fit inside of me, and it made me a lot more self-conscious to not let fear, anger, rage and savagery influence my decisions. The parts in the novel where Jack and his tribe chanted with glee “Kill the beast! Cut his throat! Spill his blood!” made me slightly uncomfortable, but when I wondered why, I figured out that it was because savagery has been an existing theme in history, as mentioned earlier. I would recommend Lord of the Flies to anyone in middle school and above, because it is a very exciting read and there is a lot to carry away from it. This book is a classic, and since many educated people have read it, everyone should read it to be able to talk about it with other people.