Lord of the Flies
Lord of the Flies is an allegorical novel in that it contains characters and objects that directly represent the novel’s themes and ideas. Golding’s central point in the novel is that a conflict between the impulse toward civilization and the impulse toward savagery rages within each human individual. Each of the main characters in the novel represents a certain idea or aspect of this spectrum between civilization and savagery. Ralph, for instance, embodies the civilizing impulse, as he strives from the start to create order among the boys and to build a stable society on the island. Piggy, meanwhile, represents the scientific and intellectual aspects of civilization. At the other end of the spectrum, Jack embodies the impulse toward savagery and the unchecked desire for power and domination. Even more extreme is Roger, who represents the drive for violence and bloodlust in its purest form. Furthermore, just as various characters embody thematic concepts in the novel, a number of objects do as well. The conch shell, which is used to summon the boys to gatherings and as a emblem of the right to speak at those gatherings, represents order, civilization, and political legitimacy. Piggy’s glasses, which are used to make fire, represent the power of science and intellectual endeavor. The sow’s head in the jungle, meanwhile, embodies the human impulse toward savagery, violence, and barbarism that exists within each person. Throughout Lord of the Flies, Golding uses these characters and objects to represent and emphasize elements of the themes and ideas he explores in the novel.
Both Ralph and Simon are motivated toward goodness throughout the novel. Both boys work to establish and maintain order and harmony with the rest of the group and are kind and protective in their interactions with the littluns. However, as the novel progresses, we get the sense that Ralph’s and Simon’s motivations for doing good stem from different sources. Ralph behaves and acts according to moral guidelines, but this behavior and these guidelines seem learned rather than innate. Ralph seems to have darker instinctual urges beneath: like the other boys, he gets swept up by bloodlust during the hunt and the dance afterward. Simon, on the other hand, displays a goodness and kindness that do not seem to have been forced or imposed upon him by civilization. Instead, Simon’s goodness seems to be innate or to flow from his connection to nature. He lives in accordance with the moral regulations of civilization simply because he is temperamentally suited to them: he is kind, thoughtful, and helpful by nature. In the end, though Ralph is capable of leadership, we see that he
shares the hidden instinct toward savagery and violence that Jack and his tribe embrace. Although Ralph does prove an effective leader, it is Simon who recognizes the truth that stands at the core of the novel—that the beast does not exist in tangible form on the island but rather exists as an impulse toward evil within each individual.
Jack expertly uses the beast to manipulate the other boys by establishing the beast as his tribe’s common enemy, common idol, and common system of beliefs all in one. Jack invokes different aspects of the beast depending on which effects he wants to achieve. He uses the boys’ fear of the beast to justify his iron-fisted control of the group and the violence he perpetrates. He sets up the beast as a sort of idol in order to fuel the boys’ bloodlust and establish a cultlike view toward the hunt. The boys’ belief in the monster gives Lord of the Flies religious undertones, for the boys’ various nightmares about monsters eventually take the form of a single monster that they all believe in and fear. By leaving the sow’s head in the forest as an offering to the beast, Jack’s tribe solidifies its collective belief in the reality of the nightmare. The skull becomes a kind of religious totem with extraordinary psychological power, driving the boys to abandon their desire for civilization and order and give in to their violent and savage impulses.
Suggested Essay Topics
1 . Of all the characters, it is Piggy who most often has useful ideas and sees the correct way for the boys to organize themselves. Yet the other boys rarely listen to him and frequently abuse him. Why do you think this is the case? In what ways does Golding use Piggy to advance the novel’s themes?
2 . What, if anything, might the dead parachutist symbolize? Does he symbolize something other than what the beast and the Lord of the Flies symbolize?
3 . The sow’s head and the conch shell each wield a certain kind of power over the boys. In what ways do these objects’ powers differ? In what way is Lord of the Flies a novel about power? About the power of symbols? About the power of a person to use symbols to control a group?
4 . What role do the littluns play in the novel? In one respect, they serve as gauges of the older boys’ moral positions, for we see whether an older boy is kind or cruel based on how he treats the littluns. But are the littluns important in and of themselves? What might they represent?