The principal characters of Lord of the Flies are English schoolboys ranging from young children to older adolescents. These young men represent the upper level of British society; they are members of an elite school system from which the nation draws its leaders. Ralph, one of the main characters, vividly recalls the tranquility, safety, and comfort of the life he and the others have left behind. He remembers his room at home, stocked with all his favorite books, as a place where 'everything was all right; everything was good-humored and friendly.'
At the beginning of the book, the boys organize themselves into an orderly society inspired by the regimented life of school. The youngest boys, known as the 'littluns,' look to their more mature classmates for safety. Among the older students, several leaders quickly emerge. Ralph, a decisive young man who is determined to keep the group of boys together, engages them in productive work for the benefit of all, keeps the signal fire burning, and becomes their leader. Ralph learns to rely upon Piggy, an ungainly young man who has been teased because he is overweight, asthmatic, and physically uncoordinated, but whose advice can be trusted and whose loyalty is unwavering. Simon, another member of the group, works hard at first but later slacks off. Characterized by Ralph as 'funny,' Simon undergoes a direct confrontation with evil forces later in the novel, stirring the boys into a frenzy of fear and brutal violence.
As the novel progresses, the young men divide into two groups. The larger group, which deteriorates into a savage tribe motivated by the spirit of the 'Lord of the Flies,' is headed by Jack. The original group, headed by Ralph, continues to dwindle in size and power until Ralph himself becomes a fugitive. His authority is destroyed, and he finally flees into the island's undergrowth in a desperate attempt to escape from Jack and his tribe, who are bent on murdering him.
Golding shows that societal defects reflect the flaws of human nature. He asserts that no political system can substitute for individual codes of ethics in shaping society. His theme implies that each human being must engage in a battle against both outside and inner forces of evil, taking moral responsibility not only for individual actions but for the future of society. Piggy, for example, appears to be a weakling in a physical sense but has inner reserves of moral courage; he shows that true leadership qualities are not always readily apparent but must be appreciated in whomever they appear.
The antagonist of the novel is the most elusive character; the insidious 'Lord of the Flies' seems to be a satanic presence provoking evil from outside the individual. But the 'Lord of the Flies' speaks quite plainly to Simon, informing him, 'I'm part of you.' Golding's novel suggests that the first step in the battle against evil is a war waged against some of the most powerful forces within the human soul itself.
It is significant that Golding, who comes from a social background identical to that of the schoolboys in Lord of the Flies, chooses to focus on the destructive effect of evil upon this particular group. He understands how the traditional values of respectability, order, intelligence, reason, and self-discipline have been pressed upon generations of boys in the educational system of England. Golding asserts that nothing can erase the problem of evil from human society if the individual does not directly confront the temptation to choose wrong over right. He ensures that his novel does not imply that a particular social group, race, or class cannot be trusted. Golding's point is that, in the struggle to face the evil forces that rise from within the human spirit and threaten to overwhelm society, all men and women are equal. All are tempted to turn away from the best part of themselves and obey the most violent, degraded aspects of their personalities. To develop his theme, Golding depicts this violence and degradation in increasingly gory detail as the plot progresses and the schoolboys become savage hunters. The climactic passage describing the brutal killing of the sow is particularly disturbing for its use of sexual imagery; the murders of Simon and Piggy are also shocking, as Golding intends them to be.
TOPICS FOR DISCUSSION
1. The schoolchildren in Lord of the Flies are left alone on the island without adult supervision. Does this account for the change in their behavior? Explain.
2. The group of schoolmates is made up entirely of boys. Do you think a group of girls would have acted differently under the same circumstances?
3. At the beginning, Ralph is chosen as the leader of the group. Is he a poor choice for leader from the beginning? Why does the group stop paying attention to him? Why do the boys begin to follow Jack as their new leader?
4. Why do the boys seem less eager to build the fire as time passes?
5. Who is 'The Beast' really? Why does the nightmare that haunts the 'littlun' become a reality?
6. Sometimes people do things—especially wrong things—when they are part of a group that they would never do alone. Why is this true? Can you remember any examples from your own experience or from your reading?
7. Why do the children pick on Piggy? Is their behavior in school in any way related to the way they act when they are on the island?
8. Today, some young people join gangs. Do they do this for the same reason that the boys join Jack's tribe?
9. If you were an adult in charge of the boys after they were rescued, how would you treat them? Would you punish them? If so, how? If not, why not?
10. Some contemporary young people attribute their drug and alcohol abuse to 'peer pressure.' How does this 'peer pressure' manifest itself in today's society and on the island?
Contributed by: Lenore J. Gussin
Source: Beacham’s Guide to Literature for Young Adults. Copyright by Gale Group, Inc. Reprinted by permission.