Sir William Golding, author of Lord of the Flies, was born on 19th September, 1911 in Cornwall. A rational, scientific view of life was forced on him by his parents, but he sensed the dark, irrational world was all around him. The surroundings he was raised in included a 14th century house in a churchyard with a dark graveyard and dank cellars; these heavily affected his beliefs and views of the world. He went to school in Marlborough, before going to Oxford and (eventually) studying English Literature. He joined the Royal Navy during World War II, which is where he found inspiration for Lord of the Flies. After World War II had ended, he returned to teaching before leaving in 1962 to become a full-time writer. Lord of the Flies (1954) was Golding’s first novel, and is undoubtedly his most famous. Golding died in 1993, aged 82.
It is hard to classify Lord of the Flies as a certain type of story. It is often described as one, or a mixture, of three things:
A Myth is an ancient, traditional story which doesn’t have to be true but explains the unexplainable like human nature or the world we live in.
A Fable is a simple story, often using animal characters with a moral (hidden message) which can be seen in, or applied to, real life.
An Allegory is a story with two levels of meaning – the literal interpretation and a spiritual, moral or religious level.
Lord of the Flies is mainly an allegory, as the war between the boys echoes a real war going on as well. It is not just a story about boys on an island – the island is a microcosm of the real world. This war could be World War II, but as the novel was written in 1954, nine years after WWII ended, it seems unlikely. The war is more likely to be a future war where the threat of nuclear attack is even greater. However it is not accurate to just call it an allegory, as it has elements of fable and myth in it as well.
Jack and Roger are both evil characters; their evil is present from the start of the novel, but it is yet to surface, but it is clear from the start that they are disagreeable people. As soon as Jack arrives at the gathering of boys, he insults Piggy.
“‘You’re talking too much,’ said Jack Merridew. ‘Shut up, Fatty.'”
This is unnecessary abuse towards Piggy, and it shows that Jack considers himself to be better than his peers – in this case, the other boys on the island. Ralph then stands up for Piggy by telling the group that he isn’t called “Fatty”, which seems to please Piggy. However Ralph feels a twinge of evil in him, and decides to go against Piggy’s wishes and make fun of him, maybe getting Jack to like him at the same time. He does this by telling everyone that “his real name’s Piggy!”. This makes everyone laugh at Piggy, which makes Ralph feel one of the crowd more, as many other people are making fun of Piggy. However, he may have genuinely forgotten – as he tells Piggy later on, but I find this unlikely, after the amount of fuss that Piggy made.
Golding intentionally made Jack a figure of dislike; he is very arrogant and egotistic, and he assumes others will obey him. The reasons he gives for assuming leadership (the fact that he is a chapter chorister, can sing C sharp and is a head boy) are irrelevant, although being a head boy will provide experience of leadership. Being a chorister even suggests he has angelic properties; though, we find out later that this is definitely not true. He is solely interested in non-vital hunting (there are other food sources available). Later on in the novel, Jack uses the skills he has learnt hunting animals, to hunt humans – survival turns into warfare.
Roger starts off as still a bit civilised – but this completely changes as we progress deeper into Lord of the Flies. In chapter 4, Golding describes how Roger throws stones at Henry, one of the ‘littluns’.
“Roger stooped, picked up a stone, aimed and threw it at Henry – threw to miss … there was a space around Henry, perhaps six yards in diameter, into which he dare not throw.”
This shows that even though Roger is on the island, away from all usual correcting influences like parents, teachers, and the law, he still is ruled by them. This soon disappears though, and he becomes Jack’s sadistic lieutenant. This is made ironic, because later on in the novel, it is Roger who kills Piggy by pushing a rock onto him, and this is the pinnacle of Roger’s brutality. Roger is also the one who “sharpens a stick at both ends” preparing to capture and kill Ralph then put his head on a stick for the beast to eat. This shows that at the end, Roger eventually rises up over Jack and becomes the most evil inhabitant of the island. If the boys weren’t rescued when they were, I think that it is likely that Roger would have overthrown Jack as leader of the tribe.
Golding portrays Ralph, the central character in Lord of the Flies, as the epitome of a typical English lad – good-looking, good at sports, thin, honest, trustworthy, and an all round good guy. It is he who suggests assemblies and how to speak at them.
“We can’t have everybody talking at once. We’ll have to have ‘Hands up’ like at school … I’ll give the conch to the next person to speak. He can hold it when he’s speaking … And he won’t be interrupted. Except by me.”
Without Ralph, there may not have been any rules on the island. The last sentence of the quote above shows that Ralph wants to have more power than other members of the party on the island. There are two possible reasons to this – he thinks of himself as better than the others, and so should have more privileges, or he realises that someone has to be able to interrupt and stop anyone who is saying potentially harmful things before arguments break out. The latter reason is much more likely, as Ralph is a good person who isn’t power hungry – he doesn’t suggest he should become chief, or even suggest a vote – he is happy to accept Jack as leader. Also, it is impossible to have a society without some kind of leaders, as there would be no one to create and enforce laws, and punish criminals. A society where all the people are equal also doesn’t work as the collapse of Communism has proved.
Piggy is different from the other boys on the island in ways that are impossible for him to change; there are also things about himself that he could change that also set him apart from the community. Some of these factors are good things, but some are bad; there is a higher proportion of bad factors. He is overweight, wears glasses and has asthma, which are things he can’t help. These all make it harder for him to merge into the group. His views on the issues raised on the island are very unappealing to the boys, and his logical thinking is disagreeable, giving a possible reason why his death is less graceful than Simon’s, and more clinical.
“I can’t swim. I wasn’t allowed. My asthma—“
This annoys Ralph who snaps at Piggy, telling him “Sucks to your ass-mar!”, making Piggy feel annoyed. This isn’t very nice of Ralph as being asthmatic is something Piggy can’t help, and so he is probably very sensitive about it.
On the other hand, Piggy is probably the most intelligent of the boys on the island, and he passes this intelligence to Ralph. He is a great thinker, and has the ability to see how future events will end up. He also shows signs of caution, the ability to organise groups and stay calm under pressure.
Samneric (Sam and Eric) are the two twins who act as one person. All the duties they are assigned are performed together. This may be because they are not secure, happy or able to work without the other. Throughout Lord of the Flies they are always part of Ralph’s tribe, until they are captured at the end by Jack’s tribe. They are then forced to help protect Jack’s fort against Ralph, and then hunt him down.
Just after the raid by Jack’s tribe for Piggy’s glasses, Sam reveals how, during the raid, he got “mixed up with myself in a corner”. This is very ambiguous as it could literally mean he got tangled up, or he was fighting Sam – his other self. If the latter is true, it could be depicting the struggle between good and evil in every person.
Simon is the final main character in Lord of the Flies, and in many respects he is the most important. He shows many characteristics which contradict each other. He is withdrawn and bashful during the assemblies, yet is audacious enough to walk alone around the forest at night. He is often helping with the shelters, and helping to improve the community, yet he spends time alone, as an introverted hermit. He is “always about”, yet spends time unaccompanied in the jungle. This makes him even more confusing.
Simon is called different things by different people, but due to the fact they are all children, they lack the terminology to properly describe him. He is sympathetic and understanding and as he is unlike the others, they think of him as odd. Although what he says is kept to a minimum in Lord of the Flies, the lines he does say are significant.
“You’ll get back alright. I think so, anyway.”
He says this to Ralph, near the beginning of chapter 7, and it is strange because he says “you’ll get back”, not “we’ll get back”. This indicates that he has an insight into the fact that he is going to be killed before the boys are rescue. However, death may be the best rescue for him.
These prophecies of Simon’s lead me to think of him as a “Christ-like” figure. The fact that he is so calm and forgiving all the time, and is also brutally killed, makes it stand out. Simon had no evil in him, so he had nothing to fear in the forest, unlike the rest of the boys. When he stumbles out of the forest, after seeing the dead parachutist (quite literally a fallen man!) and finding out the truth about the beast, he tries to tell the others about what he has seen, so their fear will be reduced, if not quashed. However, they kill him before he can tell them, so they never know the truth. His taxing climb to the top of the mountain can be likened to mankind’s struggle towards understanding life. When Simon’s body is washed out to sea, we see some of the finest examples of nature’s brilliance which perfectly echoes how he was at one with nature, himself and God.
“The line of phosphorescence bulged about the sand grains and little pebbles; … The line of his cheek silvered and the turn of his shoulder became sculptured marble. … Softly, surrounded by a fringe of inquisitive bright creatures, itself a silver shape beneath the steadfast constellations, Simon’s dead body moved out towards the open sea.”
The letter “s” is used a lot in that passage, which is a soft soothing sound, and gives a relaxed impression. The word “silver” is also used, which has a very pure and clean association. This is very unlike when Piggy dies, as this is very cold and clinical, which matches Piggy’s personality. Ralph doesn’t weep for Simon as he knows that Simon has gone to a better place where he will be happier.
At the end of the novel, the boys get rescued, by a few naval officers. They are smartly dressed, with “white drill, epaulettes, a revolver, a row of gilt buttons down the front of a uniform”. The officer, who ventures off the safety of the boat onto the unknown of the island, instinctively reaches for his revolver. This shows that even a “respectable” person like him uses violence without giving it a second thought. How can young children resist evil, if a grown man can’t? It shows that there seems to be no escape from the condition of being human.
Overall in Lord of the Flies, there are only two inherently evil people: Jack and Roger. They both kill, and try to kill with intent, with no remorse for others. They influence the rest of the tribe, who probably don’t know any better, into helping commit these evil acts.
On the other hand, Simon was the only character with no evil at all in him. He saw the wider picture, and so was patient with others and tried to enlighten them, but they were not able to comprehend it.