Lord of the Flies is a novel written by William Golding published 1954. It features a group of English schoolboys escaping from a war, whose plane had crashed onto a deserted island. At first, the boys band together to survive under the direction of their elected leader, Ralph: building a fire for smoke signals, gathering food and creating huts to sleep in. Soon however, rumors start to fly through the boys that there is a mysterious, dangerous beast hidden on the island who wants to kill them all. The boys are divided on whether “The Beast” actually does exist, and a power-hungry boy named Jack takes this as his advantage to gain control of the boys. He uses The Beast as a lure for the boys to join his tribe, where they hunt pigs for meat and sacrifice the head of the animal to the monster for protection. Most of the children find out too late that there really is no monster after all, but it is the innate evil that lives inside of everyone that is the true Beast.
The characters of this book can reveal the message of the story on a deeper level. Ralph, the leader of the boys is described as “The boy with the fair hair” in chapter one. The word fair not only portrays his physical appearance, but also his character. He has a strong sense of what is right/wrong and equal for everyone. He leads the boys with a direct purpose: keep the fire going so we can be rescued. He represents everything about civilization – duty, stability and order. A conch shell that was found of the beach is used as a calling device for meetings and a rule was made that anyone who holds it may speak. This shell acts as a symbol of the politics and order of society. Later when it is smashed to pieces by Roger, it is as if all orderliness and stability has been broken, only chaos remains.
Piggy is a short, plump boy with glasses. He acts as Ralph’s helper, and whenever he strays off his goal of rescue Piggy promptly guides him back. It is sad, but none of the boys really appreciated nor liked Piggy. He was very smart, and had a lot of good ideas on how to survive, but no one really listened to him at all except Ralph. In fact, it was his own glasses that were used as the tool to start their signal fire. Piggy and his glasses both represent the science and intellect behind society which is later destroyed when Piggy is brutally murdered by Roger and his glasses stolen.
Simon is a quiet and thoughtful person. He seems to fade into the background of the story at first, but his importance should not be missed. Simon was one of the few boys who actually cared about the safety of the younger children, and always treated them kindly. Unlike Ralph, who was motivated to do things simply because it was right/wrong in the eyes of society, Simon did things out of the goodness of his heart. He represents the spiritual and innate goodness in people. He was the first person to figure out what “the beast” actually was: “Maybe,” he said hesitantly, “maybe there is a beast.” The assembly cried out savagely and Ralph stood up in amazement.
“You, Simon? You believe in this?”…………..”What I mean is…….maybe it’s only us.”
Simon was the first person to grasp this concept, but no one would listen to him. Later on, Simon has an imaginary conversation with the Lord of the Flies (another name for the Beast) in his head, sort of like a vision: “Fancy thinking the Beast was something you could hunt and kill!” said the head. For a moment or two the forest and all the other dimly appreciated places echoed with the parody of laughter. “You knew, didn’t you? I’m part of you? Close, close, close! I’m the reason why it’s no go? Why things are what they are?”
Unfortunately, Simon, the only innately good, honorable character, was killed by the group of boys while trying to warn them of what the Beast really was.
Jack and Roger are both power-hungry individuals. They seek for the attention and control of all the other boys. Jack one of the first of the boys to cave to his savage impulses, and his inner desires show themselves through the thrill he experiences after killing his first pig. “His mind was crowded with memories; memories of the knowledge that had come to them when they had closed in on the struggling pig, knowledge that they had outwitted a living thing, imposed their will upon it, taken away its life like a long satisfying drink.”
Jack later succeeds in convincing most of the other boys to join his new tribe where they spend their days hunting and feasting, sacrificing the head of the pigs on sticks to the Beast.
Like Simon, Roger wasn’t a very prominent character in the beginning; not notable or important. However, after he teases poor Henry on the beach, he begins to grow into an evil leader alongside Jack.
“Roger stooped, picked up a stone, aimed, and threw it at Henry – threw it to miss. The stone, that token of preposterous time, bounced five yards to Henry’s right and fell in the water. Roger gathered a handful of stones and began to throw them. Yet there was a space round Henry, perhaps six yards in diameter, into which he dare not throw. Here, invisible yet strong, was the taboo of the old life. Round the squatting child was the protection of parents and school and policemen and the law. Roger’s arm was conditioned by a civilization that knew nothing of him and was in ruins.”
Here, we see Roger’s desires and tendency towards violence; yet, in this instance he was stopped by the principles and teaching of society. He had not yet abandoned those things which he had been taught growing up. In time though, he changes into a violent leader, torturing Sam and Eric into joining Jack’s tribe, and sharpening a stick on both ends in anticipation of killing Ralph. Jack represents what can happen when a desire for domination and power are left unchecked, while Roger an innate, evil drive for violence.
An interesting side-note to the story are the biblical parallels that it possesses. Some people say that the island can be a representation of the Garden of Eden; a beautiful, bountiful land which becomes corrupted by forces of evil. Something that I find even more intriguing is the hidden meaning in the title of the book. A literal translation of the Lord of the Flies means Beelzebub, who is the ruler over all demons in the Bible. This reveals a deeper, meaningful theme of the book. It is not just about the struggle between civilization and savagery, but it is about a struggle that is within all of us on a more intimate level: the war between the forces of spiritual darkness and spiritual light that is a constant battle for everyone. The Lord of the Flies is a thought-provoking allegory about the parallels between civilization and savagery and how there is an innate evil inside of every one of us that is battling for control over our established moral code and spiritual goodness.
Near the end of the book, Ralph is the only one left who has not joined Jack’s tribe of savages, and he is on the run for his life. Roger is determined to catch up with him and kill him, so he designs a hunt and everyone on the island is looking for him. They start a fire in order to flush him out of the woods, and when Ralph reaches the beach he is startled to see a group of men in uniform who had seen the smoke from the blaze and came to check it out. The other boys rush out of the woods after him, and upon seeing the men, they all start to cry.
“But the island was scorched up like dead wood – Simon was dead – and Jack had……The tears began to flow and sobs shook him. He gave himself up to them now for the first time on the island; great, shuddering spasms of grief that seemed to wrench his whole body. His voice rose under the black smoke before the burning wreckage of the island; and infected by that emotion, the other little boys began to shake and sob too. And in the middle of them, with filthy body, matted hair, and unwiped nose, Ralph wept for the end of innocence, the darkness of man’s heart, and the fall through the air of the true, wise friend called Piggy.”