Some Key Contextual Elements, Themes, Analysis and Character profiles in William Golding’s novel.
These notes and quotes are written mainly for the use of teachers. However, students should find useful quotes on characters, representation, symbols, motifs and themes. This webpage is a study resource to facilitate literary critical analysis and discussion of structure and language as well as the form, including allegory, of course! In the bibliography there are links to teacher’s guides as well as sites which help students discover what the book can be said to be about.
Coral Island: names of characters’ names from the book. The story of this island is however very different from that ideal, although ironically the officer fails to see that when he says:
224 ‘Like the Coral Island’
‘The Lord of the Flies’ is an allegorical tale: the characters and objects are infused with symbolic significance that conveys the novel’s themes and ideas.
A2: Golding’s war experience:
World War II had a profound effect on his view of humanity and the evils of which it was capable. The novel was written at a time when nuclear war and its aftermath were feared.
65 ‘Roger’s arm was conditioned by a civilisation that knew nothing of him and was in ruins’
225 Ralph wept for the end of innocence, the darkness of man’s heart
A3: Fundamental religious issues.
The ‘good versus evil’ struggle in the novel is the central antithesis. The novel explores the fundamental human struggle between the civilizing instinct (the impulse to obey rules, behave morally, and act lawfully) and the savage instinct (as in the impulse to seek brute power over others, act selfishly, scorn moral rules, and indulge in violence).
Original sin and the nature of good and evil are explored. The island itself, particularly Simon’s glade in the forest, recalls, if not symbolises, the Garden of Eden in its status as an originally pristine place that is corrupted by the introduction of evil. Similarly, we may see ‘The Lord of the Flies’ as a representation of the devil, which works to promote evil among humankind. Critics have drawn strong parallels between Simon and Jesus.
A4: Psychological interpretation:
Freud held that the human mind was the site of a constant battle among different impulses—the id (instinctual needs and desires), the ego (the conscious, rational mind), and the superego (the sense of conscience and morality).
A5: Problems and questions universal to the human experience are raised:
Antithesis is the underlying structural element. The central concern of Lord of the Flies is the conflict between two competing impulses that exist within all human beings: the instinct to live by rules, act peacefully, follow moral commands, and value the good of the group against the instinct to gratify one’s immediate desires, act violently to obtain supremacy over others, and enforce one’s will. This conflict might be expressed in a number of ways:
- civilization vs. savagery
- order vs. chaos e.g.
221 ‘birds were screaming, mice shrieking’
222 ‘the roar of the forest rose to thunder’
- reason vs. impulse
- law vs. anarchy,
200 ‘which is better law and rescue, or hunting and breaking things up?”
- the broader heading of good vs. evil.
In the novel, Golding associates civilization with good (B below) and savage instinct with evil (C below).
Ralph, the protagonist of the novel, stands for civilization, morality, and leadership, Conch shell becomes a powerful symbol of civilization and order in the novel. The boulder that Roger rolls onto Piggy also crushes the conch shell, signifying the demise of the civilization and the loss of the signal fire symbolically represents the boys’ disconnection from civilization. Ralph represents order, leadership, and civilization: his position declines whilst that of Jack rises.
22 ‘genuine leadership’
35/6 ‘He felt himself facing something ungraspable’
74 ‘You and your blood, Jack Merridew!’
75 The differences between Ralph and Jack: ‘There was the brilliant world of hunting, tactics, fierce exhilaration, skill; and there was the world of longing and baffled common-sense’
82 ‘he disliked perpetually flicking the tangled hair.’
83 ‘Ralph was a specialist in thought now, and could recognise thought in another (i.e. Piggy)
‘He lost himself in deep water’
84-7 Ralph’s speech
87/8 ‘Things are breaking up … We began well’ ‘Then people started getting frightened’
119 Ralph’s nails are ‘bitten down to the quick.’ ‘He pulled distractedly at his grey shirt’
120 Ralph: ‘Be sucking my thumb next – ’
182 ‘His mind skated to a consideration of a town where savagery could not set foot’
184 ‘Ralph prayed that the beast would prefer little’uns’
198 ‘Ralph cried out hopelessly against the black and green mask’
225 ‘Ralph wept for the end of innocence, the darkness of man’s heart and the fall through the air of the true, wise friend called Piggy.’
B2: The Conch and civilisation
20 It is held up for silence
31 rules of its use
42 ‘where the conch is, that’s the meeting’
102 the incantation of his address was powerless to help him
189 ‘the one thing he hasn’t got’ (Piggy about the conch)
191 ‘We aren’t savages’
199 Piggy: ‘‘I tell you, I got the conch!’ Surprisingly there was silence now.’
200 ‘the talisman, the fragile, shining beauty of the shell.’
‘The conch exploded into a thousand white fragments and ceased to exist.’
71 ‘The fire was dead’ (personification – or at least metaphor)
74 Ralph to Jack: ‘You said you’d keep the fire going and you let it out’
98 ‘what are we? Humans? Or animals? Or savages’
99 ‘If I blow the conch and they don’t come back then we’ve had it.’
We shan’t keep the fire going. We’ll be like animals. We’ll never be rescued
137 Fire vs beastie
220 ‘The fire must be almost at the fruit trees – what would they eat tomorrow.’
223 ‘we saw your smoke’
B4: Piggy and his specs
Piggy represents the scientific and intellectual aspects of civilization. His glasses—a symbol of rationality and intellect—enable the boys to light fires (40) which might return them to civilization.
37 ‘acting like a crowd of kids
45 ‘tirade’ ‘first things first’
46 recognises ‘Ralph’s needs and the little ’un’s absence
68 ‘Piggy was an outsider’
75/6 Piggy’s glasses broken.
153/4 Piggy takes off his glasses when he is thinking
186 Glasses taken
197 ‘If he hasn’t got [his specs], he can’t see. You aren’t playing the game – ’
200 Piggy dies
218 no piggy to talk sense
225 the true, wise friend
53 ‘says that the little ‘uns see ‘the beastie or the snake thing as real’
96 ‘Maybe it’s [the beastie] only us’
114 ‘I don’t believe in the beast’
152 Simon’s epiphany
157-9 Simon talks to, and is overcome by, the lord of the flies
162 ‘the beast was harmless and horrible; and the news must reach the others’
168 ‘Simon was crying out something about a dead man on a hill.’
B6: Sam ‘n Eric Percival and the littl’uns
33-5 Boy with mulberry coloured birthmark says: ‘the snake-thing’; ‘the beastie came in the dark’
61-5 Little’uns at play
74 You and your blood
91 Phil’s dream
184 Ralph prayed that the beast would prefer little’uns
198 Samneric ‘protested out of the heart of civilization.’
224 ‘[Percival] sought in his head for an incantation that had faded clean away’
46/7 Little ’un: ‘where is he now?’ x3
C: SAVAGERY AND EVIL
C1: The Choir / The Hunters / Savages / Evil
Evil in the form of the choir is described as ‘the creature stepped from the mirage’. The hunters free themselves from the rules and structures of civilization and society as they become increasingly obsessed with power and killing, they lose interest in the fire. When the fire ultimately burns out, the boys’ disconnection from the strictures of society is complete.
C2: Jack Merridew and the hunters:
Jack, the antagonist, stands for the desire for power, selfishness, and amorality. Jack’s hunters raid Ralph’s camp and steal Piggy’s glasses: the savages effectively take the power to make fire. Jack is the antithesis to Ralph. From the beginning of the novel, Jack desires power above all other things. He is furious when he loses the election to Ralph and continually pushes the boundaries of his subordinate role in the group. Early on, Jack retains the sense of moral propriety and behaviour that society instilled in him— in school, he was the leader of the choirboys. The first time he encounters a pig, he is unable to kill it. But Jack soon becomes obsessed with hunting and devotes himself to the task, painting his face like a barbarian and giving himself over to bloodlust. The more savage Jack becomes, the more he is able to control the rest of the group.
17 uniformed superiority…offhand authority the voice of one who knew his own mind
19 in charge of the hunters
20 has the sheath knife
28 Jack ‘slashes’ at buds with knife.
‘contemptuous’ of the candle buds which later are said to ‘open their wide white flowers glimmering under the light that pricked down from the first stars. Their scent on ‘took possession of the island’ (59)
28/29 does not kill the pig
51 compulsion to track down and kill that was swallowing him up
The madness came into his eyes again’
73 ‘‘I cut the pig’s throat,’ said Jack proudly, and yet twitched as he said it.
75 ‘[Jack] smudged blood over his forehead’
(same time as Piggy rails about the fire going out’)
Breaks Piggy’s glasses.
78 ‘Jack … slashed off a great hunk of meat’
146 tormented private lives
147 Jack ‘was happy and wore the damp darkness of the forest like his old clothes’
149 ‘Then Jack found the throat and th hot blood spouted over his hands’
165 ‘Jack waved his spear again’
C3: Savages and Painted face
66 Jack hid, liberated from shame and self-consciousness
67 the mask compelled them
154 ‘[Jack] was safe from shame or self-consciousness behind the mask of his paint’
‘stark naked save for paint and a belt’
safe from shame or self-consciousness behind the mask of his paint’
155 the two savages murmured
156 (Ralph) I’d like to put on warpaint and be a savage. But we must keep the fire burning.
165 Jack, painted and garlanded, sat here like an idol
176 The Chief was sitting there, naked to the waist, his face blocked out in white and red
177 The Chief turned a bleak, painted face toward him
178 The Chief’s blush was hidden by the white and red clay
188 Are we savages or what?
191 But they’ll be painted. You know how it is –
194 painted out of recognition. Freed by the paint
195 A painted face spoke. Masked in black and green
198 Ralph cried out hopelessly against the black and green mask
C4: Dance and Chant
79 ‘Kill the pig. Cut her throat. Bash her in.’
100 their sound was nothing but a wordless rhythm
168 Simon is killed in naturalistic dance
173 ‘that bloody dance’ (pun)
Roger represents brutality and bloodlust at their most extreme.
18 inner intensity of avoidance and secrecy’ ‘furtive’
65 ‘Here, invisible yet strong was the taboo of the old life’
C6: The Rocks
25 ‘as large as a small car’ a challenge
26 ‘a rock standing like a fort’
C7: The Beastie
The beast comes to represent the instincts of power, violence, and savagery that lurk within each human being. The imaginary beast that frightens all the boys stands for the primal instinct of savagery that exists within all human beings. The boys are afraid of the beast, but only Simon reaches the realization that they fear the beast because it exists within each of them. It is a satanic figure
34 Identified by the boy with the birthmark ‘a snake thing’
36 ‘[Ralph] felt himself facing something ungraspable’
94 he says the beast comes out of the sea
96 Maybe it’s only us
112 However Simon thought of the beast, there rose before his inward sight the picture of a human at once heroic and sick
152 the lord of the flies hung on his stick and grinned
151 Pig’s head ‘a gift’ for the beast
137 that thing squats by the fire as though it didn’t want us to be rescued
167 The airman is blown out to sea and the boys ‘rushed screaming into the darkness’ (note the symbolism)
Bibliography and further sites which you may find useful:
Penguin teacher’s guide Very comprehensive and very useful for GCSE: a useful synopsis outlining: Paradise, Paradise Lost and Angels & Demons; a wide range of individual and group activities; contextual information; discussion topics etc etc
William Golding talks about the purpose of the book and how it came about with follow-up discussion questions.
Interesting perspectives and contextual observations on symbols, objects and motifs of the conch, fire, fear, the pig.