William Golding - Lord of the Flies - novel

William Golding (1911-1993):

L o r d   o f   t h e   F l i e s

A novel


About the author:

William Golding was born in Cornwall, England, in 1911 as a teacher's son. After his graduation from Oxford in science and English in 1935 he joined the Royal Navy and took part in the Second World War.

Golding returned to teaching in 1945 and worked part time in small theatre companies as writer, actor and director.

"Lord Of The Flies", which brought him to international fame, was rejected by several publishers before it came out in 1954.

William Golding was honoured by the Royal Society of Literature with a Fellowship in 1955, he was the winner of the Nobel prize for Literature in 1983 and was knighted in 1988.

He died in 1993.

Although he was primarily a novelist he also wrote short stories, dramas, essays and poetry.

William Golding is best-known for his themes of the struggle between good and evil and was a critic of modern society.

Famous novels:          The Inheritors (1955)

                                   Pincher Martin (1956)

                                   Free Fall (1959)


Some boys, aged between five and twelve, are the only survivors of an air crash, which took place on a tropical island and seemed to be a paradise on earth. They should be evacuated by plane from England since the danger of an atomic war.

Two of them, Ralph and Piggy, find a conch and use it to call the other survivors. In their first gathering Ralph is chosen as the leader and tells them that the only chance to get rescued is to keep a signal fire, which is kindled with Piggy's glasses. Jack, the school's choir leader, soon becomes obsessed with the idea of hunting the pigs on the island, which causes a lot of trouble and rivalry between him and Ralph.

The younger boys begin to talk about a beast and soon everyone believes in such a creature, so Jack decides to hunt and kill this unknown thing but he fails because of his own fear.

Later, he leaves the group and more and more boys go with him to start a new tribe, the "savages". They are painted, armed with spears and reigned by Jack. As a gift to the beast, they put the head of a killed pig on a spear and call it "lord of the flies".

One night they celebrate their hunting-success with a primitive ritual dance and kill Simon. He only wanted to tell them the truth about the beast. As in fact, "the beast" is the dead pilot with a parachute.

Only Piggy and the twins Sam & Eric, called Samneric, are with Ralph and support him. Once, the savages attack them at night and steal Piggy's glasses in order to be able to make their own fire.

Next day Ralph and his "group" go to Jack to get the glasses back and bring them onto the right way but Piggy is killed, Samneric forced to join the savages and the conch - still the symbol for their tribe - crushes. Only Ralph is able to flee.

Next day Jack and the savages fan out to kill Ralph. They set the woods on fire to find Ralph but he manages to run to the beach. There, he falls down wounded, exhausted and crying in front of a Naval Officer, who came because he saw the smoke and wanted to rescue them. He thinks that for the children everything must have been fun and games.

Formal Interpretation:

Golding both parallels and parodies the classic adventure story "The Coral Island" by Robert Michael Ballantyne, published in 1858 and he regarded his novel "Lord of the Flies" as a modern fable, which can be enjoyed on simple or very complex levels.

Today it is a standard novel, the structure is dictated by the characters and the setting, which is very important in this case.

Golding places his characters on an island. By its nature it's isolated; there is no outside influence and nothing to distract the boys from their true nature. It is a tropical Garden of Eden, complete with serpent.

The novel is written chronological and in an auctorial style, since the author knows everything about the boys.

Golding characterises the people on the one hand direct and on the other hand indirect through their speeches and the way they act. There are a lot of dialogues and hardly indirect speeches.

There are three blocks of action and development. In the first four chapters Golding introduces the reader into the island, the characters and their behaviour. In the middle section the development of differences, fears and obsession are shown. The solution of those conflicts with death and finally, rescue are described in the last four chapters.

"Lord of the Flies" contains examples of allegory, metaphors, irony, slang, symbolism and imagery.

Golding's use of irony is highly important for the massage of the book. For example, when Simon returns to the group with the truth about the "beast" he is killed before he can tell his news.


Ralph:                         He is portrayed as the example of a British boy and to Golding's mind, he doesn't have bad character traits. First he recognises and treats Piggy as an outsider, but soon he finds out about his intelligence and his foresight. He is a very good leader because he rules not like a dictator and believes in his ideology and democracy.

Piggy:                         He has a unremarkable appearance, seems as a whining and overweight hypochondriac with glasses - the "born" outsider. He fears people, possibly because of his experiences. He is the most intelligent boy on the island, is good in organising things and has moral and physical courage.

Jack:                           Jack is a character Golding has intended you dislike and to get in conflict with the ideals he created in some of his other characters. He is arrogant, aggressive and greedy for leadership - but he has no qualities for being a chief, except the fact he wants it. His goal isn't to be rescued but to have a good time, go hunting, eat meat (which isn't essential for their surviving because of the big amount of fruit trees) - a consequence of this is his tendency to hunt people too.

                                   He represents the Primitive man, the Hunter.

Another mistake of him is that he has no foresight. For example they kill a sow,  which provides meat in the future and he destroys the fruit trees with the fire in the end while hunting Ralph. If they hadn't been rescued, they would have starved.

Simon:                        Golding describes him as one of the in-between boys. Simon has experiences with the older and the younger boys. He has the innocence and the feelings of the littluns but the knowledge of the biguns. However, Simon is also a kind of outsider. He takes life very serious and actually, he is the only one, who realises that the beast is not something one can kill because it's inside the boys. Simon is often regarded as a prophet, saint or Christ figure, because he died to tell the rest of the boys about the beast.

Sam & Eric:   They behave like one person, for example they finish each other's sentences in the dialogues and are called Samneric. Maybe they aren't influenced by Jack's tribe, because together, they are strong enough to resist him.

The Naval Officer:     He has a rather romantic view of how the life was like on the island. In the End he appears like a knight in shining armour.


The relationship between Ralph and Piggy is very symbiotic. Piggy's intelligence with Ralph's common sense - each supports the other. There are a lot of examples of such relationships in literature, like Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, or Lennie and George in Steinbeck's novel "Of Mice and Men".

The battle between good and evil is a central theme of Lord of the Flies. It appears in many conflicts - for example between the conch group and the savages or between the boys and the "beast". In the beginning of the novel, good is the "leader" - the conch is a symbol for democracy. While Ralph's government, good is dominant.

This situation changes when Jack tries to take over the conch group. First he fails, but from then on evil takes control. In the end only the Naval Officer prevents the complete triumph of evil over good.

It is important that evil exists in every man and it's a necessary part of human condition.

Another theme is law, order & discipline. The boys came from a society in which discipline is very important and they attempt to continue this on the island too. Very soon you recognise the conch as the symbol for democracy and respect. They have meetings where they discuss the problems and think about possible changes and improvements, like keep a fire going. It is a kind of a "Parliament" with Ralph as a democratic leader.

First law and order reigns, but then there is for example the rubbery of Piggy's glasses because the savages wanted the power of fire, although they belong to Piggy and he would have lent it to them. In the end there are no rules left, except obeying Jack.

William Golding itself was a teacher and he was very unhappy with the English public school system, which believes in discipline as the best way of turning children into young adults.

The island can be seen like a laboratory. He removes all the adults - so the aren't influenced and have to set their impulses free. Jack, for instance, was the head of a choir, a hunter, a dictator and finally a murder.

Golding wanted the balance between firm discipline and a creative freedom in the schools of his time.

Crowd mentality is also a very important point. In the beginning their is only one formed group, the choir. It is a disciplined group, which is very good for hunting, where organisation is important.

When the order on the island breaks down, and most of the boys join Jack's tribe, they behave differently. Pig hunts are rituals and the boys start to loose their identity. There is no individuality because of the paint - everybody has to look and act the same way.

Top of the crowd mentality is reached when Simon returns with news and is killed by the hysterical savages in their ritual dance.

In this book are two important elements of Goldings's life reflected: his insight, because of his job as teacher, into the way children behave and function and his pessimism after the Second World War. Historically, the post-war period was one of hope and optimism, but the events Golding had witnessed didn't allow him to see things this way - he had a rather pessimistic view of human beings, so he shows us what the consequences of our behaviour might be, then leaves us to think and to learn.

"Before the Second World War I believed in the perfectibility of social man;

that a correct structure of society would produce good will; and that therefore you could remove all social ills by a reorganisation of society. It is possible that today I believe something of the same again; but after the war I did not because I was unable to. I had discovered what one man could do to another."[1]


Personal statement:

I liked this novel very much, because it gives a warning about the power of evil. Golding isolates children on an island and shows how they could act, and that the capacity for brutality isn't only in adults.

To my mind the themes are very interesting and still topical and the way Golding tries to make people think about these problems is really fascinating.
















Golding, William: "Lord of the Flies", 2.edition

Appendix of "Lord of the Flies"

York Notes "Lord of the Flies"

Kindlers neues Literaturlexikon

[1] William Golding, "Fable" in: "The Hot Gates" by William Golding

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