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Character List

Ralph - The novel’s protagonist, the twelve-year-old English boy who is elected leader of the group of boys marooned on the island. Ralph attempts to coordinate the boys’ efforts to build a miniature civilization on the island until they can be rescued. Ralph represents human beings’ civilizing instinct, as opposed to the savage instinct that Jack embodies.

Jack - The novel’s antagonist, one of the older boys stranded on the island. Jack becomes the leader of the hunters but longs for total power and becomes increasingly wild, barbaric, and cruel as the novel progresses. Jack, adept at manipulating the other boys, represents the instinct of savagery within human beings, as opposed to the civilizing instinct Ralph represents.

Simon - A shy, sensitive boy in the group. Simon, in some ways the only naturally “good” character on the island, behaves kindly toward the younger boys and is willing to work for the good of their community. Moreover, because his motivation is rooted in his deep feeling of connectedness to nature, Simon is the only character whose sense of morality does not seem to have been imposed by society. Simon represents a kind of natural goodness, as opposed to the unbridled evil of Jack and the imposed morality of civilization represented by Ralph and Piggy.

Piggy - Ralph’s “lieutenant.” A whiny, intellectual boy, Piggy’s inventiveness frequently leads to innovation, such as the makeshift sundial that the boys use to tell time. Piggy represents the scientific, rational side of civilization.

Roger - Jack’s “lieutenant.” A sadistic, cruel older boy who brutalizes the littluns.

Sam and Eric - A pair of twins closely allied with Ralph. Sam and Eric are always together, and the other boys often treat them as a single entity, calling them “Samneric.” The easily excitable Sam and Eric are part of the group known as the “bigguns.” At the end of the novel, they fall victim to Jack’s manipulation and coercion.

The Lord of the Flies - The name given to the sow’s head that Jack’s gang impales on a stake and erects in the forest as an offering to the “beast.” The Lord of the Flies comes to symbolize the primordial instincts of power and cruelty that take control of Jack’s tribe.

Themes
Civilization vs. Savagery
The central concern of Lord of the Flies is the conflict between two competing impulses that exist within all human beings: the instinct to live by rules, act peacefully, follow moral commands, and value the good of the group against the instinct to gratify one’s immediate desires, act violently to obtain supremacy over others, and enforce one’s will. This conflict might be expressed in a number of ways: civilization vs. savagery, order vs. chaos, reason vs. impulse, law vs. anarchy, or the broader heading of good vs. evil. Throughout the novel, Golding associates the instinct of civilization with good and the instinct of savagery with evil.

The conflict between the two instincts is the driving force of the novel, explored through the dissolution of the young English boys’ civilized, moral, disciplined behavior as they accustom themselves to a wild, brutal, barbaric life in the jungle. Lord of the Flies is an allegorical novel, which means that Golding conveys many of his main ideas and themes through symbolic characters and objects. He represents the conflict between civilization and savagery in the conflict between the novel’s two main characters: Ralph, the protagonist, who represents order and leadership; and Jack, the antagonist, who represents savagery and the desire for power.

Loss of Innocence
As the boys on the island progress from well-behaved, orderly children longing for rescue to cruel, bloodthirsty hunters who have no desire to return to civilization, they naturally lose the sense of innocence that they possessed at the beginning of the novel. The painted savages in Chapter 12 who have hunted, tortured, and killed animals and human beings are a far cry from the guileless children swimming in the lagoon in Chapter 3. But Golding does not portray this loss of innocence as something that is done to the children; rather, it results naturally from their increasing openness to the innate evil and savagery that has always existed within them. Golding implies that civilization can mitigate but never wipe out the innate evil that exists within all human beings. The forest glade in which Simon sits in Chapter 3 symbolizes this loss of innocence. At first, it is a place of natural beauty and peace, but when Simon returns later in the novel, he discovers the bloody sow’s head impaled upon a stake in the middle of the clearing. The bloody offering to the beast has disrupted the paradise that existed before—a powerful symbol of innate human evil disrupting childhood innocence.

Motifs

Biblical Parallels
Many critics have characterized Lord of the Flies as a retelling of episodes from the Bible. While that description may be an oversimplification, the novel does echo certain Christian images and themes. Golding does not make any explicit or direct connections to Christian symbolism in Lord of the Flies; instead, these biblical parallels function as a kind of subtle motif in the novel, adding thematic resonance to the main ideas of the story. The island itself, particularly Simon’s glade in the forest, recalls the Garden of Eden in its status as an originally pristine place that is corrupted by the introduction of evil. Similarly, we may see the Lord of the Flies as a representation of the devil, for it works to promote evil among humankind. Furthermore, many critics have drawn strong parallels between Simon and Jesus. Simon’s conversation with the Lord of the Flies also parallels the confrontation between Jesus and the devil during Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness, as told in the Christian Gospels.

However, it is important to remember that the parallels between Simon and Christ are not complete, and that there are limits to reading Lord of the Flies purely as a Christian allegory. Save for Simon’s two uncanny predictions of the future, he lacks the supernatural connection to God that Jesus has in Christian tradition. Although Simon is wise in many ways, he does not bring salvation to the island, Simon—and Lord of the Flies as a whole—echoes Christian ideas and themes without developing explicit, precise parallels with them. The novel’s biblical parallels enhance its moral themes but are not necessarily the primary key to interpreting the story.

Symbols

The Conch Shell
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Ralph and Piggy discover the conch shell on the beach at the start of the novel and use it to summon the boys together after the crash separates them. Used in this capacity, the conch shell becomes a powerful symbol of civilization and order in the novel. The shell effectively governs the boys’ meetings, for the boy who holds the shell holds the right to speak. In this regard, the shell is more than a symbol—it is an actual vessel of political legitimacy and democratic power. As the island civilization erodes and the boys descend into savagery, the conch shell loses its power and influence among them. Later, the other boys ignore Ralph and throw stones at him when he attempts to blow the conch in Jack’s camp. The boulder that Roger rolls crushes the conch shell, signifying the demise of the civilized instinct among almost all the boys on the island.

Piggy’s Glasses
Piggy is the most intelligent, rational boy in the group, and his glasses represent the power of science and intellectual endeavor in society. This symbolic significance is clear from the start of the novel, when the boys use the lenses from Piggy’s glasses to focus the sunlight and start a fire. When Jack’s hunters raid Ralph’s camp and steal the glasses, the savages effectively take the power to make fire, leaving Ralph’s group helpless.

The Signal Fire
The signal fire burns on the mountain, and later on the beach, to attract the notice of passing ships that might be able to rescue the boys. As a result, the signal fire becomes a barometer of the boys’ connection to civilization. In the early parts of the novel, the fact that the boys maintain the fire is a sign that they want to be rescued and return to society. When the fire burns low or goes out, we realize that the boys have lost sight of their desire to be rescued and have accepted their savage lives on the island. The signal fire thus functions as a kind of measurement of the strength of the civilized instinct remaining on the island. Ironically, at the end of the novel, a fire finally summons a ship to the island, but not the signal fire. Instead, it is the fire of savagery—the forest fire Jack’s gang starts as part of his quest to hunt and kill Ralph.

The Beast
The imaginary beast that frightens all the boys stands for the primal instinct of savagery that exists within all human beings. The boys are afraid of the beast, but only Simon reaches the realization that they fear the beast because it exists within each of them. As the boys grow more savage, their belief in the beast grows stronger. By the end of the novel, the boys are leaving it sacrifices and treating it as a totemic god. The boys’ behavior is what brings the beast into existence, so the more savagely the boys act, the more real the beast seems to become.

The Lord of the Flies
The Lord of the Flies is the bloody, severed sow’s head that Jack impales on a stake in the forest glade as an offering to the beast. This complicated symbol becomes the most important image in the novel when Simon confronts the sow’s head in the glade and it seems to speak to him, telling him that evil lies within every human heart and promising to have some “fun” with him. In this way, the Lord of the Flies becomes both a physical manifestation of the beast, a symbol of the power of evil, and a kind of Satan figure who evokes the beast within each human being. Looking at the novel in the context of biblical parallels, the Lord of the Flies recalls the devil, just as Simon recalls Jesus. In fact, the name “Lord of the Flies” is a literal translation of the name of the biblical name Beelzebub, a powerful demon in hell sometimes thought to be the devil himself.

Ralph, Piggy, Jack, Simon, and Roger
Lord of the Flies is an allegorical novel, and many of its characters signify important ideas or themes. Ralph represents order, leadership, and civilization. Piggy represents the scientific and intellectual aspects of civilization. Jack represents unbridled savagery and the desire for power. Simon represents natural human goodness. Roger represents brutality and bloodlust at their most extreme. To the extent that the boys’ society resembles a political state, the littluns might be seen as the common people, while the older boys represent the ruling classes and political leaders. The relationships that develop between the older boys and the younger ones emphasize the older boys’ connection to either the civilized or the savage instinct: civilized boys like Ralph and Simon use their power to protect the younger boys and advance the good of the group; savage boys like Jack and Roger use their power to gratify their own desires, treating the littler boys as objects for their own amusement.

Vocabulary

Chapter 1
Efflorescence - Blooming of flowers, state of flowering
Enmity - Deep seated hatred; State of being an enemy
Decorous - Exhibiting appropriate behavior or conduct
Chorister - A singer or leader of a choir
Bastion - A stronghold or fortification; similar to a stronghold
Hiatus - A gap or interruption in continuity; a break or pause

Chapter 2
Ebullience - Zestful or spirited enthusiasm
Recrimination - The act of accusing in return; opposing another charge
Tumult - Commotion of a great crowd; disorder
Tirade - A long angry or violent speech; a diatribe

Chapter 3
Oppressive - Using power unjustly; burdensome
Inscrutable - Difficult to understand, mysterious
Vicissitudes - A change or variation; unexpected changes in life
Declivities - Downward slopes, as of a hill
Tacit - Not spoken; implied by actions or statements

Chapter 4
Blatant - Totally or offensively obtrusive; very obvious
Taboo - Excluded or forbidden from use or mention
Sinewy - Lean and muscular; stringy and tough
Malevolently - Having an ill will or wishing harm to others; malicious

Chapter 5
Ludicrous - obviously absurd; foolish
Ineffectual - Insufficient to produce an effect; useless
Jeer - to abuse vocally; taunt or mock
Inarticulate - Incomprehensible; unable to speak with clarity

Chapter 6
Leviathan - Something very large; giant sea creature in the Bible
Clamor - A loud outcry; great expression of discontent
Mutinously - Unruly; insubordinate or constituting a mutiny

Chapter 7
Crestfallen - Dispirited and depressed; dejected
Impervious - Incapable of being penetrated or affected
Enterprise - An undertaking or business organization; industrious

Chapter 8
Glowered - Looked at or stared angrily or sullenly
Rebuke - To criticize sharply; check or repress
Demure - Modest and reserved in manner or behavior
Fervor - Great intensity of emotion; intense heat

Chapter 9
Corpulent - Excessively fat
Sauntered - To walk at a leisurely pace; stroll
Steadfast - Fixed in direction, firm in purpose

Chapter 10
Compelled - To force or drive; exert a strong, irresistible force on
Befoul - To make dirty or filthy; soil, defile
Gesticulate - To make or use gestures in an excited manner with or instead of speech
Stifle - To end by force; to suppress or withhold

Chapter 11
Luminous - Emitting light; full of light
Myopia - Nearsightedness
Sniveling - To sniffle; complain or whine tearfully
Quavered - Trembled, or spoke in a trembling voice
Parried - Deflected or warded off; avoided
Talisman - An object with magical power

Chapter 12
Acrid - Unpleasantly sharp or bitter taste or smell
Cordon - A line of people or ships stationed to guard
Elephantine - The size of an elephant; enormous size/strength
Epaulettes - A fringed strap worn on military uniforms

Allegory
An allegory is a device used in literature, rhetoric and art to signify a meaning that is not literal. When a device, a character or a symbol is considered allegory it may be symbolic of a concept, like reason or fortune, it might symbolize a type of person, like the “Everyman,” or a worldview.
In literature, allegory is rampant. Sometimes works were specifically allegorical, though some are read as both truth and symbol. The apple that Adam receives from Eve is symbolic of the “knowledge of God and Evil” and is thus allegorical. The serpent is often read as an allegory signifying the tempter, or true evil.

In the New Testament, Christ makes frequent use of the parable to make statements about “people” in general. For example, the Good Samaritan is an allegory representing the right thinking and compassionate person. This is a specific rhetorical use of the allegory.
Drama in medieval times often consisted of “morality plays,” and the most famous of these is the play Everyman. The main character, Everyman, is allegory for the plight of all men in the face of temptation.

With the development of the novel, allegory becomes much harder to interpret and prove. Novels tended to rely on a reader investing in interpreting characters as “real” people, but also viewing the character as symbolic of something larger. For example, the gothic novels and later the sensational novels often used the concept of women imprisoned or captured by evil. Many feminists read these characters as allegorical representations of the lack of freedom accorded to women.

In fact allegory comes down to interpretation in the developing novel and the modern novel. Literary critics often argue as to whether characters are meant to be allegorical, real or stereotypical. Often literary characters can be read in multiple ways.

A return to allegory less disputed is the many films featuring the superhero. Superman, Spiderman, and Batman, for example, are all allegorical representations of the everyman. The evils they fight are the temptations to greed, to violence and to behavior that will in other ways disrupt society. Superheroes stand as both the everyman and the guardian against evil.

One of the most interesting workings of allegory in modern television was the series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Each week Buffy would face a new demon or vampire that was also allegorical to whatever issues Buffy faced as a high school and later college student. Use of allegory in each episode was so strong and cohesive that even scholars became deeply interested in the Buffyverse. Multiple serious conventions of literature and film majors were held to present scholarly interpretations of Buffy.

Allegory in present day adds layers of depth to artwork, since artistic figures or literary characters can be meant to be both real and symbolic. Looking for such symbolism can be a fun or challenging process depending upon the artwork. Typically, modern allegory often reveals the artist’s intent or worldview. It is part of the subtext that gives the reader, viewer or observer information regarding an artist’s vision of not only how the world exists, but also how it might exist.

Key Facts

full title · Lord of the Flies
author · William Golding
type of work · Novel
genre · Allegory; adventure story; castaway fiction; loss-of-innocence fiction
language · English
time and place written · Early 1950s; Salisbury, England
date of first publication · 1954
narrator · The story is told by an anonymous third-person narrator who conveys the events of the novel without commenting on the action or intruding into the story.
point of view · The narrator speaks in the third person, primarily focusing on Ralph’s point of view but following Jack and Simon in certain episodes. The narrator is omniscient and gives us access to the characters’ inner thoughts.
tone · Dark; violent; pessimistic; tragic; unsparing
tense · Immediate past
setting (time) · Near future
setting (place) · A deserted tropical island
protagonist · Ralph
major conflict · Free from the rules that adult society formerly imposed on them, the boys marooned on the island struggle with the conflicting human instincts that exist within each of them—the instinct to work toward civilization and order and the instinct to descend into savagery, violence, and chaos.
themes · Civilization vs. savagery; the loss of innocence; innate human evil
motifs · Biblical parallels; natural beauty; the bullying of the weak by the strong; the outward trappings of savagery (face paint, spears, totems, chants)
symbols · The conch shell; Piggy’s glasses; the signal fire; the beast; the Lord of the Flies; Ralph, Piggy, Jack, Simon, and Roger