About the Author
Sir William Golding
William Gerald Golding was born in Cornwall, England, in 1911. His mother, Mildred,
was a strong supporter of the British suffragette movement. His father, Alec, was a schoolteacher
and an ardent advocate of rationalism, the idea that reason rather than experience is a necessary
and reliable means through which to gain knowledge and understand the world. Alec’s anti-religious
devotion to reason was the legacy of such scientific rationalists as T.H. Huxley and H.G. Wells.
This rationalist viewpoint was not tolerant of emotionally based experiences, such as the fear of the dark
that Golding had as a child. His father wielded a tremendous influence over him, and, in fact, until leaving
for college, Golding attended the school where his father taught.
Golding began attending Brasenose College at Oxford in 1930 and spent two years
studying science, in deference to his father’s beliefs. In his third year, however, he switched
to the literature program, following his true interests. Although his ultimate medium was fiction,
from an early age, Golding dreamed of writing poetry. He began reading Tennyson at age seven
and steeped himself in Shakespeare’s work. While still at Oxford, a volume of Golding’s poems
was published as part of Macmillan’s Contemporary Poets series. Later in life, Golding dismissed
this work as juvenile, but these poems are valuable in that they illustrate his increasing distrust
of the rationalism he had been reared on, mocking well-known rationalists and their ideas.
In 1935, he graduated from Oxford with a Bachelor of Arts in English and a diploma in education.
From 1935 to 1939, Golding worked as a writer, actor, and producer with a small theater
in an unfashionable part of London, paying his bills with a job as a social worker.
He considered the theater his strongest literary influence, citing Greek tragedians
and Shakespeare, rather than other novelists, as his primary influences.
In 1939, Golding began teaching English and philosophy in Salisbury at
Bishop Wordsworth’s School. That same year, he married Ann Brookfield,
with whom he had two children. With the exception of five years he spent
in the Royal Navy during World War II, he remained in the teaching position
until 1961 when he left Bishop Wordsworth’s School to write full time.
Golding died in Cornwall in 1993.
The five years Golding spent in the navy (from 1940 to 1945) made an enormous impact,
exposing him to the incredible cruelty and barbarity of which humankind is capable.
Writing about his wartime experiences later, he asserted that "man produces evil,
as a bee produces honey." Long before, while in college, he had lost faith
in the rationalism of his father with its attendant belief in the perfectibility of humankind.
While Golding’s body of fiction utilizes a variety of storytelling techniques, the content frequently
comes back to the problem of evil, the conflict between reason’s civilizing influence,
and mankind’s innate desire for domination.
In Lord of the Flies, which was published in 1954, Golding combined that perception
of humanity with his years of experience with schoolboys. Although not the first novel he wrote,
Lord of the Flies was the first to be published after having been rejected by 21 publishers.
An examination of the duality of savagery and civilization in humanity, Golding uses a pristine tropical island
as a protected environment in which a group of marooned British schoolboys act out their worst impulses.
The boys loyal to the ways of civilization face persecution by the boys indulging in their innate aggression.
As such, the novel illustrates the failure of the rationalism espoused by Golding’s father.
A fast, intense writer, Golding quickly followed Lord of the Flies with The Inheritors (1955),
a depiction of how the violent, deceitful Homo sapiens achieved victory over the gentler Neanderthals.
Although this novel is the one readers have the most difficulty understanding, it remained Golding’s favorite
throughout his life.
Pincher Martin followed in 1956. Like Lord of the Flies, it concerns survival
after shipwreck. Navy lieutenant Christopher Martin is thrown from his ship during combat
in World War II. He finds a rock to cling to, and the rest of the story is related
from this vantage point, detailing his struggle for survival and recounting the details of his life.
Golding uses the flashback technique of Pincher Martin more extensively in his next novel,
Free Fall (1959). Unlike his first three novels, Free Fall is told with a first person narrator,
an artist named Samuel Mountjoy. The novel takes as a model Dante’s La Vita Nuova,
a collection of love poems interspersed with Dante’s own commentary on the poems.
Golding uses the character Mountjoy to comment on the conflict between rationalism and faith.
Issues of faith are addressed in The Spire (1964) as well. A fourteenth-century Dean
of Barchester Cathedral decides that God wants a 400-foot-high spire added to the top of the cathedral,
although the cathedral’s foundation is not sufficient to hold the weight of the spire. The novel tells the story
of the human costs of the spire’s construction and the lessons that the Dean learns too late.
The Pyramid (1967) provides an examination of English social class within the context
of a town ironically named Stilbourne. A primary issue in this story is music, and the novel
utilizes the same structure as the musical form sonata.
Golding’s next publication was a collection entitled The Scorpion God: Three Short Novels (1971).
Each story explores the negative repercussions of technological progress—an idea that was
in sharp contrast to the technology worship of the space age. One of the novellas had been originally
published in 1956; Golding then turned the story into a comedic play titled The Brass Butterfly,
which was first performed in London in 1958.
Golding’s next novel, Darkness Visible, appeared in 1979. It addresses
the interdependence of good and evil, exemplified in the two main characters: Sophy,
who plots to kidnap a child for ransom, and Matty, who gives his life to prevent it.
Golding’s 1984 publication, The Paper Men, was condemned by reviewers as his worst work,
partly because the novel seemed to condemn literary critics. The plot concerns an elderly novelist
trying to elude a young scholar who wants to write his biography.
One of Golding’s most ambitious works is The Sea Trilogy, three full-length novels
that follow the emotional education and moral growth of an aristocratic young man named
Edmund Talbot during an ocean voyage to Australia in 1812. Rites of Passage
(1980) shows Talbot’s spiritual growth, Close Quarters (1987) depicts his emotional
and æsthetic development, and Fire Down Below (1989) covers his political enlightenment.
Golding’s work is not limited to fiction: He published three collections of essays which are often comic
and expand upon or illuminate his novels. The Hot Gates and Other Occasional Pieces was
published in 1966; A Moving Target appeared in 1982; and An Egyptian Journal
followed in 1985.
Honors and Awards
Following the publication of his best-known work, Lord of the Flies, Golding was
granted membership in the Royal Society of Literature in 1955. Ten years later,
he received the honorary designation Commander of the British Empire (CBE) and was knighted
in 1988. His 1980 novel Rites of Passage won the Booker Prize,
a prestigious British award. Golding’s greatest honor was being awarded the 1983 Nobel
Prize for Literature.
About the Novel
As all authors use their life and times as reference points in their works, Golding drew heavily
on the social-religious-cultural-military ethos of his times. Lord of the Flies is an allegorical
microcosm of the world Golding knew and participated in. The island and the boys and many other
objects and events in the work represent Golding’s view of the world and humankind in general
and some characteristics or values found in British culture specifically.
Culture and Human Nature
Significant personal life experiences shaped the author and therefore his work. Golding spent
two years as a science student at Oxford University before he aborted his pursuit of science
for a degree in English literature, his first step toward a rejection of the scientific rationalism
espoused by his father. Having joined the British Royal Navy when World War II began,
Golding was involved in the invasion of Normandy on D-Day. After his military experience,
Golding was a schoolteacher and, for 15 years, immersed himself in reading the Greek
classics because, according to him, "this is where the meat is." He felt that Greek
drama had a great influence on his work; many scholars agree.
As a synthesis of Golding’s life experiences, Lord of the Flies investigates three key aspects
of the human experience that form the basis of the themes the author wants to convey:
(1) The desire for social and political order through parliaments, governments, and legislatures
(represented by the platform and the conch). (2) The natural inclination toward evil and violence,
manifested in every country’s need for a military (represented by the choir-boys-turned-hunters-turned-murderers
and in the war going on in the world beyond the island); and (3) The belief in supernatural
or divine intervention in human destiny (represented by the ceremonial dances and sacrifices
intended to appease the "beast").
By juxtaposing the evil, aggressive nature of the degenerating boys with the proper reserve
and civility of the British persona that their cultural background implies, Golding places the boys
in a series of life experiences that lead some (like Jack) deeper into their depraved psyche,
and some (like Ralph), who recognize the inclination toward evil in themselves, to an epiphany
of self-discovery. Such an epiphany is the only hope for humankind to escape from itself.
Golding wrote Lord of the Flies in 1954, less than a decade after World War II,
when the world was in the midst of the Cold War. The atrocities of the Holocaust, the horrific effects
of the atomic bomb, and the ominous threat of the Communist demon behind the Iron Curtain
were all present in the minds of the western public and the author. This environment of fear
combined with technology’s rapid advances act as a backdrop to the island experiences:
the shot-down plane, for example, and the boys’ concern that the "Reds" might
find them before the British do.
Historically, in times of widespread socio-economic distress, the general public feels itself vulnerable
and turns to the leader who exhibits the most strength or seems to offer the most protection.
In Lord of the Flies, Jack and the hunters, who offer the luxury of meat and the comforts
of a dictatorship, fill that role. In exchange for his protection, the other boys sacrifice any moral
reservations they may have about his policies and enthusiastically persecute the boys who resist
joining their tribe. These circumstances somewhat mirror Germany’s economic suffering,
which paved the way for the radical politics of Adolph Hitler’s Nazism in the aftermath
of World War I and in the worldwide depression of the 1930s.
Based upon his wartime experiences in the British Navy, Golding asserted that the unlimited brutality
shown by the Nazis was a capacity not limited to Germans or indeed to any particular group.
While the world was horrified by news of the Nazi death camps, Golding felt that none of the nations
was too far from committing atrocities of the same magnitude. According to Golding, humankind’s
propensity toward evil and violence coupled with the "psychology of fear" motivates humanity
to act in unconscionable ways. When the United States used the atomic bomb in Japan, more than
100,000 people were killed in three days by dropping two bombs. Overall,
a total of 55 million people lost their lives in World War II. Such catastrophic violence
and loss of life was clearly not lost on Golding: An atomic war causes the boys’ evacuation
in Lord of the Flies, and the sign from the world of grownups that the boys so wish for turns out
to be the body of a dead paratrooper, floating down from an aerial battle.
Such a fatalistic view of humanity directly conflicted with the rationalism on which Golding was raised.
His father’s rationalist optimism held that humankind can be perfected with enough effort, purged
of aggressive or anti-social tendencies. Golding’s view is much more pessimistic about humankind’s
true makeup; he perceived human nature as equal parts good and evil, permanently intertwined.
Rather than looking to social reform to cure humanity of its cruelty, Golding felt that breakdown
in the social order, such as occurs in Lord of the Flies, is directly traceable to moral meltdown
at the individual’s level.
Golding’s representation of humanity’s inherent evil is a treatment of the Judeo-Christian concept
of original sin. When Lord of the Flies was published, many critics were not impressed by it
because Golding was not part of one of the contemporary literary movements, which concerned
themselves not with theology or mysticism but with existential and sociological themes. Instead
Golding was a 43-year-old schoolteacher with a wife and children addressing classic themes
of good and evil.
As a schoolteacher, however, Golding experienced the reality of schoolboy behavior and tendencies,
which provided him with valuable literary material. That reality was quite different from the picture painted
in many children’s adventure stories, such as R. M. Ballantyne’s classic Victorian tale
Coral Island. Coral Island exemplified certain assumptions about English schoolboys
and British culture that Golding knew to be false, such as the idea that British Christian children
were naturally virtuous and innocent. Golding wrote Lord of the Flies as a solemn parody
of Coral Island, relocating savagery from the external sources such as heathens and foreigners
to residency in each individual’s heart.
Another issue Golding addressed was the western world’s post-war confidence in technology,
another spin on the rationalist idea that human society can be perfected; rationalism’s anti-mystical bent
is a part of technology worship. Included in the scientific advances of the first half of the twentieth century
was the field of psychiatry, which promised to explain emotional disturbances in a logical way—a
technology of the mind. Golding wove in references to technology’s influence in Lord of the Flies
through Piggy, who asserts that psychiatry can explain away their fears and that ghosts can’t exist
because if they did then television and streetlights wouldn’t work. While Golding’s novel does not
prove the existence of ghosts, it does provide a complex commentary on the underlying fears
and true demons found in humanity.
A Brief Synopsis
Lord of the Flies explores the dark side of humanity, the savagery that underlies
even the most civilized human beings. Golding intended this novel as a tragic parody
of children’s adventure tales, illustrating humankind’s intrinsic evil nature. He presents
the reader with a chronology of events leading a group of young boys from hope to disaster
as they attempt to survive their uncivilized, unsupervised, isolated environment until rescued.
In the midst of a nuclear war, a group of British boys find themselves stranded without adult supervision
on a tropical island. The group is roughly divided into the "littluns," boys around the age
of six, and the "biguns," who are between the ages of ten and twelve.
Initially, the boys attempt to form a culture similar to the one they left behind. They elect a leader, Ralph,
who, with the advice and support of Piggy (the intellectual of the group), strives to establish rules
for housing and sanitation. Ralph also makes a signal fire the group’s first priority, hoping that
a passing ship will see the smoke signal and rescue them. A major challenge to Ralph’s leadership
is Jack, who also wants to lead. Jack commands a group of choirboys-turned-hunters who sacrifice
the duty of tending the fire so that they can participate in the hunts. Jack draws the other boys
slowly away from Ralph’s influence because of their natural attraction to and inclination toward
the adventurous hunting activities symbolizing violence and evil.
The conflict between Jack and Ralph—and the forces of savagery and civilization
that they represent—is exacerbated by the boys’ literal fear of a mythical beast
roaming the island. One night, an aerial battle occurs above the island, and a casualty
of the battle floats down with his opened parachute, ultimately coming to rest on the mountaintop.
Breezes occasionally inflate the parachute, making the body appear to sit up and then sink forward again.
This sight panics the boys as they mistake the dead body for the beast they fear. In a reaction to this panic,
Jack forms a splinter group that is eventually joined by all but a few of the boys. The boys who join Jack
are enticed by the protection Jack’s ferocity seems to provide, as well as by the prospect of playing
the role of savages: putting on camouflaging face paint, hunting, and performing ritualistic tribal dances.
Eventually, Jack’s group actually slaughters a sow and, as an offering to the beast, puts the sow’s head on a stick.
Of all the boys, only the mystic Simon has the courage to discover the true identity of the beast
sighted on the mountain. After witnessing the death of the sow and the gift made of her head
to the beast, Simon begins to hallucinate, and the staked sow’s head becomes the Lord of the Flies,
imparting to Simon what he has already suspected: The beast is not an animal on the loose
but is hidden in each boy’s psyche. Weakened by his horrific vision, Simon loses consciousness.
Recovering later that evening, he struggles to the mountaintop and finds that the beast is only
a dead pilot/soldier. Attempting to bring the news to the other boys, he stumbles into the tribal frenzy
of their dance. Perceiving him as the beast, the boys beat him to death.
Soon only three of the older boys, including Piggy, are still in Ralph’s camp. Jack’s group steals
Piggy’s glasses to start its cooking fires, leaving Ralph unable to maintain his signal fire.
When Ralph and his small group approach Jack’s tribe to request the return of the glasses,
one of Jack’s hunters releases a huge boulder on Piggy, killing him. The tribe captures
the other two biguns prisoners, leaving Ralph on his own.
The tribe undertakes a manhunt to track down and kill Ralph, and they start a fire to smoke him out
of one of his hiding places, creating an island-wide forest fire. A passing ship sees the smoke from the fire,
and a British naval officer arrives on the beach just in time to save Ralph from certain death at the hands
of the schoolboys turned savages.
List of Characters
Ralph – The elected leader of the boys and the main protagonist.
He is neither the smartest nor the strongest but has a kind of quiet charisma and good looks.
He tries to keep the boys focused on domestic order and the rules of civilization but loses
his authority and almost his life to Jack’s seizure of power.
Piggy – Subject of the group’s ridicule for his weight, asthma,
and general lack of physical prowess or stamina. He provides the brains of the group,
as well as the spectacles necessary to start the fire. Loyal to Ralph and all he represents,
Piggy’s death leaves Ralph alone, pitted in social isolation against Jack’s tribe.
Jack Merridew – The leader of the choir/hunters. Already militant
as a choir leader, Jack leads his group of choirboys-turned-hunters in mutiny against Ralph’s
leadership by playing on the boys’ baser instincts. Jack favors hunting and its savage reward
of meat over the civilized domesticity and hope for rescue that Ralph tries to maintain.
Simon – The visionary of the group. Given to fainting spells
and spending time alone in the jungle, he is considered odd by the other boys.
Only Simon understands the true nature of the beast they fear, and only Simon
has the courage to investigate the eerie creature sighted on the mountain.
Before he can reveal what he has learned, he is killed in a tribal ritual gone too far.
Roger – A sly, secretive boy who displays, early on, a cruelty
toward the weak and vulnerable. Once joining Jack’s tribe, he becomes the hangman,
causing Piggy’s death, torturing Samneric (Sam and Eric) until they join the tribe,
and preparing a stick on which to mount Ralph’s head.
Samneric (Sam and Eric) – The twin boys who are in charge of keeping
the signal fire going. Until they are captured by the tribe, they remain loyal to Ralph. They speak as one,
often finishing each other’s sentences, so that the other boys pronounce their two names as one word.
Littluns – The littlest boys, around ages six and up. They remain
with Ralph during the mutiny.
Maurice – A bigun who becomes one of Jack’s key supporters,
accompanying him on the raids on Ralph’s camp.
Robert – A bigun who plays the role of the pig in one of the tribal dances
that reenact a hunt. He is hurt when the dance turns into a fierce beating.
Percival Wemys Madison – A littlun who has a nervous breakdown
and is often picked on by the other littluns. He introduces the idea that the beast might arrive from the sea.
Johnny – One of the smaller littluns who has a mean streak nonetheless.
Henry – The biggest of the littluns. He is made the object
of a mean-spirited prank by Roger.
Summaries and Commentaries
Chapter 1: Summary
Lord of the Flies opens with Ralph meeting Piggy. Their conversation provides the background
of their situation: In the midst of a nuclear war, a group of boys was being evacuated to an unnamed
destination. Their plane crashed and was dragged out to sea, leaving the boys stranded on an unfamiliar
island. Because of the atom bomb’s devastation, it’s likely that no one knows the boys’ whereabouts.
Ralph and Piggy with the conch
Ralph is delighted to be on a pristine tropical island without adults, but Piggy is less pleased.
The two boys make their way out of the jungle and onto the beach. Ralph is not much interested
in Piggy and does not request an introduction in turn when Piggy asks Ralph’s name. Piggy confides
his hope that the boys on this island won’t call him Piggy as they did back home.
On the beach, Ralph investigates a large platform of pink granite overlooking a long pool that
had formed in the beach. After demonstrating his swimming skills, Ralph spies a conch,
which Piggy identifies as a valuable shell that can be blown as a trumpet. Piggy urges Ralph
to blow into the shell, using it to summon any other survivors to the beach.
Soon boys between ages 6 and 12 come streaming out of the jungle onto the beach, assembling
on the platform near Ralph. Last to arrive are Jack and the choirboys. Despite the tropical heat
and their own exertions in following the conch blasts, the boys from the choir still wear their black caps
and long black cloaks and are clearly overheated when they reach the platform.
The assembled boys discuss their situation and vote on a chief, choosing Ralph over Jack.
Ralph suggests that Jack remain in charge of the choirboys, designating them hunters.
Jack is mollified by this seemingly small gift of command. As the assembled boys identify
themselves, Ralph reveals Piggy’s nickname before Piggy can establish his real name.
Ralph forms a search party to establish that they are, in fact, on an island. In agreeing to go along,
Jack reveals with a flourish that he owns a large sheathed knife. Piggy is hurt to be excluded
from the search party, and Ralph placates him by giving him the job of taking the names
of all the boys who remain behind at the platform.
Ralph, Jack, and Simon confirm that the island is uninhabited. They enjoy their jaunt into the wild,
experiencing the thrill of adventure and the new friendship forming between them. On their return,
they encounter a piglet trapped in jungle vines, testing Jack’s hunting skills and nerve. Jack pulls
his knife but falters, and the pig gets away; he vows fiercely that next time he will follow through.
Chapter 1: Commentary
In Chapter 1, Golding introduces the novel’s major characters as well as its theme: that evil,
as a destructive force in man, society, and civilization, is present in us all. To illustrate this theme,
Golding uses several major motifs: civilization versus savagery; humanity versus animality;
technology versus nature; hunters versus gatherers; men versus women; adults versus children;
and the intellect versus physicality. As the characters interact with each other and with their environment,
so do the forces they represent. Using the characters to embody these forces allows Golding
the opportunity to compare and contrast with rich shadings of meaning rather than with simplistic oppositions.
The novel opens with a description of the "long scar smashed into the jungle," a reference
to the snake-like damage done by the plane as it crashed into the island. Here civilization with its technology
has dealt a blow to nature; nature counters by sweeping the wreckage out to sea. Yet the conflict is not
so simple. While the jungle may represent nature, the beach provides the conch and the platform,
both of which symbolize institutionalized order and politics (civilization).
True to the dynamics of democratic politics, Ralph is elected leader for superficial reasons.
He is a personable and handsome boy who appears to be in charge because of his use of
the conch, which functions for him at the moment of his election (and throughout the novel)
as the symbol of authority. Although it was Piggy’s quick thinking to use the conch to summon
the others, hampered by asthma, he must allow Ralph to do the summoning. And while Jack
clearly has some experience in exerting control over others, making his choirboys march
to the assembly through the tropical heat in floor-length black cloaks, the sheer arrogance
of his open grab for power probably puts off some of the boys, raised as they have been
in a society that values politeness and decorum. Therefore, the boys choose Ralph
for his charisma and possession of the compelling conch over Piggy, who lacks the physical
stature or charisma of a leader despite his intelligence, and Jack, who is "ugly without
silliness" and possesses a less civil manner.
Jack and the choirboys
With his calm, self-assured manner and the poise with which he allows Jack to retain control
of the choir and places Piggy in charge of names, Ralph is much more of a diplomat than Jack
or Piggy. While allowing Jack control of the hunters turns out to be political (and almost personal)
suicide ultimately, Ralph himself is still under the spell of polite society, looking more to make friends
than to lead strategically. In later chapters, he learns that, as a leader, he must be prepared to take
a hard line with his friends if he is to achieve his goals for the group. In Chapter 1, however,
Ralph engages in play—standing on his head, blowing jets of water while swimming,
rolling a boulder downhill, gleefully scuffling with Simon—which he has no time for once
he is leader of the group.
Note that the talents that set Ralph apart from the others (acrobatics and swimming) serve
no practical purpose in the jungle, while Jack’s recreational activity as choir leader serves him
as a leader in training. Jack’s warlike nature is evident from the start, as a choirboy who carries
a knife and volunteers his choir to be the army, amending its role to hunters at Ralph’s direction.
While Ralph entertains others with his trick of standing on his head, Jack successfully practices
authority: "With dreary obedience" his choir votes for him as chief. He uses to his advantage
here his authority, not his ability to sing a C sharp.
From his first appearance as a dark creature, leading his group from the jungle, making them
march in columns until Simon faints, Jack is represented as evil. When the creatures turn out to be
"a party of boys, marching approximately in step in two parallel lines and dressed in strangely
eccentric clothing," Golding is connecting not only the uniformed military with the frightening
dark side of humanity but tacitly identifying Jack as an outspoken representative of aggression.
Naturally Jack has a strong and vocal aversion to Piggy, who represents thorough domestication
in contrast to the savagery lying just beneath Jack’s surface. Piggy is no fan of Jack’s, being
"intimidated by [Jack’s] uniformed superiority and the offhand authority in [his] voice."
With his poor eyesight, weight problem, and asthma, Piggy is a boy who could survive only
in a civilization that offers the dual protection of medical treatment and cultural affluence—a society
wealthy enough to provide food, shelter, and purpose for its physically weaker members. In England,
Piggy would be valued ultimately for the contribution of his intelligence, despite his lack of physical ability
or social skills. On this uninhabited island, however, Piggy is the most vulnerable of all the boys,
despite his greater mental capabilities.
Ralph and Piggy
Although Ralph treats Piggy badly because Piggy lacks a spirit of adventure, he understands
that Piggy has a realistic grasp of their situation. Piggy points out that the atom bomb killed
everyone who might know of the boys’ whereabouts. While Ralph still speaks of his father
in the present tense, telling Piggy that his father will come rescue them soon, Piggy describes
his aunt in the past tense, realizing that she is gone. Her voice lives on in his head, however,
as the voice that ordered his world and represents the protected domesticity he needs to survive
and thrive. His frequent invocations of "my auntie says" provide the only female voice
in the book, although he never gets to finish the phrase and reveal what his auntie did say.
With only Piggy as her ineffectual mouthpiece, from this first chapter, the auntie’s perspective
is rendered invalid among the primitive conditions of the environment and the savage demagoguery of Jack.
By quoting his aunt, Piggy also establishes himself as a representative of the adult world.
The boys have an ambivalent relationship to adults, viewing them sometimes as providers
and protectors and sometimes as punishers and limiters. While Ralph is initially delighted
at the lack of grownups on the island, he is at the same time relying on his father’s naval expertise
to facilitate their rescue. As the adult voice, Piggy tries to communicate the reality that his father
is probably dead, a concept that twelve-year-old Ralph has difficulty grasping. Events later
in the book reveal Piggy as the voice of reason again—his adult logic contrasting
with the other boys’ childishly emotional responses, such as in Chapter 2,
when he scolds them for starting the fire before building shelters. Yet his logic holds
no ground when confronted with the emotions running high in this primitive environment.
Jack and Ralph hold another, more fundamental election between themselves in this chapter.
While exploring, they encounter a distinct trail in the jungle. In guessing what made the trail, Ralph offers
"‘Men?’ Jack shakes his head. ‘Animals.’" Without realizing it, each boy is casting a vote
for who and what they will ultimately represent.
Chapter 1: Glossary
creepers – any plants whose stems put out tendrils or rootlets
by which the plants can creep along a surface as they grow.
Home Counties – the counties nearest London.
stockings – closefitting coverings, usually knitted, for the feet
and, usually, much of the legs.
half – (c. here, considerably; very much.
garter – an elastic band, or a fastener suspended from a band,
girdle, etc., for holding a stocking or sock in position.
sucks to your auntie – a British slang expression of derision or
contempt; here, "forget your auntie" or "your auntie be damned."
Gib., Addis – abbreviations for Gibraltar and Addis Ababa, respectively;
refueling stops the evacuation plane made before crashing on the island.
matins – orig., the first of the seven canonical hours, recited between
midnight and dawn or, often, at daybreak; here, a morning church service at which the choir sang.
precentor – a person who directs a church choir or congregation in singing.
shop – here, conversation about one’s work or business, esp. after hours.
head boy – an honorary title given to a student who has made
the best all-around contribution to student life and maintains exemplary conduct.
wacco – [Brit. Slang] excellent.
wizard – [Brit. Informal] excellent.
smashing – [Informal] outstandingly good; extraordinary.
Chapter 2: Summary
Ralph, Jack, and Simon return from their reconnaissance in the late afternoon. Ralph blows the conch
to call the other boys back to assembly and describes the results of the exploration. Jack interrupts
almost immediately to declare the importance of an army for hunting pigs. So that only one person
will speak at a time in the assembly, Ralph makes the conch rule: Only the boy holding the conch
can speak, and only Ralph can interrupt the one who holds the conch. Thus, a process for order
and civil discourse is established.
Piggy takes the conch so he can make the point that no one knows the boys’ location, meaning
that they may be on the island a long time. Ralph points out the bright side, the adventure inherent
in their situation. At this point the group of littlest boys push a representative forward to describe
the "beastie" he saw in the woods the night before; the older boys are quick to assure
the littluns that there is no beastie. Ralph offers reassurance that they will definitely be rescued,
mentioning that they’ll need a signal fire to attract passing ships and planes. At the word fire,
Jack immediately takes over the group, leading a charge up the mountain to start a fire.
Ralph attempts to maintain order, but everyone rushes after Jack, so he follows, too.
Piggy follows last, angry at the impulsive behavior.
On the mountaintop, the boys find a huge patch of dead wood and start a fire, using Piggy’s eyeglasses.
A massive bonfire that quickly burns itself out results. Jack volunteers his hunters to maintain a signal fire.
Suddenly, in the midst of a complaint that no one will let him talk, Piggy sees that they’ve started a forest fire.
He scolds the other boys for their lack of foresight in not first building shelters for the approaching night
before racing up the mountain in defiance of Ralph. He further reprimands them for causing not only
the waste of so much firewood but also the probable death of some of the littlest boys, since some
of them had been playing in the area consumed by the rapidly moving fire. In the face of this news,
Ralph attempts to first blame Piggy for not keeping better track of the little boys and then to convince
himself and the others that the little ones might have just gone back to the platform. No one is convinced,
but all are reluctant to face the reality.
Chapter 2: Commentary
This chapter continues with and develops the themes established in Chapter 1.
Of particular importance to Ralph is his new experience with control over his electorate
in the face of political and social dynamics. Initially the boys are quite impressed with him,
as he finds he has a natural capacity for public speaking. His promise of rescue seems
farfetched given the nuclear war that precipitated the boys’ evacuation, but it is a promise
he delivers well and believes himself. Even Piggy has faith in Ralph’s ability to understand
and communicate the issues, although he may be giving him too much credit. When Piggy
grabs the conch and says "You’re hindering Ralph. You’re not letting him get to
the most important thing," it’s not clear from Ralph’s hesitant response that
he was in fact going to cover the likelihood that no one knows the boys’ location.
Piggy’s loyalty to Ralph stems from Piggy’s logical mentality—it’s logical to follow
the leader’s command and assume that he is in control of the situation. The rest of the boys
are more emotional. They are quickly swayed from the chief they so respected moments before.
Once on the mountain, they are very much impressed by Jack, with his seemingly generous offer
to have his hunters take on the fire tending duties, just as they had been enamored of Ralph earlier.
Such a loyalty shift is part of the dynamics of politics. Golding sums up the status of those who assume
a leader’s role when he describes the littlest boys’ shy representative as "warped out of the perpendicular
by the fierce light of publicity." Once an individual such as Jack comes forth and makes himself heard
over the rest of the crowd, the crowd views him as larger than life and expects big things—both
good and bad. Leaders often attain a level of celebrity, at which point both their faults and their virtues
are magnified by publicity’s distorting lens so that their smallest mistakes may be viewed by the public
with the same importance granted their greatest achievements. This syndrome springs from
the emotional reaction that leaders invoke.
Jack and Ralph
Piggy is missing this emotional connection. He may be attempting to present the most beneficial plan
of action for the group, but, because he lacks rapport with the other boys, he cannot make himself heard.
Seeing that the boys pay attention to Ralph when he repeats what Piggy has already tried to communicate,
he protests "‘That’s what I said! I said about the meetings and things and then you said shut up—.’
His voice lifted into the whine of virtuous recrimination. They stirred and began to shout him down."
Piggy realizes the effect he has on the boys but not the cause of it, placing too much faith in the logical approach.
Truth is not always obvious, and logic is seldom universal. Not until Piggy loses his temper can he get
the boys’ attention and reveal the priorities he had in mind before they raced up the mountain.
He points out that the island gets cold at night and that they should have built shelters before nightfall,
his reason expressed too late for their emotional deeds.
Piggy also relies too heavily on the power of the conch, on the social convention that holding the conch
invests him with the right to be heard. He believes that upholding social conventions gets results.
"How can you expect to be rescued if you don’t ... act proper?" Piggy asks.
He is partially right but is overlooking the dynamic of the crowd, the emotionality of mob rule.
When Piggy screams, "You’ll break the conch!" he is in essence protesting
"you’ll break the covenant," the agreement that everyone will behave in a certain way
and follow established rules. The rules are more immediately necessary for him than for the other boys
who can rely on their physical skills to survive.
Jack’s rush up the mountain shatters the power of the conch rule, which is meant to ensure civil,
rational conversation. Jack asserts that the conch has no power once they are on the mountain,
but clearly it didn’t have that much power on the platform either: Ralph shouted for order while
holding the conch but lost the crowd in the excitement, foreshadowing how later he loses
his authority completely. The impulsive dash with which Jack leads the boys away from
the platform symbolizes the ease with which humanity’s emotional, savage nature overwhelms
its rational and civilized tendencies.
Piggy at the assembly
To represent the evil that is part of human nature, Golding uses the beastie described by the littlest boys.
At night, they report, the beast lurks in the jungle hunting and looking to devour them; by day it disguises itself
as the creeper vines that hang innocently in the trees. Here the vines are like human nature in the daylight
of civilization; in the darkness of a primeval environment their true predatory nature emerges. During
the forest fire, the little boys shriek at the burning creeper vines "Snakes! Snakes! Look at
the snakes!" This allusion is to the serpent in the Garden of Eden who stole innocence
and introduced humanity to its own physicality.
Obviously on a conscious level, the boys perceive this beast as an actual animal rather than
as the conceptualization of the evil inherent in humanity. Yet these littlest boys have an immediate
and instinctive recognition of the island as a threat to them: They realize that they lack the domesticity
that protected them back home. The older boys ostensibly reject the little boys’ fear, presenting
the logical explanation that the island is too small for large predators. Ralph is vehement on this point:
"Something he had not known was there rose in him and compelled him to make the point,
loudly and again. ‘But I tell you there isn’t a beast!’" He is denying that there exists a dark side
The fire on the mountain has tremendous symbolic meaning. First, it represents hope and aspirations
for the future, a gift from the gods, a tool that separates humankind from the animals. Just as the beach
platform and the untamed jungle represent the duality in humanity’s behavior, the fire, also, represents
both savagery (evil) and hope: "On one side the air was cool, but on the other the fire thrust out
a savage arm of heat." Golding could be describing here how societies and individuals contain
these conflicting yet complementary forces. In some individuals, the savage side runs closer to the surface,
as with Jack, but it exists in everyone. The boys’ fire shows that one entity can contain hot and cold,
good and evil, civility and savagery.
The fire expresses another duality as well, a before and after for Ralph’s perception of their situation
and his role. This first bonfire is an act of communal play for all the boys, topped off with Ralph standing
on his head to mark their triumph. The fire becomes more like serious work when they make plans
for specific teams to tend it. Later, with the probable deaths of some of the little boys, Ralph begins
to realize that the group’s disregard for his authority can and will have grim consequences.
Before the fire, the boys take time for play, a luxury available only to those protected by a civilization,
not for those engaged in a fight for survival.
Ultimately, the fire is about savagery: For the boys rushing around for firewood, "Life became
a race with the fire," a phrase that quietly foreshadows Ralph’s flight for his life at the end.
And while fire starting was one of the first technologies to separate humanity from the animals,
to start this fire, the boys adopt a primitive use of force in taking Piggy’s glasses from him,
making him an unwilling Prometheus.
Note that on this first day together, the group has already banded together to physically overwhelm
Piggy—a show of physicality over intellect. It is also an uprising of children against an adult figure.
Although Piggy is in the same age group as the other boys, he nonetheless holds the role of
"martyred ... parent who has to keep up with the senseless ebullience of the children."
On this island, for the first time in their lives, the boys experience sheer autonomy. "This is
our island ... Until the grownups come and fetch us, we’ll have fun," Ralph says,
in an utterly failed and foolish prophecy.
By now the reader is aware of many of the developing symbols in the story:
Ralph, the responsible leader who attempts to organize the boys
for their survival and rescue. He appears practical, capable of using Piggy’s advice, able
to avoid superstition and fear, and capable of developing processes for advancing
their limited society.
Jack, the evil that lurks within humankind, the one most in tune
with his primitive urges and instincts.
Piggy, the intellectual who is physically inept, the least capable
of surviving on this island under these circumstances.
Simon, the artistic, sensitive mystic.
The conch, representing authority and civil debate.
The snake-like images (the scar left by the passenger tube, the "creepers"
[vines] that are encountered throughout), representing aggression, fear, and evil.
Chapter 2: Glossary
Treasure Island – Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1883 novel
about a heroic boy’s search for buried gold and his encounter with pirates.
Swallows and Amazons – the first (1930) of a series of adventure books
by Arthur Ransome, about a group of children on vacation.
Coral Island – Robert Ballantyne’s 1857 adventure tale about three boys
shipwrecked on a Pacific island and their triumph over their circumstances.
caps of maintenance – caps bearing a school insignia.
altos – the boys who sing in the vocal range between tenor and soprano.
trebles – the boys who sing the highest part in musical harmony.
Chapter 3: Summary
Jack, alone on a pig hunt, has clearly learned some tracking techniques. Frustrated that his day’s hunt
has ended yet again without a kill, he returns from the jungle to the area where Ralph and Simon work
on building shelters.
Ralph expresses his frustration: Although all the boys have agreed to help build shelters, only Simon
actually puts in the time and effort alongside Ralph. All the other boys are off playing, bathing, or hunting
with Jack, even though Jack and his hunters have failed so far to produce meat. Ralph emphasizes
the need for sturdy shelters, while Jack insists that he and the other boys need meat and tries to explain
his compulsion to hunt. This difference—and the undercurrent of rancor—makes both
boys uncomfortable given the relationship that had sprung up between them on the first day’s exploring adventure.
Also in this chapter, a new side of Simon is revealed. He has a secret place in the jungle, a sort of hut
formed by vines, boulders, and trees. After helping Ralph with the shelters all day, he sneaks off
to this shelter, pausing first to help the littluns gather some choice fruit and making sure that
he hasn’t been followed.
Chapter 3: Commentary
In the first two chapters, Golding established regulated speech as a hallmark of civilization, as the boys
set up the platform as a site for assemblies ordered by the conch. Ralph uses the conch to mimic
the practice of "hands up," which all the boys know from school, the very place where
literacy and verbal communication is systematically developed. In this chapter, Golding further develops
this theme: Whereas verbal language is the sole property of civilization, silence is a property of nature.
As Jack hunts in the "uncommunicative forest," he finds the "silence of the forest
was more oppressive than the heat."
Ironically, when, in this chapter, Jack encounters Ralph at the shelters, Ralph comments
on the uselessness of talk, railing about the abandoned resolutions to work everyone voices
at the assemblies. "Meetings. Don’t we love meetings?" Ralph says bitterly,
confused by the assemblies’ lack of efficacy. He had been counting on the meetings
to provide both framework and impetus for focused action but has found that, of a crowd,
only a few actually follow through. Ralph’s vision of order is one most of the other boys share
but lack the self-discipline to carry out. With language as his only tool, Ralph’s authority lacks
the threat possessed by parents and schoolmasters to enforce the rules and resolutions.
Although he doesn’t like building huts any better than any of the others, he is able to control
his impulses and do what is necessary.
Ralph and Jack
Jack could serve as an enforcer of rightful authority and necessary discipline, but he does not
share Ralph’s civilized vision. He is fast losing the traces of civilization and tuning into his animal self:
crouched "dog-like" and reacting to a sudden bird cry with "a hiss of indrawn
breath ... ape-like among the tangle of trees." Jack seems to be losing his powers
of rational thought, as well: Not only does he not share Ralph’s priority on rescue, he "had
to think for a moment before he could remember what rescue was." In trying to explain
his feeling of being hunted while on the hunt, he finds verbalizing his experiences a great effort.
The ability to express himself verbally is a skill necessary to civilization, not to hunting. His efforts
go now to communicating with the nonverbal jungle, reading the signs left by the pigs. Where as
Ralph can control his impulses for the good of the community, Jack puts all his focus on developing
his impulses—in this case, his need to hunt.
Furthermore, neither boy can communicate his perspective to the other, and neither considers
the other’s viewpoint. This lack of communication underlies innumerable conflicts, and the lack
of understanding frequently has more to do with unwillingness on the listener’s part than on
the speaker’s. Ralph and Simon’s reactions to Jack’s revelation about feeling hunted while hunting
are true to form for both of them.
When Jack tries to convey his experience of the beast, he meets with resistance from Ralph.
As the representative of reasonable society, Ralph is "incredulous and faintly indignant"
that Jack could be granting any credit to the idea of a beast. Ralph is either unable or unwilling
to acknowledge the existence of a beast. In contrast, the mystic visionary Simon is "intent"
on understanding how Jack’s feeling corresponds with the intuitive knowledge Simon has of human nature.
Like the littluns, Jack’s sense of the beast is formless and inarticulate; his domain is the emotions,
which rule and fuel his animal nature. In truth, Jack is being hunted, in a sense, and both he and Simon,
to varying degrees, recognize this. Ralph can’t acknowledge this and continue to believe in what he believes
in and relies on: the basic civility of man.
This chapter reveals Simon as the mystic. While Golding doesn’t specify why Simon has a secret place
or what he does there, clearly Simon feels the need to be sheltered from the other boys. "He’s queer.
He’s funny," says Ralph of his only work partner, which is the reaction mystics typically provoke
from mainstream society. Simon is different from the other boys not only due the physical frailty of fainting
spells but also in his consistently expressed concern for the other more vulnerable boys. In the previous
chapter, he sticks up for Piggy when Jack verbally attacks him for not gathering firewood, pointing out
that the fire was started with Piggy’s glasses. In this chapter, Simon takes the time to pluck from the trees
the choice fruits that the littluns can’t reach and passing them down "to the endless, outstretched
hands," an almost saintly image.
Simon’s role as a visionary is alluded to in this chapter not only by his hidden place of meditation
but also by Golding’s description of his eyes: "so bright they had deceived Ralph into thinking him
delightfully gay and wicked." While Piggy has the glasses, another symbol of vision, Simon has
the bright eyes that later in the novel see the truth about the beast.
To highlight Ralph’s growing disenchantment with Jack and disillusionment with being a leader,
Golding brings back together, in this chapter, the three boys who went exploring that first day.
Caught up in the glamour of newness and adventure, the three seemed to become instant friends.
By now, however, Ralph cannot overlook that Jack’s priority on hunting is undermining his own efforts
to create a home for the boys, that Simon is not the mischievous prankster Ralph perceived him to be,
and that the boys in general quickly forget their promises to work toward a common goal when faced
with the more immediate gratification of eating and playing. Ralph has come to the realization that
"people were never quite what you thought they were."
Chapter 3: Glossary
batty – [Slang] crazy or eccentric.
crackers – [Slang, Chiefly Brit.] crazy; insane.
queer – differing from what is usual or ordinary; odd; singular; strange.
Chapter 4: Summary
The chapter opens with a general description of the island’s changes throughout the day and
the boys’ responses to each day’s cyclical progression. The focus narrows to the littluns’ subculture
and three of the littluns interacting as they play with one of their sandcastles. Then Roger and Maurice
emerge from the jungle and deliberately destroy some of the sandcastles on their way to the beach.
Jack gathers the hunters to reveal his new hunting strategy: using colored clay and charcoal
to camouflage their faces. Jack commands all his hunters, including Samneric who are
on fire-maintenance duty at the time, to join in a hunt.
Ralph spots a ship in the distance and is confident that the ship’s crew will spot the boys’ smoke signal.
But, unknown to Ralph, the fire has gone out, being left unattended. When Simon points out that there
is no smoke, he and Ralph and Piggy hurry up the mountainside. By the time all three have reached
the dormant fire site, the ship is gone.
The fire's out
Meanwhile, Jack and his hunters are triumphant, marching up to the fire site with the carcass of a pig.
Jack and Ralph face off about the desertion of the fire for the sake of the hunt. Jack apologizes but Ralph
remains angry. Tensions ease somewhat as the boys eat roast pig. The hunters reenact the kill as a sort
of celebratory dance. In response, Ralph announces an assembly on the platform immediately.
Chapter 4: Commentary
As the most fundamental of all cycles, the daily experience of morning’s promise followed inevitably
by night’s menace is a microcosm of larger cycles. Golding’s opening description of the island’s daily
rhythm is evocative of the many cycles that govern humanity: the life of an individual from birth to death,
the development and disintegration of cultures, the rise and fall of great civilizations.
Even among this small group of boys, subcultures have sprung up. The littluns spend their days
among themselves, following their own priorities and interests; "their passionately emotional
and corporate life was their own." Within the littluns are further distinctions based on size
and temperament, either of which can provide an immediate advantage to one littlun over another:
"Henry was a bit of a leader this afternoon, because the other two were Percival and Johnny,
the smallest boys on the island." Yet Johnny has the upper hand over the sensitive Percival
due to his inclination to bully. In addition, while Johnny may be one of the smallest, he is also
"well built." With no adults to control their activities, Henry and Johnny join in picking
on Percival because they enjoy the thrill of mastery over another creature and because it keeps
boredom at bay.
Fun in the water
The boys focus on the most entertaining possibilities of the island, such as hunting, playing,
and eating, to the detriment of such mundane but necessary tasks as building shelters.
They are free to set their own priorities and agenda on an individual basis, allowing some
of the boys the chance to develop the application of their own worst impulses. Henry, for example,
assumes a dictatorial manner, experimenting further with mastery over other creatures as he traps
tiny transparent beach scavengers in his footprints. His experience is a microcosm of another kind:
Describing how Henry "became absorbed beyond happiness as he felt himself exercising control
over living things," Golding alludes not only to Henry and Johnny’s persecution of Percival
but also to Jack’s compulsion to hunt and to the probable cause of the nuclear war that landed the boys
on this island.
The link between Henry’s activities and Jack’s is further strengthened by the image of Henry’s attempt
to verbally control the transparent creatures—"He talked to them, urging them, ordering
them"—which evokes the image of Jack in the previous chapter staring at the traces
of the pig trail "as though he would force them to speak to him." Both boys try to force
their verbal communication on nonverbal entities, an effort doomed to failure. Henry cherishes
what little control he feels he has and does not mind that his orders go unheeded. His efforts
at mastery over another are still in the play stage, although cruel nonetheless to the vulnerable
Percival. Jack, on the other hand, has a much more difficult time tolerating resistance. When the boys
are forced to rebuild the fire in a different spot because Ralph silently refuses to move from the site
of the original fire, Jack is furious. Ralph uses a means of control over the group that is nonverbal
and nonviolent, ensuring that neither the rhetorical skills nor the physical superiority of the hunters
can be used against him. In the face of passive resistance, Jack is powerless to stop Ralph from
imposing his will on the group and asserting his authority.
As the biguns Roger and Maurice torment the littluns by destroying their sandcastles, they still hear
in their heads the reprimanding adult voices of the civilization they left behind. Roger throws rocks
at Henry, but he throws them so that they’ll miss, surrounded as Henry is by "the protection
of parents and school and policeman and the law. Roger’s arm was conditioned by a civilization
that knew nothing of him and was in ruins."
Even Jack still feels the influence of his former life, laughing while he describes the great amounts
of blood spilled in the hunt but shuddering at the same time. His distaste is followed quickly
by acceptance, however, as he wipes his bloody hands on his shorts. Golding implies a certain relief
for Jack in the phrase "able at last to hit someone, [Jack] stuck his fist into Piggy’s stomach."
His entire life had been moderated by rules set by adults against hitting other children or physically acting
out his aggression; now on the island, only the conditioning he received while still in civilization holds
him back, and the imprint of that conditioning is fading fast from his character.
Most societies judge character to a great extent by how an individual behaves, how thoroughly a person
has internalized the mores and ethos of civilized society. British culture, in particular, places a high value
on maintaining civility even under adverse circumstances, the mask of good manners concealing strong
emotions and impulses. Jack discovers the other side of a mask’s power—the power to
liberate—when he applies the clay and charcoal camouflage: "the mask was a thing
on its own, behind which Jack hid, liberated from shame and self-consciousness."
While the masks of polite society leash our evil nature, Jack’s mask of colored clay unleashes it.
The mask—or the transformation it invokes—frightens the hunter Bill, who initially laughs
but then backs off into the jungle, and it compels the twins to abandon their fire tending duties,
a symbol of how they are being drawn away from all of the civilized domesticity and communal
hope for rescue represented by the fire. Jack refers to the mask as "dazzle paint,"
the camouflage used in warfare, clearly linking his new identity as a shameless killer with those adults
fighting the war.
When the ship is sighted, Ralph remains calmly in place while the other boys present blunder
around in excitement. Yet, when he realizes that there is no smoke signal for the ship to sight,
he loses the calm that has so far characterized his behavior—the mask over his emotions.
Now he rushes heedlessly up to mountain to the fire site, "savaging himself" on the bushes,
reaching the top only to see that the fire is out and the ship is leaving. He loses control at this point:
"his voice rose insanely. ‘Come back! Come back!’ ... Ralph reached inside himself
for the worst word he knew. ‘They let the bloody fire go out.’" His use of a profanity indicates
strong emotion not yet displayed; his anger compels him to break with the decorum so important
to his culture. In the midst of this crisis, even Piggy, who is most closely linked with adult perspectives,
"whimper[s] like a littlun" when he reaches the mountain top and, in the next chapter,
also uses a vulgarity when Simon suggests that there may be a beast.
Ralph waving at the ship
Under duress, some of the boys break with the social decorum expected of the offspring of proper civility,
letting their baser emotions rule. Others of the boys go further, abandoning rational thought or
civil communication. Jack has begun to think like an animal, as when he explains his rationale
for the dazzle paint. His speech pattern becomes simplistic, mimicking the impressionistic understanding
of animals: "They see me, I think. Something pink, under the trees." His group of hunters
doesn’t have the mechanism of the conch to regulate their discourse; they talk over each other when
describing their successful hunt. When Jack as leader wants to make himself heard, he interrupts
and takes the floor by force of personality rather than by an established, polite precedent.
Jack’s shortsightedness has cost the boys a rescue while at the same time bringing them
the immediate victory of a kill. Firmly rooted in their respective worlds, neither Ralph nor Jack
can understand the other’s position. "There was the brilliant world of hunting, tactics,
fierce exhilaration, skill; and there was the world of longing and baffled common-sense."
When Ralph denounces Jack for not keeping his agreement to maintain the fire, he is mourning
not merely the lost opportunity for rescue but the loss of the world they’ve left behind in England.
Because Jack has already lost interest in that world of politeness and boundaries, he feels
no compunction to keep the fire going or to attend to any of the other responsibilities
of a domestic life. He uses the device of an apology as a tool to end the conflict with Ralph,
more of an instinctive political maneuver than an expression of regret. This apology pleases
the crowd but infuriates Ralph, who perceives the apology as a "verbal trick"
distracting everyone from the tragedy that had just occurred. Rhetoric triumphs for Jack
despite the harm he has caused with his negligence and misplaced priorities.
Later, after Simon rebukes Jack for refusing Piggy a share of the meat, Jack lists all he has done
to bring the boys meat in an effort to gain their full appreciation for his accomplishment and for what
he’s going through in his metamorphosis from choirboy to killer. The others do not fully comprehend
Jack’s message. He "looked round for understanding but found only respect." Although
he does not get understanding, he does get respect, which is all that is required for a demagogue.
Jack also discovers that the ritualistic face-painting and dancing further separates him from the constraints
of his civil training and that involving his hunters in the dancing and chanting of the mock hunt after the meal
has a powerful bonding effect, bringing the hunters more strongly under his influence.
Ralph and Piggy
Ralph is envious of this influence and of the victory Jack has brought to the group. He has not been able
to provide such a decisive triumph for the boys, dependent as his agenda is on the external event of rescue
and on the maintenance of cultural norms alien to their current environment. When he announces
an immediate assembly, he is calling the boys not only to the platform but back to all that it symbolizes.
Chapter 4: Glossary
dazzle paint – British term for camouflage; the disguising of troops,
ships, guns, etc. to conceal them from the enemy, as by the use of paint, nets, or leaves in patterns
merging with the background.
accent – a distinguishing regional or national manner of pronunciation;
here, Piggy’s manner of speech, characterized by his use of double negatives and informal contractions.
bloody – [Vulgar Brit. Slang] cursed; damned.
Ha’porth – contraction of "a halfpenny’s worth," meaning a very small amount.
One for his nob – a hit on his head.
Give him a fourpenny one – hit him on the jaw.
Chapter 5: Summary
Ralph calls the assembly and reminds everyone of their agreement to maintain fresh water supplies,
observe sanitation measures, build shelters, and keep the signal fire going. He then addresses
the growing fear that he knows is beginning to overwhelm many of the boys by opening up the floor
for discussion. Meanwhile, darkness is falling.
Jack takes the conch to point out that if a beast were on the island, he would have seen it during
his hunting trips. Piggy adds that the field of psychology can be used as a tool to explain logically
the experience of fear, thereby invalidating it. When a littlun comes forward to describe a large creature
he saw in the jungle the night before, Simon reveals that it was only he, going to his special place.
Percival suggests that a beast could arise from the sea, then falls asleep on the platform
from the effort of his revelation.
Simon attempts to explain that the boys themselves, or something inherent in human nature,
could be the beast they fear. His unsuccessful explanation leads to talk of ghosts, so Ralph
holds a vote to see who fears ghosts. This vote sparks an outburst from the rational Piggy
with a corresponding reaction from Jack. Now in open mutiny, Jack aggressively disputes
Ralph’s authority and leads the boys onto the beach in a sort of tribal dance. Remaining
on the platform, Piggy and Simon urge Ralph to summon everyone back to the platform
but he resists, his confidence shaken. Suddenly, the three boys are startled by an unearthly wail
as Percival wakes up to find himself alone in the dark.
Chapter 5: Commentary
Chapter 3 addresses the issue of verbal communication and its place within a civilized society;
this chapter implies that the primitive life leaves little mental energy for conceptual thought. Making
his way to the platform, Ralph realizes "the wearisomeness of this life, where ...
a considerable part of one’s waking life was spent watching one’s feet." With so much energy
devoted to survival, little time is left to devote to the kind of conceptual thought or abstract reasoning
available to those sheltered by the institutions found in civilizations.
The two boys who retain the most capacity for conceptual thought are Piggy and Simon.
Note that Piggy does not participate in the physical endeavors of the other boys; his physical
activities are limited by his poor physical condition. Simon makes the effort to be alone
in his hidden spot, giving himself time to meditate in a place where he doesn’t have to concern
himself with hunting, building, or the needs of others. In the hidden spot, Simon develops
his understanding of human nature as the true beast to be feared.
Jack and Piggy
The silence of Simon’s hideaway allows him to reflect on what he sees and feels. In contrast,
silence is a threat to the other boys. Consider Jack’s feeling oppressed by the jungle’s silence
while hunting in Chapter 3. During the assembly in this chapter, the boys respond
almost aggressively to Percival’s silence when asked his name: "Tormented by the silence
and the refusal the assembly broke into a chant. ‘What’s your name? What’s your name?’"
Chanting is associated with primitive societies, not part of the order or domesticity from whence
the boys came or that Ralph is trying to establish.
Ralph expends much energy on the needs of others as well as on the physical rigors of building huts,
and he begins to feel the effects: He is gradually losing both confidence that they will be rescued
and his feeling that they are involved in an exciting experiment without adults. As a boy who represents
the civilized, English society, he is neither as savage as Jack nor as cerebral as Piggy. He provides
an example of how the leader in a community must strive to utilize the intellectual resources available
in solving communal problems. This chapter shows Ralph’s skills of organization and governance
starting to wane. He is struggling to implement his agenda for the meeting and finds he is unable
to control the assembly, which degenerates into a mob of "noise and excitement, scramblings,
screams and laughter." He finds himself lost "in a maze of thoughts that were rendered
vague by his lack of words to express them." This lack of mental clarity recalls Jack’s difficulty
in expressing himself described in Chapter 3. Such a loss of verbal command bodes ill
for Ralph and the community because his seat of authority is the platform, a symbol of the verbal
communication and thoughtful debate. Ralph’s mental acumen is subject to the same decay
as his clothing, frayed as both are by the rigors of the primitive life.
Yet the crisis of the lost rescue opportunity spurs Ralph to grasp some new concepts,
revelations following each other thick and fast as he makes his way to the platform
and sits on the chief’s log. His growth is evident in his musings as he ponders matters
more conceptual than he ever has before. Realizing the difficulty of this lifestyle in contrast
to its initial glamour, he "smiled jeeringly," as an adult might look back
with cynicism on the ideals held as a youth. Ralph is losing his innocence quickly,
but gaining an understanding of natural processes not available to him in the sheltered society
he came from. "With a convulsion of the mind, Ralph discovered dirt and decay ...
At that he began to trot" toward the platform and the civilization it represents, in a physical reaction
to the abstract truth newly present within him.
Piggy and Ralph
Once on the platform, more revelations engulf Ralph. He considers the springy log that shifts
during assemblies and throws off the boys sitting on it, and ponders how maintenance of the status quo
has taken precedence over the simple solution of securing the log with a stone wedge. He notes
that the light of late sunset makes the entire place look different, calling into question the reality
of its usual appearance. Suddenly Ralph recognizes the value and talents of the intellectually gifted
Piggy, a conscious appreciation foreshadowed by the allegiance formed in Chapter 4 when
"Not even Ralph knew how a link between him and Jack had been snapped and fastened
elsewhere." At the same time, Ralph realizes that "Piggy was no chief,"
understanding intuitively that a leader needs the popular support Piggy can’t garner,
hindered by his lack of charisma or popular appeal.
Up to this point, Ralph himself has been leading by instinct and charisma. Now he realizes that
"if you were a chief, you had to think, you had to be wise ... thought was a valuable thing,
that got results." Simultaneously, he realizes "I can’t think. Not like Piggy."
This sentiment echoes Piggy’s question to the boys in Chapter 2, after they’ve accidentally
caused the forest fire: "How can you expect to be rescued if you don’t ... act proper?"
In that scenario, Piggy links social conventions with results, in a logical relationship of cause and effect
lost on the emotional crowd. Social conventions are not necessarily based in rational thought,
but they do provide a framework for rational discussion and thought.
Ralph has clearly learned something about establishing a forum for discussion: "One had to sit,
attracting all eyes to the conch, and drop words like heavy round stones among the little groups that crouched
or squatted." Golding’s word choices here evoke a distinct sense of primitivism, a savage lifestyle
where words are stones and the chief presides over an electorate that crouches and squats to hear him speak.
Just as Chapter 4 lays out a series of microcosms with the littluns’ interactions, the diction here links
the platform assemblies to both ends of the social or civil spectrum, from pre-verbal tribe gatherings
to modern governmental institutions.
With hunting, Jack has a skill that is becoming increasingly more persuasive to the group in their present
environment than does Ralph. Jack’s appeal to the primitive, baser, instinctive nature of the community,
coupled with his aggressive, self-assured combative personality, is now appealing more and more
to the group. At the same time, Ralph’s political and natural leadership abilities coupled with his visceral
optimism and common sense are having diminishing impact on the affairs of the boys as their baser
natures become increasingly prevalent.
In this chapter’s assembly, Ralph’s new appreciation for thought leads him to rely too heavily on logic.
While he presents his agenda point by point, attempting a rational approach to the fear he knows they feel,
night is falling and the boys are growing restless. "We’ve got to talk about this fear and decide
there’s nothing in it," he says, as if a phobia can be defused through discussion. As the brainy
representative of civilization, Piggy continues along these utterly rational lines. "‘Life,’ said Piggy
expansively, ‘is scientific’" in his explanation that such an emotional concern can be addressed
as a pathology with the twentieth-century invention of psychology. His assertion that soon humankind
would be flying to Mars indicates his confidence in technology, which he holds out as a source of comfort.
Yet Jack provides the most comfort to the boys in this assembly because he portrays the object of their fear
as an actual animal, one that can be tracked, and "[t]he whole assembly applauded him with relief"
when he points out that he has never seen a frightening beast of any kind in the forest; his skills as a tracker
are undeniable. Jack orders everyone to be frightened if they must—he acknowledges that even
he feels that same fear at times—but not to fear an animal-beast. Jack pleases the crowd
with his practical take on the beast and his definitive pronouncement that "you’ll have to put up
with [the fear] just like the rest of us."
Given the day’s lost rescue opportunity, Ralph implements the additional precaution of using only
the signal fire to cook rather than starting small wasteful fires on the beach—an idea
that is solidly grounded in reality. Still counting on logic to carry his agenda, Ralph points out
"You voted me for chief. Now you do what I say." Ralph thus raises the issue
of the electorate’s obligation to the rule. Winning of public opinion is both a reasoned and
an emotionally based process. Every politician knows that popular opinion is easily swayed
from one leader to another; the general public’s perception of who is the best leader is frequently
based not on which leader has benefited the group the most, but who has gained favor most recently.
Already, Ralph’s authority has lost ground, due to the concrete victory of a kill offered by Jack,
the adventure and drama of the hunts, and the overall emotional nature of a crowd.
Ralph, Piggy, and Simon assume that adults could solve the problems they face on the island.
After the assembly, the three boys detail the advantages adults bring, crediting adults with
the greatest efficacy and civility: "Grownups know things ... They ain’t afraid of the dark.
They’d meet and have tea and discuss. Then things would be all right." Ralph has been trying
to uphold that model, using discussion as a means to set things right, but this chapter sees him
lose faith in it. When the other boys have been once again led off by Jack, Ralph cannot bring himself
to summon them back.
Although Piggy is an undoubted representative of logic and science, he is the first to address the idea
that the fear could be based on a fear of self and each other, of something inherent in humanity. Piggy
developed his shrewd understanding of human nature during the time spent bedridden by asthma—the
equivalent for him of Simon’s secret place in the jungle. For Piggy, the fear is less a concept rooted in knowledge
of humanity’s dark side than the practical fear of an outsider, a vulnerable boy disliked by the stronger,
more aggressive boys.
Like Piggy, Simon is different from the others: He has fainting spells, sticks up for Piggy even
if unobtrusively, and has the special hidden place in the forest; later chapters reveal him
as a visionary. Because the other boys don’t understand Simon, they fear him. When he reveals
that it was he who inadvertently frightened one of the littluns by venturing into the jungle at night,
he gives them a concrete reason to chastise him. Jack holds him up for ridicule; the "derisive
laughter that rose had fear in it and condemnation"—two emotions that go hand in hand
as the condemnation makes the group feel protected from the fear they’ve experienced.
Simon’s death is foreshadowed in this chapter, as he is made scapegoat for the boys’ unshakeable fear.
His question to them, "What’s the dirtiest thing there is?" demands an answer far too abstract
for this crowd. Once again, Jack provides a concrete and non-threatening answer, an answer far simpler
than the answer Simon seeks, which is evil. Simon can’t express precisely what he understands because
he lacks a sophisticated education or training in dealing with abstract concepts; he is, after all, a ten-year-old boy.
Simon’s inability to articulate what he sees as "mankind’s essential illness" mirrors Jack’s inability
to effectively express "the compulsion to track down and kill that was swallowing him up." Both boys
want to describe the same thing, but Simon has reached an abstract understanding of the animality
that can produce evil effects while Jack is living it. Of course, Jack later stirs up the group into such
a frenzy of animality that Simon is murdered.
This chapter expands upon the theme of humankind’s latent depravity, resorting to the savagery
of self-indulgence in the absence of social rules, mores, and control to the contrary. Such control
is the basis of most social conventions and institutions, which are designed to promote self-control
and civilized discourse. The symbol of such conventions and institutions is the platform. In this chapter
the platform’s protective powers break down when the assembly dissolves into "arguing,
gesticulating shadows. To Ralph, seated, this seemed the breaking up of sanity." When Ralph
sees the disorderly arguing breaking out and taking over the assembly, he perceives not only that
he has lost control of the group but that the group is losing control of itself.
Chapter 5: Glossary
lavatory – [Chiefly Brit.] a flush toilet.
taken short – informal phrase for having diarrhea.
jolly – [Brit. Informal] very; altogether.
bogie – an imaginary evil being or spirit; goblin.
mucking about – [Slang, Chiefly Brit.] wasting time; puttering around.
sod you – a vulgar British slang phrase showing extreme contempt.
nuts – a slang exclamation of disgust, scorn, disappointment, refusal, etc.
bollocks – a vulgar slang exclamation expressing anger, disbelief, etc.
Chapter 6: Summary
After the assembly, all the boys go to sleep. Above them an aerial battle is taking place.
A casualty of the battle floats down to the island on his opened parachute. The wind drags
the body to rest at the top of the mountain. The breeze inflates the parachute occasionally,
making the body appear to sit up and then sink forward again. Samneric, tending the fire
on the mountain, catch a glimpse of the body’s movement and hear the parachute inflating.
They flee to Ralph in a panic with a story exaggerated by their fear.
The dead airman
At dawn, Ralph calls an assembly, where they decide to investigate the only spot on the island
left unexplored: the castle-like rock formation at one end. With Piggy and the littluns remaining
behind on the beach, Ralph and the others go to the castle. Ralph goes first by himself,
followed a few minutes later by Jack. After they establish that the beast is not there,
the other boys join them in the castle and want to play there a while. They resist when Ralph
announces that they need to all go check on the fire, but he forces the issue and Jack leads
the way back up to the fire site.
Chapter 6: Commentary
This chapter begins and ends ominously. The aerial battle that opens the chapter establishes
that war continues to rage in the world where most of the boys long to return. Ralph, Piggy, and
Simon finished the previous chapter detailing the merits of adults and adult behavior, how adults
would remedy their unpleasant situation with ease and dignity. Yet that night, "a sign came
down from the world of grownups" that is frightening and mysterious and changes the entire
complexion of the group for the worse. When Samneric establish to everyone’s satisfaction that
an actual beast does exist, the boys shift automatically and instinctively into an aggressive mode
based on fear: "the circle began to change. It faced out, rather than in, and the spears
of sharpened wood were like a fence."
The main theme of this chapter is the effect of fear. For Samneric, their initial fright magnifies
their involvement with the creature from merely seeing movement and hearing the parachute
to being actively chased down the mountain as they flee. They report eyes, teeth, and claws
that they couldn’t possibly have seen. The other boys are so eager for a remedy to this fear
that they feel the first unified urge for mutiny when Ralph forces them to leave the perceived
safety of the fort-like castle rock to check on the fire.
Fear acts as a sort of litmus test for leadership. While Piggy and Jack both put forth unworkable plans
of action—Piggy wanting to restrict their living area to the platform, Jack wanting to rush out and
hunt the beast down—Ralph is able to proceed with sense and caution. Harkening back to
his new appreciation for the power of thought, Ralph lays out his concerns about both plans and
asserts, "So we’ve got to think." He points out that the beast obviously can’t be hunted
like the pigs because it leaves no tracks; otherwise, Jack would have already seen the tracks.
Remaining all the time on the platform will not work due to lack of fire, food, and space.
Ralph is able to keep the group’s focus on the hope for rescue, despite Jack’s attack on his authority.
Fear brings out the dictator in Jack. He attempts to take control of the group, claiming this situation
is "a hunter’s job" in which Ralph is not qualified to command. Showing yet again no mercy
for the helpless or vulnerable, he advocates abandoning the littluns without a guardian while everyone
else goes on the hunt. Like a dictator, he assigns a high value only to those he finds useful or agreeable
to his views and looks to silence those who do not please him. Making a pitch for censorship, Jack declares,
"We don’t need the conch any more. We know who ought to say things. What good did Simon do
Yet Simon is the only boy who has insight into the nature of the true beast, the abstraction that Jack feels
watching him in the jungle. Pondering all the characteristics of this animal beast Samneric seem to have
discovered, Simon sees that all the pieces don’t add up: If this beast had claws and wings, why was it not
fast or fierce enough to catch Samneric? When Simon tries to visualize what this beast might look like,
"there arose before his inward sight the picture of a human at once heroic and sick" which
is a depiction of Golding’s vision of humanity as flawed by inherent evil. Golding gives this knowledge
to Simon, an outsider, to reflect the place visionaries or mystics typically hold in society: on the fringes,
little understood by the majority, and so often feared or disregarded. As a mystic, Simon is not fully present
in the physical world, living so inside his head that he can’t keep from banging it into a tree as they make
their way to the castle rock. Simon was unable the night before to make the other boys see his outlook;
even Ralph, with his new appreciation for thought and wisdom, dismisses Simon without considering
that he may have valuable insight.
Ralph has more pressing concerns in light of this crisis. As the leader, he feels the obligation
to lead the way into the unexplored territory at the castle rock, even though he is initially as frightened
as everyone else. He even suggests that Jack go first, perhaps daring Jack to live up to his declaration
that this is "a hunter’s job." Yet Ralph is unable to overlook his own pressing sense
of responsibility and takes the lead alone around the cliff. In a credit to the conditioning he received
back home, politeness is his default even in this tense moment. As he is about to embark,
Simon mumbles, perhaps in an attempt to comfort him, that he doesn’t believe in the beast;
Ralph "answered him politely, as if agreeing about the weather. ‘No. I suppose not.’"
British culture is famed for such civilized reserve in emotional times; by the standards of the society
he’s left behind, Ralph is a gentleman. The calmness of his reply is also a testament to his strong alliance
with reason, further characterizing Ralph as person who values thought and logic.
When Ralph is actually on the path, he "realized with surprise that he did not really expect
to meet any beast and didn’t know what he would do about it if he did." This realization
underscores Ralph’s ability to remain calm and realistic in stressful situations. During the showdown
with Jack during the morning’s assembly, his clearheaded response helped him maintain his authority;
the boys found his hope for rescue during this height of fear more appealing than Jack’s desire to hunt.
Jack self-indulgently seeks the glory of the hunt while Ralph seeks safety for the group, a fact not lost
on the other boys at the time.
Inevitably, once Ralph has accepted the obligation that comes with leadership and has made his way
alone toward the castle rock, Jack follows. "Couldn’t let you do it on your own," he explains,
motivated less by concern than by an inability to allow Ralph his full share of glory as a solo explorer.
Immediately, Jack claims the area as ideal for a fort and identifies a loose boulder as a weapon.
The other boys warm up to Jack’s plan right away and prefer to remain there playing fort and feeling secure
rather than follow Ralph’s command that they all make the journey to the fire site to re-light the fire.
The group’s favor swings back and forth from Ralph to Jack ever more rapidly. After the successful hunt
led by the swaggering Jack, Ralph in contrast has begun to seem to the boys like the absurd, stodgy
authority figures back home. Samneric mock his justifiable anger later when they are out of its reach.
"Eric sniggered. ‘Wasn’t he waxy?’ ... ‘Remember old Waxy at school?’" Imitating
the schoolmaster they had nicknamed Waxy for consistently waxing angry at his students’ classroom
antics, Samneric laugh at Ralph as well, despite the fact that their desertion of duty caused his anger
and the loss of possible rescue. Perhaps they laugh to dispel their guilt or because their childish
perspective has already allowed them to forget the loss they caused. Either way, Ralph’s priorities
are lost on them.
In this chapter, even Ralph begins to lose sight of his priorities. When he reminds Jack that they need
to keep the signal going, he explains "That’s all we’ve got." In the previous chapter,
Ralph uses the same phrase about the rules when Jack challenges their usefulness. The rules
represent a certain civility of domestic order, which Ralph was hard pressed to create or maintain
prior to this current crisis. Now his focus narrows from civility to survival. The smoke signal is truly
all they have because he doubts they can kill or control a beast that can’t be tracked; all he can
hope for now is rescue. Once inside castle rock, however, the area that becomes Jack’s domain,
a "strange thing happened in his [Ralph’s] head. Something flittered there in front of his mind
like a bat’s wing, obscuring the idea"—the hope for a return to the ponies and tea time
of which he dreams. The figure envisioned by Simon of "a human at once heroic and sick"
could be a composite of Ralph and Jack. Now getting worn down by the hardships and incomprehensible
fears of primitive life and out of reach of the conditioning of civilization, Ralph is gradually becoming infected
by the savagery that is rapidly eating away at Jack’s humanity.
Chapter 6: Glossary
waxy – [Brit. Informal] enraged.
polyp – any of various cnidarians, as the sea anemone or hydra,
having a mouth fringed with many small, slender tentacles bearing stinging cells at the top
of a tubelike body.
plinth – a course of brick or stone, often a projecting one, along the base of a wall.
embroil – to draw into a conflict or fight; involve in trouble.
diffident – lacking self-confidence; timid; shy.
Chapter 7: Summary
On their way back to the mountain, Ralph indulges in a fantasy of cleanliness and grooming.
Disheartened by the group’s dishevelment and dirt, he spends time staring out at the vastness
of the sea and realizing how high the odds are against rescue. Simon joins him and, seemingly
reading his mind, prophesies that Ralph will make it back home.
On the way to the mountain, Jack leads a pig hunt in which he gets slightly wounded.
Ralph gets his first taste of hunting, striking a boar in the snout with his spear.
After the boar gets away, the group begins a mock hunt that gets out of control
and hurts the boy acting as the pig. Ralph urges the group back on their way,
but the difficult path before them impedes their progress. Simon volunteers
to cross the island alone to inform Piggy that the others won’t be home until after dark.
By the time they reach the base of the mountain, darkness has fallen. Spurred on
by Jack’s bravado, Ralph, Jack, and Roger volunteer to continue the search for the beast
while the other boys return to the platform. Once they reach the burnt patch, Ralph,
tired of Jack’s continual mocking, challenges Jack to go on by himself; Jack returns
from the mountaintop terrified. Roger and Ralph investigate as well and are
equally terrified by the image of the beast: the dead paratrooper appears to be
a live ape-like creature that seems to look at them when the breeze catches
his parachute. All three boys flee to the platform in the dark.
Chapter 7: Commentary
Ralph undergoes significant emotional and psychological development in this chapter.
Following his spontaneous participation in a pig hunt, he experiences the exhilarating
mixture of emotions—"I hit him! The spear stuck in"—comparable
to those that drive Jack and the other hunters and which underlie Jack’s credibility with the group.
He, then, "sunned himself in their new respect and felt that hunting was good after all."
Heretofore, Ralph had failed to recognize this instinct to hunt and kill in himself. Now that he has
experienced these emotions, he has gained an appreciation that Jack’s perspectives and priorities
are present, even if latent, within us all. This one experience communicates more to Ralph
about hunting’s attractions than all the bickering with Jack before. Ralph’s humanity is deteriorating;
his savage self has been touched and awakened.
Armed with this understanding, he is able to see Jack "infuriatingly, for the first time,"
recognizing that he could have potentially used Jack as a resource all this time rather than competing
with him. Realizing that their current path is severely hindering their progress to the mountain,
he now calls on Jack’s knowledge of the island, garnered during his hunting activities, to identify
an alternate path. As Jack continues to compete rather than cooperate with him, Ralph realizes
that Jack becomes aggressive whenever he is no longer in charge.
As Ralph and Jack continue to compete rather than cooperate, the antipathy that each generates
in the other becomes more evident. Jack becomes increasingly aggressive in situations involving
Ralph and his leadership. At one point, Ralph calls on the knowledge passed on to him by Piggy
and challenges Jack directly by asking him, "Why do you hate me?" He doesn’t get
an answer from Jack, but the reaction of the other boys is that "something indecent had been
said." The boys recognize that Ralph is opening up the floodgates of aggression and dislike,
which civilized conventions are intended to control. Nevertheless, as the situation slides increasingly
toward confrontation, Ralph, the leader, the symbol of civility and hope, "turned away first."
Throughout this chapter, Ralph displays and surprises himself with his coolness under
pressure—despite his participation in the crazed attack on Robert and in contrast
to his grief-stricken, emotional loss of control in the last chapter. Again and again,
he shows a realistic grasp of their situation only to be jeered at by Jack. Despite
his pride in hitting the boar, he understands immediately that boys with "foolish
wooden stick[s]" as spears are no match for the large powerful animal.
"But he’d do us!" he protests when Jack orders the hunters to follow
the boar’s flight. Jack follows alone and is wounded for his lack of sense. Later Ralph
is shocked to find himself accompanying Jack up the mountain in the dark to search
for the beast, but his response does not betray him. The coolness of his reply renders
invalid Jack’s supremely taunting invitation. Such instinctual calm reflects again
the same strength Ralph displayed in the previous chapter when he made sure
to take the lead at castle rock. While Jack’s aggressive resentment has no room
for reason, Ralph is not afraid once they have set off to ask for another volunteer
to accompany them or to point out that their journey up the mountain in the dark is foolish.
Despite his coolness, Ralph can’t help competing with Jack, much to the bloodthirsty crowd’s delight.
Hearing Jack issue to Ralph the invitation to join him in the nighttime search for the beast, "the
other boys ... turned back to sample this fresh rub of two spirits in the dark." The boys
as a group display a certain lust for conflict, evident not only in their fascinated appraisal of the conflict
of Jack and Ralph but also in their frenzied attack on Robert. The game innocently begun by Robert
and Ralph is not so much boys at play as the beast at work.
Note that Golding uses the phrase "overmastering" to describe the urge to inflict pain,
evoking the theme developed in Chapter 4 with the littlun Henry’s experiments with mastery
over the tide pool creatures and the hunters imposing their collective will on the slaughtered pig.
Stimulated by this chapter’s unsuccessful hunt and Robert’s vulnerability at the hands of the crowd,
the boys are mastered themselves by a larger force, impulses they can neither understand nor
acknowledge. Even the victim, Robert, cannot address directly the forces that were driving the group.
He alludes to his narrowly averted fate when he points out that to improve this so-called game that
"You want a real pig ... because you’ve got to kill him." His initial response,
however, is to downplay his justifiable fear and attempt to regain his place within the group by saying
"Oh, my bum!" as if a sore bottom were the extent of the damage. Perhaps he realizes
on an instinctive level that maintaining his status as one of the group is critical to survival:
The next time the boys play this game, the outsider, Simon, dies.
Ralph attempts to defuse the frightening attack in which he has just participated by placing
the beating within the context of their civilization’s legitimate outlets for aggression. "‘Just a game,’
said Ralph uneasily. ‘I got jolly badly hurt at rugger once.’" Maurice, on the other hand, looks
to refine the process, suggesting that they add a drum and a fire to do the dance "properly,"
although he’s not sure of why he feels they need these things. Maurice seems to be speaking out
of some primeval urge to recreate the rituals of a tribal sacrifice. While both Robert and Roger point out
that they’ll need a pig to complete the game, realizing that this game properly ends in death,
Jack looks for a human, someone who could dress up as a pig. He too must acknowledge
on some level that this game will inevitably have fatal consequences and, like a true dictator,
suggests using one of the littluns, the most vulnerable and, in his eyes, the least valuable of the group.
Given Simon’s need to solitude, it’s not surprising that he volunteers to take Ralph’s message
to Piggy by crossing the island alone. His loner tendencies make the other boys think he’s odd,
but, for the reader, Simon’s credibility as a mystic is established in this chapter. As if he is reading
Ralph’s mind, Simon interrupts Ralph’s strained, tense regard of the ocean’s vastness by telling him,
"You’ll get back to where you came from." Ralph responds with the opinion all the boys
hold of Simon: "You’re batty." Simon knows he’s right, however, and he repeats
his prophecy with emphasis. Note that he uses "you" instead of "we,"
realizing, perhaps, on some level that he, himself, will not make it back. Consumed by his own concerns,
Ralph doesn’t question Simon’s omission of himself but takes comfort in the express certainty
of the other boy’s prophecy.
Ralph seeks comfort throughout this chapter in images of home, indulging in a fantasy of bathing
and grooming and a recollection of the peaceful life of ponies, cereal and cream, and children’s books
he had once known. Ralph’s perspective on the island has changed drastically from the first day,
when "A kind of glamour was spread over ... the scene." Now as he looks
at the other boys and sees how thoroughly grimy they are, he finds their condition very different
from "the spectacular dirt of boys who have fallen into mud," a temporary dirtying
probably initiated by some good-natured horseplay and easily remedied by a warm bath.
This dirtiness is an outer manifestation of the darkening of the soul—the emergence of the evil within.
Ralph now longs for the comfort of the familiar, but the home he wishes for is a glamorized ideal.
He remembers his former life as a place where "Everything was all right; everything was
good-humored and friendly." The reader, of course, is aware that back home—the world
the boys have left—exactly the same sorts of human weaknesses which dominate the boys
are playing out in the form of nuclear war. As Ralph looks out at the ocean and viscerally experiences
its size and power, he considers how the other side of the island offers "the shield of
the quiet lagoon" and midday mirages to protect them all from the truth of the ocean’s vastness.
Faced with the reality of the ocean, he feels as though hope for rescue, and by extension for civilization,
has become a mirage.
The images of civilization are in his head as are its voices—the same voices that
conditioned Roger’s aim to miss Henry, for example, and Piggy’s, chiding him for being childish
and another voice scolding him for being foolish enough to allow Jack to goad him into seeking out
a potentially dangerous animal in the dark with only two other boys and spears of wood.
In counterpart to the voices of civilization in his head is Jack’s voice, a disembodied voice
in the dark like the figurative devil on his shoulder: "‘If you don’t want to go on,’
said the voice sarcastically, ‘I’ll go up by myself.’" By not attributing this challenge
directly to Jack, Golding not only indicates the supreme darkness in which the boys
are working but also emphasizes the evil that Jack represents. He describes Jack
as a "stain in the darkness;" when Jack leaves, "The stain vanished.
Another took its place."
The other stain is Roger, the darkened figure who joined them when all the other boys fled
to the safety of the beach. Roger has already established himself as mean-spirited, coldly
following the littlun Henry to frighten him with stones that just miss. During Robert’s beating,
Roger was "fighting to get close," to take part in the hurting before it ended.
Finally, it is symbolically significant that, in this second ascent up the mountain, Roger,
who is evil and sadistic, has replaced Simon, who is spiritual and mystic, representing
the devolution of the boys toward their primitive, savage nature. Later chapters reveal Roger
as more sadistic even than Jack.
Confronted with the dead paratrooper, however, Roger is just as terrified as the other two boys.
They fear the dead man because they believe him to be a live, predatory creature. He is merely
a catalyst, however, for the savagery that will run amok on the island. Just as Ralph feels himself
taken over by the bloodlust that infects the hunters, he gets a taste of hatred as a means of courage,
forcing himself to approach the false beast by fusing "his fear and loathing into a hatred,"
a hatred that bolsters his will and drives him forward to investigate where his good sense tells him not to go.
When this ape-like creature "lifted its head, holding toward them the ruin of a face,"
it is showing them the ruin of their humanity as their instinctive evil begins to take over when
they are weakened by fear.
Chapter 7: Glossary
dun – dull grayish-brown.
coverts – covered or protected places; shelters.
toilet – the process of dressing or grooming oneself.
scurfy – having a condition, as dandruff, in which the skin sheds little, dry scales.
brine – water full of salt.
do us – here, kill us.
bum – [Brit. Slang] the buttocks.
rugger – [Brit. Informal] rugby.
funk – a cowering or flinching through fear; panic.
windy – long-winded, pompous, boastful.
impervious – not affected by something or not feeling the effects of something.
Chapter 8: Summary
Ralph angers Jack by telling Piggy that even Jack would hide if the beast attacked them.
In retaliation, Jack attempts his most serious mutiny yet, trying to convince the other boys
to impeach Ralph. When the boys refuse to openly vote against Ralph, Jack announces
his defection and runs off into the forest.
Simon suggests they all go face whatever’s on the mountain, but no one wants to go.
Piggy, glad that Jack is gone, suggests they build a signal fire on the beach so that
they won’t have to go up the mountain. While everyone gathers wood, most of the biguns
creep away to join Jack. Simon disappears as well, going to his hidden spot in the forest
to rest after his unsuccessful address to the group. Piggy starts the fire with his glasses.
Meanwhile Jack leads another successful hunt, attacking and killing a nursing sow
and then impaling her head on a stick as an offering to the beast, coincidentally
in full view of the spot where Simon sits concealed. Simon hallucinates, thinking
that the head is talking to him, until he loses consciousness.
The Lord of the Flies
To get fire for a pig roast, Jack stages a theft of some burning branches from the beach fire and invites Ralph’s group to the roast in an attempt to recruit them to join his tribe. Ralph tries to rally his group to his side but loses his train of thought when he tries to remember the importance of being rescued, causing them to doubt him briefly.
Chapter 8: Commentary
Ralph speaks realistically when he tells Piggy that even Jack would hide if the beast attacked;
after all, the night before Jack had been as terrified as the other two boys when he saw the dead
paratrooper. Jack cannot accept this realistic view of himself. In defense, he offers to the group
a rationale for impeaching Ralph—"He’d never have got us meat," as if hunting
skills make for an effective leader. Noting that "He isn’t a prefect and we don’t know anything
about him" opens up speculation about Ralph’s qualifications as a leader.
Piggy and Ralph
Jack further condemns Ralph as one who talks rather than one who gets results, but Ralph
himself has long ago lost patience with talk, finding it an ineffective and inappropriate tool
for their situation. His position on the usefulness of rhetoric is clear in his response to
Jack’s assembly."“‘Talk,’ said Ralph bitterly, ‘Talk, talk, talk.’"
Reluctant to vote openly against Ralph, the boys sneak off to join Jack and return only when masked
by their new tribal war paint, which has a liberating effect. Jack so loses himself in this liberation that,
symbolizing the casting off of all social and civil encumbrances, he abandons clothing altogether,
wearing only his paint and his knife when he presents his invitation to Ralph’s group. "He was safe
from shame or self-consciousness behind the mask of his paint."
Jack strives to be a chief in some grand fashion seen in a book or a movie, evidenced by
the bizarrely formal announcement and flourish he makes Maurice and Robert perform once
he has spoken to Ralph’s group. Little does he realize he himself is fulfilling the role of the beast.
Wrapped up in the caveman-like activities of hunting, face-painting, and chest-beating disguised
as addresses to the assembly, Jack doesn’t feel the need for rescue and so distracts the other boys
from keeping the fire lit. He tells the assembly "Yes. The beast is a hunter" without taking
a moment to reflect that perhaps the hunter is the beast.
Having lost and been wounded by the powerful, aggressive boar in the previous chapter,
Jack chooses now to attack a defenseless sow who is vulnerable while she nurses
her piglets—an act of supreme cruelty. The sow’s death and disfigurement marks
the triumph of evil and the climax of the novel. Jack’s selection of the vulnerable sow
arises from his defeated attempt to depose Ralph and foreshadows his later actions.
While he couldn’t impeach Ralph openly and was wounded emotionally in the attempt,
he can defeat him by killing the defenseless boys in his tribe, Piggy and Simon.
Voices can be a tool of evil as well. In the previous chapter, Jack’s voice came unidentified out
of the darkness like the devil’s voice. While his choirboys-turned-hunters prepare unknowingly
in this chapter to commit cruelty against their former friends and group members by joining Jack,
Golding points out for contrast that "their voices had been the song of angels"
back in civilization. Now they take part in slaughtering a mother pig and putting her head
on a stake, offering it to the supposed beast while "The silence accepted the gift."
Note that when the sow’s head speaks to Simon, it takes on a male voice, becoming the
Lord of the Flies. Interestingly, Piggy and the Lord of the Flies both give the same answer
to the same question, although they each phrase it slightly differently. Ralph asks Piggy
"what makes things break up like they do?" and receives the reply "I dunno.
I expect it’s him ... Jack." Meanwhile Simon hears the staked head tell him,
"You knew, didn’t you? ... I’m the reason why it’s no go? Why things are what they are?"
The Lord of the Flies, a literal translation of the Greek word Beelzebub, symbolizes evil, and Jack is evil
personified. Piggy’s assessment of the problem is actually much tamer in intent, based not on a consideration
of evil but what he terms a lack of common sense (reason).
The Lord of the Flies
True to Piggy’s assertion that "It’s them that haven’t no common sense that make trouble
on this island," Jack doesn’t seem to have much common sense. He dictates to his hunters
that they forget the beast and stop having nightmares, as if either mental process could be controlled
on command. Piggy has a more rational solution to their situation, one that actually requires more courage
on the boys’ part than Jack’s foolishly unrealistic demands. "We just got to go on, that’s all.
That’s what grownups would do." Ralph wishes he could think more like a grownup,
impressed with Piggy’s astuteness in noting that Samneric need to take separate shifts
in tending the fire rather than taking their turn together. Piggy and Ralph rely on adult behavior
as a model because they still maintain the image of grownups as eminently capable and reasonable.
They equate adulthood with knowledge and higher understanding.
In a way, Simon shares the same perception but sees the darker side of knowledge.
He sees the sow’s eyes as "dim with the infinite cynicism of adult life"
and later hears the head speak with a schoolmaster’s voice, telling him to accept
the presence of evil on the island. This view of adults is not defined by the civilized
politeness and capability the boys imagined just two nights before, after the assembly.
Cynicism results from gaining experience while losing optimism; having witnessed
the pig’s slaughter and defacement has given Simon experience in death and brutality
and caused him to lose hope. Yet he soldiers on in his quest to discover the identity
of the beast on the mountain top, the beast he knows is false because he has just had
a conversation with the true beast.
Just as Piggy and Simon seem to share an idea about the cause of the island society’s disintegration,
Simon and Jack have similar revelations as well. During the first successful hunt in Chapter 4,
Jack is excited by "the knowledge that had come to them when they closed in on the struggling
pig." In this chapter, Simon’s "gaze was held by that ancient, inescapable recognition"
as he looks upon the Lord of the Flies. Both boys are connecting with the savagery that begets evil,
but Jack revels in it while Simon is undone by it, trapped by his vision of the Lord of the Flies
in his hidden spot until he passes out.
Another concept related to this knowledge of savagery is a twist on the idea of fun. From the beginning,
Ralph’s goal for the group was for everyone to have fun. Such a goal did not seem farfetched given that
the boys were on a pristine tropical island, the type featured in the adventure stories they all had read.
Once Jack defects and lures his hunters away, he also promises fun, the kind that comes with dressing up
like savages and having adventurous hunts. Although Jack may not realize the fun he is promising will turn
into deadly cruelty, Simon knows that Jack holding a position of power can have only ill effects for
the more vulnerable boys like Piggy, the littluns, and himself. Simon hears the Lord of the Flies
say, "We’re going to have fun on this island! So don’t try it on ... or else."
Now the offer to have fun is a threat, with the Lord of the Flies warning Simon not to try stopping
the consequences of Jack’s new regime but to accept the savagery that will overtake the island.
Ralph responds to the defection of the hunters with increasing despair. Wishing he could think
more like an adult, he turns to Piggy for advice and insight. Piggy keeps alive the fire when he has
the "intellectual daring" to suggest maintaining a fire on the beach instead of on the mountain.
During the small assembly held after rebuilding the fire, Piggy prompts Ralph when he forgets what
he was going to say. By reminding him of rescue and thinking to move the fire, Piggy is fighting
for his survival with his intellect just as Jack looks to conquer with physicality. In the end, Ralph
will have to combine both physical abilities and brains to outrun Jack’s tribe. For now, Ralph relies
on Piggy for hope and for answers.
Earlier, Simon asked the boys a question so fundamental that they couldn’t answer it: "What else
is there to do?" In a way, the boys spend the rest of the book responding to this question but never
in the way Simon wants them to. He sees the need to face their fears, to approach the beast on the mountain
in daylight in order to understand its true identity and get on with the business of facing the beast
within themselves. Instead, the others respond with various avoidance methods: Jack offering a libation,
a head on a stake, Ralph moving the fire to the beach, Piggy advocating a pragmatic perseverance.
Their responses are indicative of each boy’s character: Jack focuses on the concrete action of a primitive
offering, Ralph wants to keep the home fire burning, and Piggy remains devoted to logic and realism.
Chapter 8: Glossary
prefect – in some private schools, esp. in England, an older student
with disciplinary authority.
rebuke – to blame or scold in a sharp way; reprimand.
cracked – [Informal] mentally unbalanced; crazy.
Chapter 9: Summary
As a storm builds over the island, Simon awakens from his faint and makes his way to the beast sighting
on the mountain. He finds the paratrooper’s body, inspects it, and realizes its true identity. From his vantage
point, he can see that most of the boys are at the fire at Jack’s camp, so he heads there to give everyone
the news. He is so weakened by the day’s experiences that he can barely walk.
Ralph and Piggy realize even the biguns loyal to Ralph have gone to Jack’s party. They go as well,
out of curiosity and hunger. Jack allows them to eat but, when everyone is finished eating, calls for
all the boys to indicate whether they’d like to join his group or remain with Ralph’s. Ralph makes
a pitch for the boys to stay with him, reminding them of the first day’s election. Jack has a strong
hold on them, however, playing up the role of tribal chief.
The storm breaks over the party. Jack orders a dance in response to the downpour. Ralph and Piggy
join in the outer fringes of the dance as well. Suddenly, Simon crawls out of the forest and into the center
of the dance circle. He tries to tell them about the true identity of the beast sighted on the mountain
but can barely make himself heard over the storm and the boys’ now frenzied chanting. Overcome
by its own momentum, the group turns on Simon as if he were the beast and kills him. The rain
increases and the boys back off, leaving Simon’s body on the beach. That night, the tide carries
his body away.
The storm’s wind fills the dead soldier’s parachute and lifts him up and over the island and out to sea.
This sight terrifies the boys, and they scatter, screaming.
Chapter 9: Commentary
This chapter focuses on Simon and the fulfillment of his role as a visionary mystic. Awakening
from his faint, he asks again out loud the question he put to the assembly in the previous chapter:
"What else is there to do?" He must face whatever is on the mountain. That confrontation
seems to have aged him: he walks with the difficulty of an old man, as if bowed down by "the infinite
cynicism of adult life" that he saw in the pig’s eyes.
Simon doesn’t seem to fear the beast sighted on the mountain. Given the doubts he had in Chapter 6
about this supposed beast and having had a visitation from the true beast, the Lord of the Flies, Simon
has moved past fear into another arena of emotion. Approaching the frightful figure on the mountain,
he sees it sit up and look at him; in response "He hid his face" as if in shame over
the boys’ misconceptions about its menace. Then he frees the lines of the soldier’s parachute
from the rocks, enabling the dead soldier to fly off during the storm, which it does upon Simon’s death.
In a way, the soldier is actually working as an agent of the true beast, bringing out the worst in the boys.
They do not band together to overcome this fearful situation but allow their own worst impulses to surface
and dominate, fragmenting into opposing groups and killing one of their own in a frenzy of fear
and savagery. Considering that his arrival on the island was brought about by a battle of the ongoing war,
the soldier truly was an emissary of the beast, the savagery that lurks in humanity.
Of the boys, only Simon took the presence of an unidentified creature on the mountain as a sign
to be explored or a symbol to be considered, rather than as an indication of an animal-beast’s presence.
By courageously seeking out the figure on the mountain, Simon fulfills his destiny of revelation.
Having confronted both the Lord of the Flies (the sow’s head on a stick) and the so-called beast
(the soldier’s corpse), Simon understands the nature of the evil on the island. He doesn’t get
to share his revelation with the other boys because they are not ready to accept or understand it.
They are living out the true beast’s actions while they think of themselves as playacting the roles
of painted savages, which is Jack’s idea of fun—and the true beast’s as well.
When the tide carries off Simon’s body, covered in the jellyfish-like phosphorescent creatures
that come in with the tide, Golding shifts the focus from Simon’s body’s movements to the much larger
progressions of the sun, moon, and earth because Simon represents a knowledge as fundamental
as the elements.
Simon's dead body
Golding uses the weather to symbolize a kind of universal assessment of the actions that have taken place
in the novel and as a way to underscore the tension between and extreme reactions of the boys. He opens
the chapter with an ominous description of the odd weather over the island: "the air was ready
to explode ... a brassy glare had taken the place of clear daylight." Then the downpour starts
in earnest immediately after Simon’s death, as though the weather were responding to the boys’ actions.
The use of the weather as a dramatic technique is an ancient and effective tool.
The desire for drama underlies the other boys’ desertion, Ralph tells Piggy. He assesses accurately
their basic motivation not as a wish to do evil but for the drama and game of Jack’s primal theater.
They are also drawn in by the enticement of meat and the protection that Jack seems to provide
as a fearless, aggressive hunter. Jack certainly is taken with the drama of it, forcing the other boys
to perform the bizarrely formal rituals. This role is no game for him though; by the time Ralph and Piggy
reach the party, Jack has clearly gone power-mad. Evoking images of Kurtz from Joseph Conrad’s
Heart of Darkness, Jack sits on a large log, "painted and garlanded ... like an idol."
Around him are arranged piles of food and drink as though they are offerings to him.
Just as Jack and the dead soldier seemed to have in common a desire to keep the fire from being lit,
they now have in common a link with apes. Ralph saw the dead soldier as "something like
a great ape" hunched over—a connection between the animality of the apes from
which humans are descended and the animality still present in humankind today. Now as Jack
sits in front of his tribe and considers the new arrivals, Ralph and Piggy, "Power ...
chattered in his ear like an ape." The devil on his shoulder is his own animality, looking
to master other creatures. He already has achieved mastery of those of his tribe: When he commands
that someone bring him a drink, someone does. They also address him as "Chief,"
a formality not demanded by Ralph. Jack expects subservience from his tribe, which they accept
as though he can protect them through strength of personality alone. Ralph is unable to enforce
his rules or his authority because he lacks Jack’s punitive nature and relies instead on the boys’ sense
of honor in following through on their promises.
When the rain starts, Jack orders the boys to dance in the rain, playing out the same mock hunt
in which Robert was hurt. The dance gives order to the boys’ panicked energy during the downpour
and acts as a defiance of the elements, a sort of rain dance in reverse. Even Ralph and Piggy decide
not to run immediately for the shelters but instead join in on the fringes. In this situation, they find
themselves seeking a more abstract kind of shelter instead in "this demented but partly secure
society" wherein "the brown backs of the fence ... hemmed in the terror and
made it governable."
The sense of protection in the repetitive chanting and the circular movements of the dance provides
the boys with another strong motivation for staying with Jack, a motivation Ralph hadn’t considered
when he commented to Piggy that the biguns joined Jack to play like savages with the hunting
and face paint. Jack has tapped into the power of repetitive rituals, where the person performing
the ritual feels "as though repetition would achieve safety of itself" despite the circumstances.
Repetitive rituals are present in nearly every cohesive group, from churchgoers performing the same prayers
and rites every Sunday to political parties chanting their slogans to military personnel following their prescribed
daily routines. Repetition provides comfort for the group because all the individual members know what
is expected of them within the context of the ritual and, by extension, within the group.
Being part of Jack’s tribe, with its attendant rituals and subservience, allows the boys to feel
as though they are relieved of all responsibility for what happens during their ritual dance.
While some of the boys, such as Ralph, felt uneasy with the beating Robert received in Chapter 7,
other boys simply enjoyed the "game" and thought of ways to refine it, such as Maurice
suggesting they add drums. Yet they all participated, drawn in by their animal selves. In this chapter,
the same effect is aggravated by the intensity of the thunder and the darkness.
Golding describes the mob murder scene: "There were no words, and no movements
but the tearing of teeth and claws." Again savagery is connected with a lack of verbal
communication; language is, of course, one of humankind’s greatest inventions and that
which separates humanity most dramatically from the lower forms of creatures. Further,
Golding uses the phrase "teeth and claws" (representing the primitive use
of physical attributes or features as weapons) instead of spears (the use of tools as weapons).
The phrase also recalls Samneric’s fanciful description of the beast as having teeth and claws
(although they neither felt nor saw them in reality). In this instance, the true beast—evil—acts
through the frenzied mob; those imagined teeth and claws bare themselves for real.
Once the frenzy dies down, however, the boys back off their prey and are astonished to see
"how small a beast it was." The truth of what they have done begins filtering in.
Their responses to the act they have committed are explored in Chapter 10.
Chapter 9: Glossary
derision – contempt or ridicule.
phosphorescence – a continuing luminescence without noticeable heat.
Chapter 10: Summary
The next morning, Ralph finds that only Piggy, Samneric, and some littluns remain in his camp.
Brooding over the previous night’s events, he points out to Piggy that they murdered Simon.
Piggy objects to the use of the term "murder" and doesn’t want Samneric to know
that he and Ralph were at least somewhat involved in the deadly dance. Samneric don’t want
to admit their own involvement, either.
Piggy and Ralph
Jack begins acting ever more like a cruel dictator to his own tribe members, having one
of the boys tied up and beaten for angering him. He plans a raid on Ralph’s camp to get fire
for another pig roast and tries to convince his uneasy followers that they had beaten but not killed
the beast the previous night. The beast had come to them in disguise, he asserts, in utter denial
that they had killed one of their former group.
Back at Ralph’s camp, the boys decide to let the fire die for the night rather than collect more wood
in the dark. Because Jack and his raiders can’t steal burning branches, they attack Ralph’s group
and steal Piggy’s glasses.
Chapter 10: Commentary
This chapter reveals the boys’ responses to their actions of the night before, when they beat Simon
to death in a tribal frenzy. Ralph is the only character who names the deed as murder and has a realistic,
unvarnished view of his participation. Back at the platform, he takes a seat in front of the chief’s log
rather than on it and contemplates the horror of what they’ve done. He feels both loathing and excitement
over the kill he witnessed, as Jack experienced the first time he killed a pig. He shudders at Piggy’s touch
on his shoulder; humanity has let him down. Putting the pieces together, he recalls the parachuted figure
drifting off the night before and Simon’s shouting about a dead man on the mountain, musing that
the life-like figure they saw on the mountaintop might have been the dead paratrooper rather than
an actual animal-beast. Getting to the heart of the matter, he says, "I’m frightened. Of us."
Although he initially owns up to his active role in the fatal dance, as a defense mechanism, Ralph
willingly takes the opportunity Piggy gives him to deny full participation, entering into a sort of functional denial.
When Piggy reminds Ralph that he himself remained on the outside of the circle, Ralph tries to amend
his position as well, now claiming that he, too, was on the outside of the circle and so could not have done
as much damage as the boys in the inner ring.
Piggy is in full-fledged denial of anyone’s responsibility, unable to process the death without blaming
Simon for his seemingly odd behavior. Ever the pragmatist, Piggy complains, "What good’re you
doing talking like that?" when Ralph brings up the highly charged issue of Simon’s death at their hands.
True, his involvement is somewhat limited; as Ralph mentions, Piggy stayed on the outside of the circle.
Golding doesn’t provide a reason as to why Piggy remained on the outside, whether his position
was due to his physical inability to make his way into the inner circle or whether he simply wasn’t able
to tap into the animality of the more physically abled boys or both. Golding, however, does include Piggy
in the damning description of the boys as they sit on the platform that morning, with the sun shining on
their “"befouled bodies."
Piggy and Ralph
Piggy tries to keep life scientific and intellectual, despite the previous night’s emotionally charged
incident, "searching for a formula" to explain the death. He asserts that the assault
on Simon was justifiable because Simon asked for it by inexplicably crawling out of the forest
into the ring. Piggy, of course, is unaware that Simon had to crawl because his visionary confrontation
with the true beast had so weakened him.
In responding to the death, Jack takes an entirely different direction from logic or common sense,
in direct conflict with the actual events they had all witnessed. Perhaps acting out of some guilt
he is unable to acknowledge, Jack becomes paranoid, posting guards at the entrance
to the castle rock area in case any of Ralph’s tribe tries to enter. One of the boys questions
this concern and Jack replies, "They’ll try to spoil things we do." Ironically,
he is also taking the part of the true beast, the Lord of the Flies, who told Simon not to try
and stop the "fun" that was going to take place on the island.
The entrance guards serve another purpose as well—to protect the tribe from the beast.
Jack tells his tribe that they did not, in fact, kill the beast, just beat it as it came in disguise.
Therefore, they still need to appease it and be on the alert. He prescribes their reality now
as he had dictated their dreams and emotions in the previous chapter. This technique for truth control
is standard in tyrannical regimes. Because none of the boys want to admit their participation
in the "obscene" dance, they allow Jack to dictate their reality. They find comfort
in his overbearing authority, as if he can protect them from their indefinable fears through strength
of his personality alone. More concretely, Jack offers them the protection of weaponry and an instinct
for warfare. When Roger sees the boulder that stands ready to crush interlopers at the entrance
to Castle Rock, he deems Jack "a proper chief" because he’s got weaponry, the makings of war.
For a sadist like Roger, joining the tribe offers him the chance to unleash his cruelty amidst
Jack’s reign of "irresponsible authority." All his life, Roger has been conditioned
to leash or mask his impulses, as evidenced by his inability to actually hit Henry with the stones
in Chapter 4. Hearing that Jack has had Wilfred arbitrarily bound and left to wait hours
for punishment strikes a responsive chord in Roger. By the end of the next chapter, he carves out
a distinct niche in the tribe as the hangman, the torturer who plays a key role in all dictatorships.
Roger and Jack
Jack doesn’t consider himself "a chief ... in truth" until he accomplishes
the theft of Piggy’s glasses. In this way, Jack symbolizes a twisted Prometheus, stealing fire
from the humans to profit the savages as opposed to stealing from the gods to benefit humans.
Note that originally he and his group of choirboys were to play the role of Prometheus in maintaining
the fire, maintaining a visual plea to civilization for rescue and quick return home.
Ralph’s connection with his civilized self fades even more rapidly now, although he fights
to maintain it and is baffled by the "curtain" that seems to fall when he tries
to stress the importance of the fire. When the twins question the value of keeping the fire lit,
Ralph "tried indignantly to remember. There was something good about a fire."
Piggy, of course, instantly knows what this good is, as his connection to civilization remains
very strong because it offers him protection that is lacking on the island.
Piggy is so intent on preserving some remnant of civilization on the island that he not only remains
loyal to Ralph but to the concept of civilized discourse represented by the conch. He assumes,
improbably enough, that Jack’s raiders have attacked them to get the conch. Just as he takes
for granted that Ralph has not lost his focus on rescue and home, he figures that Jack still places
a value on what the conch represents when obviously Jack has abandoned all that, preferring the life
of savagery. Jack’s leadership is based on fear; he has abandoned the conch for the dance.
The loss of his glasses to the savages literally renders Piggy more helpless and ineffectual
and symbolically deprives Ralph of his intellectual counselor. The alert reader understands
that Piggy will be the next victim.
Chapter 10: Glossary
gesticulate – to make or use gestures, esp. with the hands and arms,
as in adding nuances or force to one‘s speech, or as a substitute for speech.
torrid – so hot as to be parching or oppressive; scorching.
Reds – [Slang] Communists.
lamp standard – lamppost.
barmy – [Brit. Slang] crazy.
round the bend – [Brit. Informal] crazy; insane.
bomb happy – [Slang, Chiefly Brit.] crazy; insane.
crackers – [Slang, Chiefly Brit.] crazy; insane.
pills – [Vulgar Brit Slang] the testicles.
bowstave – here, slightly curved arc like that of a bow.
Chapter 11: Summary
Ralph calls an assembly at Piggy’s urging, wherein they decide the four remaining biguns will ask
Jack’s tribe for the glasses back, reminding them of a signal fire’s importance. Samneric express
a real fear of approaching the other boys who have now become complete savages.
Jack’s tribe is hostile to Ralph’s little group; Roger throws stones at the twins to scare them.
Jack emerges from the forest where he had been hunting and tells Ralph to go back to his end
of the island. When Ralph calls him a thief for stealing Piggy’s glasses, they fence briefly
with their spears before Piggy reminds Ralph to focus on their agenda.
The savages laugh derisively at Ralph’s impassioned speech about the necessity of a signal fire.
Then Jack orders his tribe to grab Samneric and tie them up, prompting a fistfight between himself
and Ralph. Again, Piggy interrupts and, holding the conch, attempts a speech as well. While Piggy
admonishes the boys for becoming savages, Roger releases a huge boulder in Piggy’s direction,
knocking him off the cliff to his death on the rocks below. A large wave quickly carries off his body.
Jack screams in victory at Ralph and then throws his spear at him. The spear wounds Ralph
but bounces off, and Ralph flees for his life. Samneric remain tied up in the hands of the savages,
menaced by Jack and soon to be tortured by Roger.
Chapter 11: Commentary
As the last three biguns remaining with Ralph, they have a great stake in quickly developing
some solutions to Piggy’s virtual blindness and the loss of a signal fire, as well as protecting
themselves from Jack’s deadly tribe. Piggy insists that Ralph call an assembly to discuss
the matter. Although blowing the conch to summon only themselves seems rather ridiculous,
Piggy asserts that "It’s the only thing we got." Assemblies regulated by the conch
still bring him comfort despite their lack of effectiveness.
In fact, the conch is the only tool of authority or action left to them, but it’s an ineffectual one,
given the savages’ loss of regard for it. When Ralph blows the conch at Castle Rock,
for example, the savages greet him with silence and a stone thrown at Sam by Roger.
The conch symbolizes not only the power to speak during assembly but also the power
of speech itself, an ability that separates humans from animals. In a way, the savages
cause Ralph to lose his power of speech, when he gives up his address on the importance
of rescue because he is "defeated by the silence and the painted anonymity."
With the exceptions of Jack’s commands, the savages’ reactions to Ralph’s and Piggy’s
speeches are all non-verbal: jeering, laughing, booing, and a general "clamor."
Following Roger’s impulsive assassination of Piggy, "the silence was complete"
as Piggy provided the last bastion of human intellect and reason on the island.
Ralph and Jack
Even up to the moment of his death, Piggy’s perspective doesn’t shift in response to the reality
of their situation. At their little assembly, he demands action, still relying on Ralph to get things done
despite the obvious disregard for his authority shown by all of Jack’s tribe. Piggy cannot think
as the others think or value what they value. Because his eminently sensible approach to life
is modeled on the attitudes and rules of the authoritative adult world, he thinks everyone should
share his values and attitudes as a matter of course. Speaking of the deaths of Simon and
the littlun with the birthmark who had first brought up the beast as a concern, he asks
"What’s grownups goin’ to think?" as if he is not so much mourning the boys’ deaths
as he is mourning the loss of values, ethics, discipline, and decorum that caused those deaths.
Claiming that Jack has "got to" return his glasses because "what’s right’s right,"
he reveals that he holds a certain code of ethics to be universal and non-negotiable, as fundamental
as fire. In reality ethics originate from a particular society’s values and expectations; Jack’s subculture
has radically different ethics from Ralph’s.
Samneric fully appreciate this difference; their change in perspective is evident at the assembly.
In Chapter 6, they speak mockingly of a schoolmaster nicknamed Old Waxy as if his waxing anger
was nothing to fear. Now they fear for their lives, saying that if Jack "gets waxy we’ve had it."
Even more devastating to their morale is Ralph’s oddly timed outburst of "smoke! We’ve got to have
smoke." From his delivery, they realize Ralph can’t remember why they need smoke but is just mouthing
the words as a sort of desperate plea for clarity. Piggy, too, grasps that Ralph has forgotten the purpose
of smoke; his reminder of smoke’s purpose makes Ralph defensive. Ralph’s denial of his fallibility
causes them to view him as fallible. They look at him as though "seeing him for the first time":
a boy trying to accomplish what an adult would have difficulty achieving in these circumstances—reasoning
with a pack of killers.
Roger, the sadist, relishes the role of a killer. In Chapter 4, Roger is restrained from
throwing stones directly at other boys by the social discipline internalized during his former life.
When he makes Sam nearly lose his footing with a well-placed stone throw, Roger experiences
viscerally the mastery he can now wield over others, and the reader recognizes a dramatic change.
Like Samneric, Roger’s perspective has changed with the power shift on the island. From his point of view
on top of Castle Rock, "Ralph was a shock of hair and Piggy a bag of fat"; they are not humans
or other boys to him. Mentally dehumanizing those not in his group frees Roger from the restraints of decency,
an effect he feels as "a sense of delirious abandonment" when he releases the rock that kills Piggy.
Perceiving other humans as less than human is the basis of an infinite number of prejudices and bigotry
as well as the moral underpinning of genocide. Jack’s boys enthusiastically bind Samneric because
they sense Samneric’s "otherness"; that otherness allows the savages to justify their cruelty
against their own kind. Such a mental adjustment is also necessary for soldiers to make in order
to justify killing their enemies who are part of the family of humanity, an adjustment made even
by the very civil and polite naval officer who ultimately rescues the boys. All the boys made
that adjustment themselves when they chose to perceive Simon as the beast rather than
as one of their own.
Although all the boys were guilty in Simon’s death, the other savages perceive Roger differently
after Piggy’s death. Because he calmly and single-handedly kills someone, he is marked as a hangman,
one who "wields a nameless authority." Just as Ralph has an instinct for diplomacy
and leadership, Roger has an instinct for torture. Without the "protection of parents and school
and policeman and the law" which surrounded Henry in Chapter 4 and forced Roger
to miss when he threw stones, Roger is free within Jack’s primitive subculture to make deadly contact.
Ralph seeks to remind the savages of those very constraints, to summon the conditioning voices
of civilization that always warned them to play nice and share with others. At the assembly,
he suggests that his group present an image of their former, civilized selves when approaching
the savages. He wants to differentiate his group from Jack’s tribe, as if to remind them of what
they’ve lost or tantalize them with what they could have if rescue is achieved. In contrast, Samneric
want to put on paint, hoping for mercy through assimilation. They fear that reminding Jack
of the constraints he’s now free of will only aggravate his abuse of power. "They’ll be painted!
You know how it is." Sadly, the twins turn out to be correct about the antagonizing effect of
"otherness." When Jack orders his boys to bind the twins, Samneric "protested out
of the heart of civilization" with language that marks them as outsiders in this group,
which has left behind such civilized verbal niceties as "Oh, I say!"
Seeing the twins bound, Ralph’s language gets to the heart of the matter quickly.
He shouts at Jack, calling him "a beast and a swine and a bloody, bloody thief!"
This emotional accusation is in fact truthful. Jack is living out the beast’s urges, the beast that
spoke to Simon in the guise of a swine head. Jack stole not only Piggy’s glasses, but also hope,
rescue, Simon’s life, Ralph’s authority, and the vestiges of civilization from their small island culture.
Ralph’s use of "bloody" works not only as an expletive but also as an accurate adjective,
considering the deaths Jack has caused by fostering an environment of enmity coupled with ferocity.
Initially, Jack and Ralph feel some reluctance to engage fully in combat. When Ralph calls him a thief,
Jack rushes at Ralph threateningly with his spear, but they each wield their spears more like sabers,
unwilling to use the "the lethal points." They verbally square off, daring each other to come
fight but remaining out of each other’s reach. Up to this point, none of the boys have fought to the death
one on one. Simon’s death occurred in the midst of a group frenzy. Even Roger does not engage in
hand-to-hand combat but acts more as a physically removed assassin. Until Jack acts after Piggy’s death
and flings his spear dead-on at Ralph, he is no doubt at some level reluctant to kill another boy for
the same reason he couldn’t kill the first piglet he encountered in Chapter 1: "because
of the enormity of the knife descending and cutting into living flesh."
In addition, Ralph and Jack are connected through a love/hate relationship that neither one of them
understands, a link Ralph thinks of as "an indefinable connection" in Chapter 12.
They began on the first day with the glamour of a new friendship; "They were lifted up:
were friends." Golding’s use of the phrase "lifted up" to describe their friendship
implies that a partnership between the humane and the bestial components of humanity can result
in great things. Yet the two forces must remain in balance to produce positive effects. The conflict
on this island begins with Jack attempting to dominate the group rather than work with Ralph to benefit it.
For his part, Ralph remains so focused on promoting a sense of order that he overlooks the boys’ desire
for food more substantial than fruit. Because Ralph so strongly identifies with the civilized part of himself,
he cannot understand how Jack can live so far within his animal side. Once Jack makes an attempt
on Ralph’s life, however, appreciation for each other’s perspectives is rendered moot as Ralph
becomes re-classified as prey rather than as another human being.
Jack and Ralph
Evil has triumphed: Spirituality, creativity, and religion went with the demise of Simon; intellect and reason die
with Piggy; and rules, authority, and tradition are destroyed with the conch.
Chapter 11: Glossary
myopia – nearsightedness.
propititate – win or regain the good will of; appease or conciliate.
pinnacles – pointed formations; peaks, as at the tops of mountains.
pinch – [Slang] to steal.
truculent – fierce; cruel; savage; ferocious.
talisman – anything thought to have magic power; a charm.
Chapter 12: Summary
While the tribe feasts inside Castle Rock, Ralph makes his way back to the platform. Once there,
he is reluctant to spend the night alone in the shelter and decides to return to Jack’s end of the island
to try reasoning with them again. On the way, he encounters the pig’s skull that had spoken to Simon.
Finding it eerily life-like and knowing, he knocks it to the ground and takes the stake as a weapon.
Back at Castle Rock, he sees that Samneric are on watch, having been forced to join the tribe.
He approaches them cautiously, hoping to win back their loyalty. They tell him of the manhunt
planned for the next day and give him some meat. Someone from the tribe hears them talking
to Ralph and punishes them.
Ralph finds a place to sleep for the night. The next morning, his hiding place, a dense thicket,
is betrayed by Samneric. The tribe is unsuccessful at reaching him in the thicket, so they flush
him out by rolling boulders into it and setting it on fire. Once Ralph is on the run, the tribe follows him,
communicating with each other with an ululating cry.
Ralph finds another impenetrable thicket to hide in but is discovered there as well. Now the fire
has spread across the island so that he has to outrun the savages and the fire. He makes it
to the beach and falls at the feet of a newly arrived British naval officer, whose ship had been attracted
by the smoke from the huge fire. The officer confirms that his ship will take them off the island.
Ralph breaks into sobs, weeping for all he has lost.
Chapter 12: Commentary
Watching the savages retreat, Ralph tries to identify them as individuals and guesses one to be Bill.
Then he realizes that, in fact, "this was not Bill" and he’s right: Once divorced from
his previously civilized self in appearance, behavior, and values, the individual who was Bill is gone.
In the previous chapter, after Jack throws a spear with deadly intention at Ralph, Golding stops using
Jack’s name and refers to him as "the chief." The boy named Jack has been totally replaced
with a primal entity, the personification of the beast’s lust for power and the rejection of the civilizing forces
represented by Ralph.
Even after the attack, Ralph so craves human companionship—the devil
he knows—that he returns to Castle Rock to reason with Jack’s tribe again
on the next day, relying on their "daylight sanity." "Daylight sanity"
is another term for common sense; Piggy tells Ralph in Chapter 8 that lack of
common sense is the source of all the trouble on the island. At the time, Piggy referred
to practicality, or a sound judgement of the actions they would need to take to attract
a rescue ship and co-exist with some amount of civility.
Ralph and Samneric
Common sense could also be understood, however, as communal sentiment, a shared sensibility
of what’s important and what’s allowed. Ralph "knew he was an outcast. ‘Cos I had some
sense,’" he tells himself—not just common sense but a sense of his identity
as a civilized person, a sense of the particular morality that had governed the boys’ culture
back home. When Jack threw the spear at Ralph, Jack made him an outcast, disallowing
his easy assimilation into the group even if he had wanted to forsake rescue in favor of hunting.
When Ralph tries to reason with the newly tribal twins and gain an understanding of Jack’s hatred
of him, Eric says "Never mind what’s sense. That’s gone." Jack’s tribe lacks sense
in terms of logically justifiable attitudes and behaviors.
In response to his desperate situation, bereft of any companion and the conch as well,
Ralph reverts to a childish state. He "whimpered and yawned like a littlun"
when facing the coming night with its attendant fears. Later, as he is hunted, he reverts back
not in time but in character to his primal self, squatting in a thicket, baring his teeth, and snarling.
Becoming the prey brings out the animal survival instincts coupled with innate human intellect in him:
He seeks a "lair" in which to spend the night and thinks ahead to his hiding place the next day.
He prepares himself to poke whoever discovers him with his spear so that the manhunter
"would be stuck, squealing like a pig." Acting purely out of the fundamental drive
for survival, he attacks two savages who stand between him and escape, and wounds a third
from his hiding place. The members of Jack’s tribe have ceased to be human for him; he thinks
of them as "those striped and inimical creatures." Hunting has become their identity
rather than their activity. In contrast, Ralph still thinks sensibly even when on the run:
when the forest fire burns the fruit trees, he curses the tribe for failing to think ahead
when they set the fire: "Fools! ... what would they eat tomorrow?"
During his flight, Ralph longs for Piggy’s counsel, wishing for the solemnity of the assemblies
made dignified by the conch rather than having to make life or death decisions while on the run
for his life. "If only one had time to think!" he laments. Civilization makes for plenty
of time to think, providing institutions like universities where the scholars can devote themselves
to mental activities. Such protection allows the abstract arts such as philosophy and theoretical work
in the arts and sciences to flourish; in such a protected environment, a fragile boy like Simon
could have learned to express fully and accurately his intuitive understanding of humanity’s
dark side. Note that Simon’s prophecy comes back to Ralph in a flash during the hunt.
In a moment of great desperation, cornered in his hiding place by a savage and having
just realized the purpose of a stick sharpened at both ends, the phrase "You’ll get
back" surfaces, as if Simon’s spirit haunts the island.
If Simon’s ghost is present, it is there to comfort Ralph and reach out to him with its knowledge,
unlike the Lord of the Flies. When Ralph encounters the Lord of the Flies, he finds a "skull
that gleamed as white as ever the conch had done." This description symbolizes the universal
and infinite struggle between good and evil. The skull is vested with the knowledge that was revealed
to Simon: Evil is present in us all, and we must struggle not to allow it to dominate us.
Knocking the skull to the ground and breaking it into pieces is a small victory over the beast for Ralph.
More to the point, he takes the stake on which the head rested so that he has his own stick sharpened
at both ends. Like a blade that cuts both ways, he’ll use the savages' stick to defend himself from them.
Preoccupied with keeping on the move, he doesn’t realize until late in the hunt that he is himself carrying
a stick sharpened on both ends. At this point he realizes that his head is meant to become the ultimate
offering to the beast, the beast’s greatest victory yet on the island.
The officer of the gunboat that Ralph encounters simultaneously represents Ralph’s original moral
naiveté and Jack’s propensity toward evil and destruction. As Ralph encounters the officer,
he sees not a face but all the markings of the officer’s "tribe": the cap with the crown,
anchor and gold leaves, the uniform with epaulettes and buttons, and the revolver. The decorative
elements of his uniform symbolize his civilized war paint. From the officer’s point of view,
Ralph is hardly the prey of a deadly tribe but a boy who "needed a bath, a haircut,
a nose-wipe, and a good deal of ointment." When he sees Jack’s tribe wearing
war paint and carrying spears, he assesses the situation as "Fun and games."
Although he doesn’t recognize it or understand his complicity in his own "fun and games,"
the naval officer has correctly identified the hunt: It’s the sort of fun the Lord of the Flies assured Simon
would take place on the island; the type of fun that, even at the time of the boys’ rescue, is taking place
on a larger scale with the war.
The Navy officer
The officer echoes a sentiment expressed by Jack in Chapter 2 ("we’re not savages.
We’re English ... So we’ve got to do the right things"). Learning of the two deaths,
the officer comments "I should have thought that a pack of British boys ...
would have ... put up a better show than that." Both Jack and the officer
are equally ignorant of the truth of the matter: Like all of humanity, these boys have
and act on impulses that are at best uncivil and at worst deadly. In the novel, Golding
uses events and mores associated with the British (his own culture), but his theme
is universal. Although one could limit the interpretation to British imperialism (bestial
aspects of British colonialism contrast sharply with the supremely polite British identity,
for example), to do so would be to deny the larger truth: That all people—and
therefore all societies—possess and display, to varying degrees, these deadly impulses.
Chapter 12: Glossary
pax – peace, here meant as a call for a truce.
acrid – sharp, bitter, stinging, or irritating to the taste or smell.
inimical – hostile; unfriendly.
gibber – to speak or utter rapidly and incoherently; chatter unintelligibly.
essay – to try; attempt.
antiphonal – sung or chanted in alternation.
ululate – to howl, hoot, or wail.
cordon – a line or circle, as of soldiers or ships, stationed around an area to guard it.
diddle – [Informal] to move back and forth jerkily or rapidly; juggle.
mold – here, loose, soft, easily worked soil.
white drill – a coarse linen or cotton cloth with a diagonal weave,
used for work clothes, uniforms, etc.
epaulette – shoulder ornament as for military uniforms.
cutter – a boat carried, esp. formerly, aboard large ships
to transport personnel or supplies.
rating – an enlisted man in the Navy.
stern sheets – the space at the stern of an open boat.
Ralph represents leadership, the properly socialized and civilized young man. He is attractive,
charismatic, and decently intelligent. He demonstrates obvious common sense. Ralph is the one
who conceives the meeting place, the fire, and the huts. He synthesizes and applies Piggy’s intellectualism,
and he recognizes the false fears and superstitions as barriers to their survival. He is a diplomat
and a natural leader.
Ralph’s capacity for leadership is evident from the very beginning (he is the only elected leader
of the boys). During the crisis caused by the sight of the dead paratrooper on the mountain,
Ralph is able to proceed with both sense and caution. He works vigilantly to keep the group’s focus
on the hope for rescue. When the time comes to investigate the castle rock, Ralph takes the lead alone,
despite his fear of the so-called beast. Even in this tense moment, politeness is his default.
When Simon mumbles that he doesn’t believe in the beast, Ralph "answered him politely,
as if agreeing about the weather." British culture is famed for civilized reserve in emotional times.
By the standards of the society he’s left behind, Ralph is a gentleman.
Having started with a schoolboy’s romantic attitude toward anticipated "adventures"
on the island, Ralph eventually loses his excitement about their independence and longs for the comfort
of the familiar. He indulges in images of home, recollections of the peaceful life of cereal and cream
and children's books he had once known. He fantasizes about bathing and grooming. Ralph’s earlier life
had been civilized, and he brought to the island innocent expectations and confidence until certain experiences
informed his naiveté and destroyed his innocence. As he gains experience with the assemblies, the forum
for civilized discourse, he loses faith in them. "Don’t we love meetings?" Ralph says bitterly,
frustrated that only a few of the boys actually follow through on their plans.
Over time, Ralph starts to lose his power of organized thought, such as when he struggles to develop
an agenda for the meeting but finds himself lost in an inarticulate maze of vague thoughts. Ralph’s loss
of verbal ability bodes ill for the group because his authority lies in the platform, the symbol of collective
governance and problem solving where verbal communication is the primary tool. Ralph’s mental workings
are subject to the same decay as his clothing; both are frayed by the rigors of the primitive life. Yet in response
to the crisis of the lost rescue opportunity, Ralph demonstrates his capacities as a conceptual thinker.
When "[w]ith a convulsion of the mind, Ralph discovered dirt and decay," he is symbolically
discovering humankind’s dark side. At the same time, he has learned that intellect, reason, sensitivity,
and empathy are the tools for holding the evil at bay. Ralph’s awareness is evident when, realizing
the difficulty of this lifestyle in contrast to his initial impression of its glamour, he "smiled
jeeringly," as an adult might look back with cynicism on the ideals held as a youth.
Although he becomes worn down by the hardships and fears of primitive life and is gradually infected
by the savagery of the other boys, Ralph is the only character who identifies Simon’s death as murder
and has a realistic, unvarnished view of his participation. He feels both loathing and excitement
over the kill he witnessed. Once Ralph becomes prey, he realizes that he is an outcast "Cos
I had some sense"—not just common sense but a sense of his identity as a civilized person,
a sense of the particular morality that had governed the boys’ culture back home. When Ralph encounters
the officer on the beach at the end of the book, he is not relieved at being rescued from a certain grisly death
but discomforted over "his filthy appearance," an indication that his civility had endured
his ordeal. In exchange for his innocence, he has gained an understanding of humankind’s natural character,
an understanding not heretofore available to him: that evil is universally present in all people and
requires a constant resistance by the intellect that was Piggy, by the mysticism and spiritualism
that was Simon, and by the hopes and dreams that are his.
Jack represents evil and violence, the dark side of human nature. A former choirmaster
and "head boy" at his school, he arrived on the island having experienced
some success in exerting control over others by dominating the choir with his militaristic
attitude. He is eager to make rules and punish those who break them, although he consistently
breaks them himself when he needs to further his own interests. His main interest is hunting,
an endeavor that begins with the desire for meat and builds to the overwhelming urge to master
and kill other living creatures. Hunting develops the savagery that already ran close to his surface,
making him "ape-like" as he prowls through the jungle. His domain is the emotions,
which rule and fuel his animal nature.
The conflict on the island begins with Jack attempting to dominate the group rather than working
with Ralph to benefit it. He frequently impugns the power of the conch, declaring that the conch rule
does not matter on certain parts of the island. Yet he uses the conch to his advantage when possible,
such as when he calls his own assembly to impeach Ralph. For him, the conch represents the rules
and boundaries that have kept him from acting on the impulses to dominate others. Their entire lives
in the other world, the boys had been moderated by rules set by society against physical aggression.
On the island, however, that social conditioning fades rapidly from Jack’s character. He quickly loses
interest in that world of politeness and boundaries, which is why he feels no compunction to keep
the fire going or attend to any of the other responsibilities for the betterment or survival of the group.
The dictator in Jack becomes dominant in his personality during the panic over the beast sighting
on the mountain. In trying to get Ralph impeached, he uses his rhetorical skills to twist Ralph's words.
In defense, he offers to the group a rationale that "He'd never have got us meat," asserting
that hunting skills make for an effective leader. Jack assigns a high value only to those who he finds useful
or agreeable to his views and looks to silence those who do not please him. Denouncing the rules of order,
Jack declares, "We don’t need the conch any more. We know who ought to say things."
He dictates to his hunters that they forget the beast and that they stop having nightmares.
As Jack strives to establish his leadership, he takes on the title of "chief" and reinforces
the illusion of station and power by using the other boys ceremoniously as standard bearers who raise
their spears together and announce "The Chief has spoken." This role is no game for him,
though; by the night of Simon’s death, Jack has clearly gone power-mad, sitting at the pig roast
on a large log "painted and garlanded ... like an idol" while "[p]ower ...
chattered in his ear like an ape." His tribe addresses him as "Chief," indicating
a form of more primitive tribal leadership.
True to Piggy’s assertion that "It’s them that haven’t no common sense that make trouble
on this island," Jack takes an entirely different direction from logic or common sense.
Perhaps acting out of some guilt he is unable to acknowledge, Jack becomes paranoid
and begins feeding misinformation to his tribe, a typical practice of dictatorships to control
the collective thinking by controlling the information that is disseminated.
Given the thrill of "irresponsible authority" he’s experienced on the island,
Jack’s return to civilization is conflicted. When the naval officer asks who is in charge,
Jack starts to step forward to challenge Ralph’s claim of leadership but is stopped
perhaps by the recognition that now the old rules will be enforced.
Piggy is the intellectual with poor eyesight, a weight problem, and asthma. He is the most physically
vulnerable of all the boys, despite his greater intelligence. Piggy represents the rational world.
By frequently quoting his aunt, he also provides the only female voice.
Piggy’s intellect benefits the group only through Ralph; he acts as Ralph’s advisor. He cannot be
the leader himself because he lacks leadership qualities and has no rapport with the other boys.
Piggy also relies too heavily on the power of social convention. He believes that holding the conch
gives him the right to be heard. He believes that upholding social conventions get results.
As the brainy representative of civilization, Piggy asserts that "Life ... is scientific."
Ever the pragmatist, Piggy complains, "What good’re your doing talking like that?"
when Ralph brings up the highly charged issue of Simon’s death at their hands. Piggy tries
to keep life scientific despite the incident, "searching for a formula" to explain the death.
He asserts that the assault on Simon was justifiable because Simon asked for it by inexplicably crawling
out of the forest into the ring.
Piggy is so intent on preserving some remnant of civilization on the island that he assumes
improbably enough that Jack’s raiders have attacked Ralph’s group so that they can get the conch
when of course they have come for fire. Even up to the moment of his death, Piggy’s perspective
does not shift in response to the reality of their situation. He can’t think as others think or value
what they value. Because his eminently intellectual approach to life is modeled on the attitudes
and rules of the authoritative adult world, he thinks everyone should share his values and attitudes
as a matter of course. Speaking of the deaths of Simon and the littlun with the birthmark, he asks
"What’s grownups goin’ to think?" as if he is not so much mourning the boys’ deaths
as he is mourning the loss of values, ethics, discipline, and decorum that caused those deaths.
Simon’s role as an artistic, religious visionary is established not only by his hidden place
of meditation but also by the description of his eyes: "so bright they had deceived Ralph
into thinking him delightfully gay and wicked." While Piggy has the glasses—one
symbol of vision and truth—Simon has bright eyes, a symbol of another kind of vision and truth.
Simon is different from the other boys not only due to his physical frailty, manifested in his fainting spells,
but also in his consistently expressed concern for the more vulnerable boys. Littluns follow him,
and he picks choice fruit for them from spots they can’t reach, a saintly or Christ-like image.
He stands up for Piggy and helps him get his glasses back when Jack knocks them off his head,
another allusion to Simon’s visionary bent. In addition, he has a secret place in the jungle,
where he spends time alone.
Simon’s loner tendencies make the other boys think he's odd, but, for the reader, Simon's credibility
as a mystic is established when he prophesies to Ralph "You'll get back to where you came from."
Simon reaches an abstract understanding of mankind’s latent evil nature and unthinking urge to dominate as
"mankind’s essential illness." When Simon tries to visualize what the beast might look like,
"there arose before his inward sight the picture of a human at once heroic and sick"—Golding’s
vision of humanity as flawed by inherent depravity. Golding gives this knowledge to an outsider like Simon
to reflect the place visionaries or mystics typically hold in society: on the fringes, little understood by the majority,
and often feared or disregarded. Like other mystics, Simon asks questions the other boys cannot answer.
His questions to them, "What’s the dirtiest thing there is?" and "What else is there to do?"
require both abstract thought and courageous action to answer.
In contrast to Piggy and Ralph’s equating adulthood with knowledge and higher understanding,
Simon sees the darker side of knowledge. For him, the staked sow’s eyes are "dim with
the infinite cynicism of adult life," a view of adults not defined by the civilized politeness
and capability the boys imagine. Yet Simon soldiers on in his quest to discover the identity
of the beast on the mountaintop because he sees the need for the boys to face their fears,
to understand the true identity of the false beast on the mountain, and to get on with the business
of facing the beast within themselves.
By courageously seeking to confront the figure on the mountaintop, Simon fulfills his destiny of revelation.
He doesn’t get to share his revelation with the other boys because they are not ready to accept or understand it.
Instead he dies as a result of being made the scapegoat for the boys’ unshakeable fear. When Simon’s body
is carried off by the tide, covered in the jellyfish-like phosphorescent creatures who have come in with the tide,
Golding shifts the focus from Simon’s body’s movements to the much larger progressions of the sun, moon,
and earth because Simon represented a knowledge as fundamental as the elements.
Samneric (Sam and Eric) represent totally civilized and socialized persons. As identical twins,
they have always been a group, albeit the smallest of groups, but a group nevertheless.
They know no other way than to submit to the collective identity and will. They are initially devoted
to rescue but easily overwhelmed by the ferocity of tribe. They represent the well-intentioned members
of general public who play by the rules of whoever is in charge. They are easily intimidated by Jack
and abandon their fire-tending duties at his command. Seeing Ralph’s rage at the resultant loss
of a rescue opportunity, Samneric mock him once they are alone, despite the fact that their desertion
of duty caused his anger and the loss of possible rescue. On a realistic, perhaps human, level,
they may laugh to dispel their guilt or because their childish perspective has already allowed them
to forget the loss they caused or because their priority is merely to avoid punishment. On the symbolic level,
however, laughter is a totally social act.
After the horror of Simon’s death, in which they participate, they fear for their own lives because
they have remained loyal to Ralph. As Ralph’s group plans to approach Jack’s tribe, Samneric
want to paint themselves like tribe members, hoping for mercy through assimilation. When the twins
are captured by the tribe, Samneric "protested out of the heart of civilization" but abandon
their loyalty to that civilization to avoid punishment, betraying Ralph out of concern for their own welfare.
Their return to civilization will be fairly easy because they look only to appease whoever is in charge.
Roger represents the sadist, the individual who enjoys hurting others. His evil motives
are different from Jack’s, who pursues leadership and stature and enjoys the thrill of the hunt.
Roger just likes to hurt people. He is described in Chapter 1 as a boy "who kept
to himself with avoidance and secrecy." His secret is that he is, in some ways, more evil
than even Jack. All his life, Roger has been conditioned to leash or mask his impulses.
The "irresponsible authority" of Jack’s reign offers him the chance to unleash
his innate cruelty. Initially, in a mean-spirited prank, Roger throws rocks at the unsuspecting littlun,
Henry, but he throws them so that they miss, surrounded as Henry is by "the protection
of parents and school and policeman and the law. Roger’s arm was conditioned by ...
civilization." Once he joins Jack’s tribe, he has lost that conditioning and eventually
kills Piggy with one boulder, which was not intended to miss.
Roger carves out a distinct niche in the tribe as the hangman, the torturer who plays a key role
in all dictatorships, and relishes the role of a killer. From his point of view on top of Castle Rock,
"Ralph was a shock of hair and Piggy a bag of fat"—not other human beings.
Mentally dehumanizing those not in his group frees Roger from the restraints of decency,
an effect he feels as "a sense of delirious abandonment" when he releases
the rock to kill Piggy.
Major Themes in the Novel
Lord of the Flies was driven by Golding’s consideration of human evil, a complex topic
that involves an examination not only of human nature but also the causes, effects, and
manifestations of evil. It demands also a close observation of the methods or ideologies
humankind uses to combat evil and whether those methods are effective. Golding addresses
these topics through the intricate allegory of his novel.
The Problem of Evil
When Lord of the Flies was first released in 1954, Golding described the novel’s theme
in a publicity questionnaire as "an attempt to trace the defects of society back to the defects
of human nature." In his 1982 essay A Moving Target, he stated simply
"The theme of Lord of the Flies is grief, sheer grief, grief, grief." The novel ends
of course with Ralph grieving the indelible mark of evil in each person’s heart, an evil he scarcely
suspected existed before witnessing its effects on his friends and supporters. The former schoolboys
sought unthinkingly to dominate others who were not of their group. They discovered within themselves
the urge to inflict pain and enjoyed the accompanying rush of power. When confronted with a choice
between reason’s civilizing influence and animality’s self-indulgent savagery, they choose to abandon
the values of the civilization that Ralph represents.
This same choice is made constantly all over the world, all throughout history—the source
of the grief Golding sought to convey. He places supposedly innocent schoolboys in the protected
environment of an uninhabited tropical island to illustrate the point that savagery is not confined to
certain people in particular environments but exists in everyone as a stain on, if not a dominator of,
the nobler side of human nature. Golding depicts the smallest boys acting out, in innocence, the same
cruel desire for mastery shown by Jack and his tribe while hunting pigs and, later, Ralph. The adults
waging the war that marooned the boys on the island are also enacting the desire to rule others.
Ironically, by giving rein to their urge to dominate, the boys find themselves in the grip of a force
they can neither understand nor acknowledge. The Lord of the Flies tells Simon "Fancy thinking
the Beast was something you could hunt and kill!" and then laughs at the boys’ efforts to externalize
their savagery in the form of an animal or other fearsome creature. Simon has the revelation that evil
isn’t simply a component of human nature, but an active element that seeks expression.
Contemporary Outlets for Violence
Most societies set up mechanisms to channel aggressive impulses into productive enterprises
or projects. On the island, Jack’s hunters are successful in providing meat for the group because
they tap into their innate ability to commit violence. To the extent that this violence is a reasoned
response to the group’s needs (for example, to feed for the population), it produces positive effects
and outcomes. However, when the violence becomes the motivator and the desired outcome lacks
social or moral value beyond itself, as it does with the hunters, at that point the violence becomes evil,
savage, and diabolical.
Violence continues to exist in modern society and is institutionalized in the military and politics.
Golding develops this theme by having his characters establish a democratic assembly, which
is greatly affected by the verbal violence of Jack’s power-plays, and an army of hunters, which
ultimately forms a small military dictatorship. The boys’ assemblies are likened to both ends
of the social or civil spectrum, from pre-verbal tribe gatherings to modern governmental institutions,
indicating that while the forum for politics has changed over the millennia, the dynamic remains
the same. Consider the emotional basis of the boys’ choice of leaders: Initially they vote for Ralph
not because he has demonstrated leadership skills but because of his charisma and arbitrary
possession of the conch. Later they desert him—and the reasoned democracy
he promotes—to join Jack’s tribe because Jack’s way of life, with the war paint
and ritualized dance, seems like more fun. Choosing Jack’s "fun" tribe
indicates a dangerous level of emotionally based self-indulgence. By relying on emotion
to decide the island’s political format, the boys open themselves up to the possibility
of violence because violence lies in the domain of emotion.
Yet Jack’s mentality on a larger scale is not fun and games but warfare, a concept made
clear at the end: When Ralph encounters the officer on the beach, he notices first not
the officer’s face but his uniform and revolver, which are the markings of the officer’s tribe.
The decorative elements of his uniform symbolize his war paint. His ship will be enacting
the same sort of manhunt for his enemy that Jack’s tribe conducts for Ralph.
The Effect of Fear
Golding addresses the effects of fear on the individual and on a group. For individuals,
fear distorts reality such as when Samneric’s terror at spotting the dead paratrooper
magnifies their experience from merely seeing movement and hearing the parachute
to being actively chased down the mountain as they flee. When the other boys hear
Samneric’s tale, the group dynamic of fear comes into play. The boys do not band
together to overcome this fearful situation through unity but allow their own worst
impulses to surface and dominate, fragmenting into opposing groups and killing
one of their own in a frenzy of fear and savagery.
Speech and Silence
Golding gives a more subtle treatment to the theme concerning speech’s role in civilization.
He repeatedly represents verbal communication as the sole property of civilization while savagery
is non-verbal, or silent. Despite the animal noises in the jungle, as an entity, the jungle emanates
a silence even the hunter Jack finds intimidating. In fact all the boys find silence threatening;
they become agitated when a speaker holding the conch in assembly falls silent.
The conch plays a key role in this theme because it symbolizes not only to the power to speak
during assembly but also the power of speech, an ability that separates humans from animals.
Following the death of Piggy and destruction of the conch, "the silence was complete"
as if Piggy provided the last bastion of human intellect—or humanity itself—on the island.
Verbal communication is crucial to the development of abstract thought. "If only one had time
to think!" Ralph laments. Civilization provides institutions where the individuals can devote
themselves to mental activities. Simon created such a place in his hidden spot in the jungle.
He found silence necessary to contemplate his vision of the beast. He was the only boy
to understand the true identity of the much-feared beast and the only boy to whom
the Lord of the Flies speaks. To bring about that conversation, the sow’s head had
to break the ultimate silence of death. Golding may depict silence as tremendously
threatening because death does signify absolute silence, and the end of all hope.
While the conch’s symbolic power remained alive to the boys, there was hope that they could continue
with their small society peacefully and productively. With the loss of regulated discourse came the end
of Ralph’s humane influence on the boys.
Concept, Identity, and Manifestations of the Beast
Golding uses the boys’ fear of a mythical beast to illustrate their assumption that evil arises
from external forces rather than from themselves. This fearsome beast initially takes form
in their imaginations as a snake-type animal that disguises itself as jungle vines; later,
they consider the possibility of a creature that rises from the sea or the more nebulous entity
of a ghost. When they spot the dead paratrooper who has landed on the mountain, the boys feel
sure that they have proof of a beast’s existence. In fact a beast does roam the island,
but not in the form the boys imagine.
Golding wanted to illustrate in this novel the dark side of human nature and make the point
that each member of humankind has this dark side. The boys conceptualize the source
of all their worst impulses as a beast, some sort of actual animal or possibly supernatural
creature inhabiting the island. Yet all along the boys take on the persona of the beast
when they act on their animal impulses. There is no external beast.
Golding conveys the beast’s identity through the literal actions of Jack and his tribe
and through the abstract concept conveyed in Simon’s vision. Simon’s revelation
about the beast comes upon him after he witnesses the sow’s death and beheading.
As an observer instead of a participant, Simon is able to comprehend the brutality of the act.
The sow’s head becomes covered with flies, creatures that lack the capacity to feel compassion
for or empathy with the dead sow, occupied entirely by their need to eat and multiply.
That compassion is one of the key dividers between humanity and animality; tellingly,
Jack lacks compassion for the littluns and the vulnerable Piggy. Soon his hunters lose
their compassion as well, seeking only to hunt meat and increase the numbers of their tribe
or kill those who will not join.
When Simon hallucinates that the staked head is speaking to him, his perception of the other boys
as the island’s true threat is confirmed. The Lord of the Flies confirms that "You knew, didn’t you?
I’m part of you? Close, close, close! I’m the reason why it’s no go? Why things are what they are?"
Note that the literal translation of the Greek word Beelzebub, a term used for the Judeo-Christian idea
of Satan, is "lord of the flies," and flies feast on dead animals and excrement. When Simon
asks the assembly "What’s the dirtiest thing there is?" he looks for the answer "evil"
but also included in that answer is decay and death. Ironically, Jack’s excretory answer is partially correct.
Jack provides more insight into the beast’s identity when he asserts that "The beast is a hunter,"
unwittingly implicating himself as part of the problem, a source of the boys’ fears. His lust for power and authority
causes him to commit and encourage savage acts against his own kind—an accurate measure
of his depravity. Sitting in front of his tribe, "Power ... chattered in his ear like an ape."
The figurative devil on his shoulder is his own animality, looking to master other creatures.
Golding pairs the devolution of Jack’s character with Simon’s hallucinatory revelation to paint
a complete picture of humankind’s dark side—that which the boys call "the beast."
Part of Golding’s intent was to demonstrate that the evil is not restricted to specific populations
or situations. On the island, the beast is manifest in the deadly tribal dances, war paint,
and the manhunt; in the outside world that same lust for power and control plays out
as a nuclear war. Prior to the war, some of the boys, such as the perpetually victimized Piggy,
experienced the brutality of others on the playground, an environment often idealized as
the joyous site of a carefree childhood. Within civilized society the beast expresses itself
in various ways: through acceptable venues such as the military; in unacceptable forms
such as madness or criminality, which carries punitive repercussions; or concealed
in the maneuvers of politics and other nonviolent power plays. In Lord of the Flies
Golding illustrates that evil is present in everyone and everywhere; humankind’s work lies
not in the impossible mission of eradicating it but in the struggle to keep it from becoming
the dominant force in our lives.
Golding’s Use of the Fable Structure
A fable is a short fictional story intended to teach a moral lesson. Best known are Aesop’s fables,
which feature talking animals as the main characters and end with such truisms as "slow and
steady wins the race." The one-dimensional characters and simplistic story line of a fable
leave little room for argument with the concluding proverb. It is ironic, then, that Golding considered
Lord of the Flies a fable, because his novel allows much room for speculation.
Instead of using cartoonish talking animals, Golding teaches his lesson with fully developed
human characters representing the dominant motifs. As the characters interact with each other
and with their environment, so do the forces they represent. Using the characters to embody
these forces allows Golding the opportunity to compare and contrast with rich shadings of meaning
rather than with simplistic oppositions. Unlike Aesop’s animals, human beings act in ways
that frequently conflict with the values they consciously hold, as is the case with Golding’s protagonist
Ralph. Because Ralph finds himself participating in the same savage behavior he condemns
in the other boys, he presents a realistic picture of a humane person resorting to brutality
under unusual circumstances.
Other characters also bring ambiguity to the motifs they embody. Piggy, for example, represents
the scientific rationalist whose knowledge and intellect far exceed that of the other boys. Yet for all
his intelligence, he cannot figure out how to speak so that the others will listen.
Golding does seek to provide a lesson in morality, but the lesson lacks the straightforward
and decisive tone of the proverb that concludes most fables. At the end of Golding’s fable,
the reader has learned not that evil is confined to the militaristic portion of the population
as epitomized by Jack; the pacifist Ralph participated in some of the brutal tribal activities.
Neither has the reader learned that science or even simple common sense will save humanity
from itself; Piggy is ridiculed throughout and then killed. Mystical revelations or visionary insight
into the human condition will not save us; consider the fate of the saintly Simon. Instead
the reader learns that evil lives in us all, and there is no proverb to remedy that situation.
By invoking the complexity that underlies human nature, Golding’s tale brings depth to the fable
structure and presents a complex moral lesson as well.
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