Lord of the Flies

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Lord of the Flies (deutscher Titel: Herr der Fliegen) ist ein gesellschaftskritischer Roman von William Golding.

The Plot

After an Air crash a group of British school boys finds itself left on an island somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. There are no adults with them, the number of boys remains unknown, but there are the big ones and the little ones, ranging from the age of six up to twelve.
In the very beginning a meeting is held, rules are made and the island is explored. The island is peaceful and fertile, no wild animals are to be seen, the weather is hot and pleasant with regular periods of rain.
Soon quarrels over the leadership start: Ralph, the elected leader, is challenged by Jack, the leader of the choir-boys, which have become the hunters. They quarrel about the necessity of being rescued (keep a fire going), and about other priorities (hunting pigs or building shelter). They are only united by the common fear of a >beast<, which gives them nightmares and uneasy feelings.
Eventually Jack splits off with his hunters, establishes a kind of tribe which develops its own savage and bloody hunting rituals.
Fears of the >beast< are growing and a nightly encounter with the remains of a dead parachutist causes the group to fall apart and all democratic rules are neglected. Primitive rituals are established, the head of a pigs is set up on a stack (>Lord of the Flies<) and the heads and guts of all the killed pigs are sacrificed to this primitive idol. Two boys get killed: Simon, the outsider and philosopher of the group, and Piggy, the fat but intelligent adviser of the now powerless group-leader, Ralph. His glasses, without which he cannot survive, are stolen by the hunters and a desperate attempt to get them back leads to his death: he falls over a cliff.
Ralph, the only remaining non-hunter is now hunted by the whole of the tribe, in the cause of the hunt the forest is set on fire - and just as Ralph`s situation seems to be hopeless, the long forgotten rescuers appear, attracted by the fire, unable to make sense out of the situation.

Message and Philosophy

The novel is about human beings falling back into a primeval, savage state of existing, once the pressure of civilization and democracy has disappeared. The book is about the primitive and cruel nature of 'innocent' children, of man in general.
The two leading characters in the novel represent two opposing principles: Ralph - and his adviser Piggy - represents the belief in rationality and democracy. Jack and his hunters represent the archaic instincts of primitive men. Thus two concepts of survival are exposed: Rational thinking and solidarity on the one hand, club-law and the survival of the fittest on the other hand. But rationality has no chance against the magic powers of primitive instincts.
Thus the novel has a very pessimistic outlook, which is certainly rooted in the experience of the Second World War. The cruel nature of man has been shown. Furthermore, the characters on the island are children. They are not >innocent< at all, their games are cruel and bloody, once they are able to act on their own.
Let`s compare with Daniel Defoe's >Robinson Crusoe<, a man who is left alone on an island.
Robinson succeeds in building up a civilization of his own, preserving the values and standards of his original country. He cultivates the island, he educates a primitive savage even turning him into a good Christian, and he manages to enlarge his property. He brings civilization to an isolated spot in the wilderness. Thus he is not just an adventurer, but he is English and a Puritan, and a conqueror: The vanguard of the British Empire.
Golding's characters act totally different: They expose the decline of the British Empire! Says the rescuing officer: "You`re all British, aren`t you?"

To make it short: The book is about

  • the decline of humanity
  • the brutal and primitive instincts of man
  • the impossibility of keeping up democracy and civilization under extraordinary circumstances
  • the powerlessness of knowledge and wisdom (SIMON)
  • the end of the British Empire
  • the fact that children are not to be considered innocent beings

Remember, it was written in the years after World War II.


CHAPTER I: The Sound of the Shell

After an air-crash a group of British schoolboys (aged between 6 and 12) finds itself on a lonely island in the Pacific. Ralph, a fair- haired and athletic boy and a fat boy with thick spectacles, soon called >Piggy< are exploring the place which appears to be fertile, peaceful and uninhabited. By blowing a conch Ralph manages to gather all the boys who have been scattered over the island, including a group of choir boys under the leadership of a tall boy named Jack. This choir approaches in military formation and dressed in black cloaks, the dress of the choir. Once they all have assembled they elect Ralph for their leader while Jack is named the leader of the >Hunters<. Then the whole island is explored.

SETTING: The Boys                          The Island
         --------                          ----------
British schoolboys (from 6 to 12)     fertile and peaceful, enough food
like to play                          for everyone, tropical climate,
innocent & cruel                      sunshine guaranteed, beaches, 
                                      lagoon, no dangerous animals
without any experience at all

    But: The island is nevertheless an isolated and remote place
         The boys can be cruel and and pitiless, they are no natives 
            and totally unfamiliar with situations like this
         they quarrel over the leadership, rivalry is disturbing the 

* Robert Michael Ballantyne: The Coral Island (1858)
  Three boys between 10 and 14 years live happily together on a far 
  away island, only cannibals and pirates disturb their harmony

CHAPTER II: Fire on the Mountain

After exploring the island one thing is clear: There are no other people on it, no adults to help or ask for help. As a consequence the CHILDREN have to act like GROWN-UPS to solve their problems: They start by establishing a democratic system, of which the conch is the instrument and the symbol, and with clearly defined rules:

RIGHTS                        DUTIES
-----                         ------
regular meetings              stick to the rules (obedience)
decisions made by all         feel responsible
free speech                   accept leadership and authority
free elections                discipline

Which are the PROBLEMS that have to be solved:
                    How to get rescued - FIRE on the mountain
                    How to get food    - Hunt for pigs
                    What jobs are to be done?
                         IS THERE A >BEAST<?

WHAT ARE THE CHANCES? (Look at the end of the chapter)
- they almost set the island on fire
- the children don`t care about the right to speak 
- one boy is already missing
- fear of the beast

         ==>THEY HAVE ALREADY LOST CONTROL (Piggy:"Like kids!") 

CHAPTER III: Huts on the beach

Jack hunts pigs in the jungle but doesn`t succeed yet. Back again he and Ralph argue about the priorities: buldiding huts or hunting pigs? Ralph complains about the other boys who show no sense of responsibility. Simon steals away into the jungle where he has build himself a hideaway.


- the majority of the children does not care about the situation
- Jack has become bloodthirsty, i.e. civilization is crumbling
- fears of a beast or something mysterious torture all of them (even the big ones)
- Simon is different from the rest of the group, he has his own thoughts.

CHAPTER IV: Painted Faces and Long Hair

Life on the island is described: The rhythm, the slow swing from dawn to dusk and the strange illusions of colour and light at midday (63/4). The "littluns" slowly turn savage, play all day long, get dirty and filthy. Roger trows stones at Henry, but doesn`t dare to hit him (67): "the taboo of the old life". Jack appears with white and red clay and starts painting his face; he`s obsessed with the idea of hunting pigs. Behind the mask he can hide, and his personality seems to be changing (69). Suddenly there is a smoke on the water and Ralph spots a ship. But to his horror he has to realize that the hunters have let the fire go out (72/3). Then the hunters appear in solemn procession carrying a killed pig. The antagonism becomes obvious: Meat or rescue? An argument arises during which Piggy is beaten by Jack and his specs get damaged. Eventually Jack gives in, apologizes to Ralph, a new fire is lit and Ralph decides to call for a meeting.

Chapter V: Beast from Water

This is the beginning of the crisis: the rules aren`t respected anymore, the group splits into smaller groups, opposing factions and individuals. An open fight over the leadership has started, there is much hate (Jack vs Piggy) and irrational fears prevail: there must be a beast, but because we didn`t find it on the island, it must be coming out of the sea. The first steps into anarchy and club-law are made.

Chapter VI: Beast from Air

Chapter VII: Shadows and tall trees

Chapter VIII: Gift for the darkness

Jack calls in the assembly and by accusing Ralph of cowardice (140) he asks for the leadership but nobody votes against Ralph; Jack goes off alone. The remaining boys decide to forget about the fire on the mountain (BEAST) and light a new one on the beach.(143) Jack forms his own group of hunters. They kill a big sow and spike its head on a stick as sacrifice for the beast: The Lord of the Flies. Jack and his hunters (disguised as Red Indians make a raid on the others and announce a great feast with lots of meat. They succeed in attracting more boys. Simon, probably in fever or in expectation of an epileptic fit, converses with the pig`s head on the stick: It says there is no escape from the beast, because the beast is inside everyone and that`s why things are as they are.


|How they started...        the issues...         What came out of it |
well-educated British        how to             they turn into savages:
school-boys                 get rescued           superstitious, blood-
who                                              thirsty
start organizing every-     food and/or         they forget about being
day life on the island         shelter            rescued
built up a democratic       Is there a          club-law is ruling,
system with equal rights      >beast<?         fights for leadership
meetings, rules etc                           >survival of the fittest<

                                                primitive religion with
                                           hunting rites and sacrifices 

                        THE LEADERS
RALPH                                 JACK
----                                 -----
ATHLETICALLY BUILT (10/11)            "ugly without silliness"(p 21)
fair-haired                         always associated with black things

thinks slowly. step by step          knows how to exploit childrens' fears
depending on Piggy`s inspirations    but also their need of fun and ad-
feels responsible for the group      lacks moral scruples
shows trust in moral principles      loves to exercise power
worries about the welfare
of the boys                          sense of competition but
                                     unable to accept defeat
                                     hides his vulnerability behind 
                                     paint and mask

                         THE VICTIMS
PIGGY                                SIMON
----                                -----
FAT, SHORT-SIGHTED                   suffering from occasional fits
suffering from poor health           outsider of the group
grown old before his time            a loner

loyal to Ralph`s leadership         shows a philosophical under-
  but                               standing of the beast inside man
being the most unfit and            but unable to communicate his
intellectual child he cannot                  knowledge
survive among the savages
                                    the prophet and the martyr

Chapter IX: A View to a Death

Simon finds out about the dead parachutist on the hill and returns to tell the others the truth about the >beast<. In the meanwhile the party is in progress, even Ralph and piggy eventually take part and enjoy the meat. It is Jack who is now in command of the situation and he behaves very much like a despotic chief of a primitive tribe. Ralph tries to challenge Jack`s position but the magic of the conch doesn`t work anymore. As darkness comes heavy thunder and lightning frighten the kids and Jack initiates a tribal pig-killing dance into the middle of which Simon stumbles out of the forest; he is mistaken for the >beast< and stabbed to death by the spears of the hunters.

Chapter X: The Shell and the Glasses


Test Nr x Form 10/11 (Chapter XII)


Part I: Explain or give synonyms:

(3) sockets - ________________________________________

(4) gaze - ___________________________________________

(8) fiercely - ________________________________________

(10) lash - ___________________________________________

(11) knuckles - _______________________________________

(12) wrench - _______________________________________

(13) quiver - _________________________________________

(17) accomplished - ______________________________________

(18) peep - _____________________________________________

Give the three forms: (1) ran - _____________________________

(12)lay - _______________________

(21) knelt - ____________________

Part II: Text analysis

"He staggered to his feet, tensed for more terrors, and looked up at a huge peaked cap. It was a white-topped cap, and above the green shade of the peak was a crown, an anchor, gold foliage. He saw white drill, epaulettes, a revolver, a row of gilt buttons down the front of a uniform.
A naval officer stood on the sand, looking down at Ralph in wary astonishment. On the beach behind him was a cutter, her bows hauled up and held by two soldiers. In the stern-sheets another soldier held a sub-machine gun.
The ululation faltered and died away.
The officer looked at Ralph for a moment, then took his hand away from the butt of the revolver.
Squirming a little, conscious of his filthy appearance, Ralph answered shyly.
The officer nodded, as if a question had been answered.
A semicircle of little boys, their bodies streaked with coloured clay, sharp sticks in their hands, were standing on the beach making no noise at all.
The officer inspected the little scarecrow in front of him. The kid needed a bath, a hair-cut, a nose-wipe and a good deal of ointment."

Answer in full sentences:

  1. What had happened immediately before Ralph and the officer met?
  2. Analyse this meeting: How did Golding arrange it? In which way is the reader`s attention guided by it? Is there any symbolism to be discovered in this scene?
Please, count your words.