It is Golding's intention in Lord of the Flies to tell a true story - to expose the beast within every one of us and tell a realistic story - "a book" as he put it "about real boys on an island, showing what a mess they'd make." Golding is quite clear on this point: "Within the child are the seeds of evil that will eventually flower."
Golding questions civilisation itself; against man's instinctive savagery, civilisation seems weak. In Golding's view, the innocence of the child is a lie, for man has by nature a terrible potential capability to commit evil. This potential cannot be eradicated or controlled by a human political system, no matter how respectable.
Golding insists that evil is inherent in man, a terrifying force that he must recognise and control. We are, in Golding's words, a species that "produces evil as a bee produces honey. "Just as the humble insect produces sweetness, we produce the wickedness and violence that sour our lives. Evil lies within man, whose nature is inherently depraved. Man's basic instinct is to kill, and the depth of his wickedness is revealed in his tendency to kill his own species.
Microcosm of the adult world
Explained Golding (in an interview concerning the novel):
I decided to take the literary convention of boys on an island, only make them real boys instead of paper cutouts with no life in them, and try to show how the shape of the society they evolved would be conditioned by their diseased, their fallen nature.
According to Golding:
The whole book is symbolic in nature except the rescue in the end where adult life appears, dignified and capable, but in reality enmeshed in the same evil as the symbolic life of the children on the island. The officer, having interrupted a manhunt, prepares to take the children off the island in a cruiser which will presently be hunting its enemy in the same implacable way. And who will rescue the adult and his cruiser?
What Golding is saying is that there is no essential difference between the island world and the adult one. The children reveal the same nature as the grown-ups. In fact the child's world on the island is a painful microcosm of the adult world, for the ruin they bring upon themselves is universal. After all it is atomic warfare in the air that has brought them to the island.
The Significance of the Title
The title is a translation of Beelzebub, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Ba'alzevuv, which in Judaism and Christianity denotes the principles of evil personified. He is one of the chief devils in John Milton's Paradise Lost.
Golding equates the Lord of the Flies with the demonic (devilish) force present in humankind - a force so hideous, that fly-covered excrement would best represent it. Golding presents evil, not as an abstraction, but as something concrete, namely, a pig's head swarming with flies.
In order to account for Simon's insight into the nature of evil, Golding makes him a visionary and a saint. Simon knows there is no beast: "maybe it's only us," he suggests. To clarify his suggestion, he asks timidly, "What's the dirtiest thing there is?" Jack answers in a word of "one crude expressive syllable." The word is obviously "shit", which in 1954 Golding was too discreet to use. The logic here is clear but depressing: if humans are the beasts, then humans are shit. Thus the two basic metaphors for evil are flies and excrement, so that the Lord of the Flies is the Lord of Dung. Excrement is everywhere on the island. Eating fruit causes diarrhoea, and the island is dotted with faeces.
The sound of the shell
Ralph and Piggy meet on the island. Ralph is insulting and unfriendly to the "fat boy."
Ralph is excited at being on an island where there are no grown-ups and he is free to do as he wishes. He shows his delight by standing on his head.
The island is described delicately and beautifully: "shimmering water", "dazzling beach and water", "tiny, glittering fish"
They find a shell - a "conch" as Piggy explains to Ralph.The conch, like the island, is beautiful: "the shell was deep cream."
"... touched here and there with fading pink."
"a gleaming tusk."
Ralph, instructed by Piggy (whom he despises), blows the conch to call other survivors who are on the island. Boys respond to the call and move towards Ralph and Piggy.
A note of darkness is introduced by a party of choirboys led by Jack Merridew, an arrogant and unpleasant fellow.
Ralph is elected leader.
Ralph, Jack, and a "batty" boy, Simon, set out to explore the island.
Jack cannot (at this stage) bring himself to kill a pig. His desire for violence, his blood-lust, is still held in check by the rules of society.
Friendship: "Jack and Ralph smiled at each other with shy liking."
Beauty of the island in its natural state: "Candle buds, conch"
Violence: Jack's frustration: "Next time ...!"
From your reading of Chapter 1, complete the table below by writing brief notes in each box as appropriate.
Attitude towards other boys
Fire on the mountain
The "glamour" is severely diminished in this chapter.
The three boys are finding the new environment strange and are struggling to agree on how to organise themselves.
Piggy can only identify with the rational, orderly world. Ralph wants to have fun but also wants to be rescued, so he understands the importance of a fire. Jack wants to hunt and kill pigs.
A small boy "one side of his face blotted out by a mulberry-coloured birthmark" is terrified of the "snake-thing." Thus the fear of the "beastie" is already present.
The decision is taken to build shelters and to keep a fire going on the mountain in the hope that a passing ship will see it and come and rescue them.
Piggy's specs (the symbol of reason) are used to light the fire. At this stage they have not yet been smashed.
Piggy is uneasy at the end of the chapter because the boy "with a mark on his face" has disappeared.
In Chapter 2 we learn a lot more about Piggy, Ralph and Jack. Consider the words given below and then pick out short quotes from the chapter which seem to illustrate the types of behaviour listed. Write them in the appropriate boxes.
Jack snatched the glasses off his (Piggy) face.If there was a snake wed hunt it and kill it. Jack slammed his knife into a trunk and looked round challengingly.
But this is a good island&Theres food and drink. You couldnt have a beastie on an island this size, Ralph explained kindly.
How can you expect to be rescued if you dont put first things first and act proper.
Weve got to have rules and obey them.After all, were not savages. Were English.
...Like a crowd of kids.
Thats enough! said Ralph sharply.
Until the grown-ups come to fetch us, well have fun.
His specs use them as burning glasses.
I got the conch, said Piggy bleakly.
He is uncertain whether to stand up or remain sitting.
You said you wanted a small fire and you been and built a pile like a hayrick. How could I, cried Piggy indignantly all by myself?
Huts on the beach
Jack continues his hunt for meat. Ralph feels despondent about ever convincing the boys of the necessity to build shelters. Golding tells us that between Jack and Ralph "the antagonism was audible".
We are beginning to see more and more that Simon is different. He is a loner, unafraid. Ralph says: "He's queer.He's funny."
Friendship is deteriorating.Ralph and Jack have totally different ideas.
Jack: "If you're hunting sometimes you catch yourself feeling as if& you're not hunting, but - being hunted; as if something's behind you all the time in the jungle."
Can you explain what Jack is trying to communicate, and why he is unable to articulate the feeling?
Jack is perhaps troubled by the idea of evil which cannot be seen.
To avoid this uncomfortable feeling, he chooses the role of the ultimate savage. He liberates himself from his uncertainty through painting his face and adopting a new identity that of Chief.
Ralph: "People don't help much."
He wanted to explain how people were never quite what you thought they were.
What is Golding suggesting through Ralph's strange comment, and through the sentence that follows?
People are too fickle and easily bored.People want action (hence the attraction of Jack's hunting).Maybe Ralph is just starting to see the value and loyalty of Piggy.Maybe Golding is disturbed at the historical events of his time, where selfishness and power were the governing force.
While fear is controlled during the light of day, it causes great distress at night. "They [the littluns] suffered untold terrors in the dark and huddled together for comfort."
The behaviour of Maurice and especially Roger is very disturbing. Golding writes: "... the shock of black hair, down his nape and low on his forehead, seemed to suit his gloomy face and made what had seemed at first an unsociable remoteness into something forbidding. "It is through this style of sinister description that Golding suggests the raging violence inside Roger that will erupt when savage behaviour takes hold on the island.
Jack conceals his real identity by painting his face. This mask enables him to deny who he is and frees him to behave as a "thing on its own, behind which Jack hid, liberated from shame and self-consciousness." When he looks at his own reflection "he looked in astonishment, no longer at himself but at an awesome stranger."
Juxtaposed with Jack's "bloodthirsty snarling," Piggy's thoughts remain static within rational, reasonable limits. He now suggests that they make a sundial. Ralph's sharp rebuke is not only aimed at Piggy, who "was a bore", but also reveals Ralph's instinctive understanding that the idea is absurd. Golding is gently revealing the limitations of Piggy's devotion to the factual and the scientific that can only have a limited effect on the island.
A ship passes, but the fire of rescue is dead as Jack and his hunters, carrying the "gutted carcass of a pig" return from their hunt. Their ritual chanting of "Kill the pig. Cut her throat. Spill her blood" is menacing and totally removed from the idea of rescue. Unable to cope with Ralph and Piggy's desperation that their chance of rescue has been lost, Jack viciously attacks Piggy. "Piggy's glasses flew off and tinkled on the rocks. "The voice of reason has been reduced to one eye.
Everyone, even Ralph and Piggy, join in the feast. The hunters continue with their chanting, after which Ralph announces that he is calling an assembly. Ralph walks off, down the mountain.
Points to ponder
What do you think is the significance of Piggy's glasses being broken?
the breakdown of reason and civilised values and the rise of savagery
the theme of fear intensifies as the darkness causes terror
the limitations of science to explain or direct the world
Ralph is disturbed and distressed. He can appreciate Piggy now and realise his (Piggy's) worth. At the assembly he wants to reinforce the importance of treating the rules as a priority. He also wants to discuss the fear and try to deal with it. But the assembly ends chaotically.
Jack responds to this talk of fear of a beast with sarcasm and ridicule. Piggy responds with reason: "What would a beast eat?" and is bitterly answered by Jack (and his hunters):
"We eat pig"
In this way Golding symbolically acknowledges the inevitable, which will be the murder of Piggy once anarchy has enveloped the island.
Piggy is troubled. For him life "is scientific." Thus Piggy can find no explanation for an intangible fear.
It is Ralph who touches on the essence of Golding's philosophy of humanity when he says: "Unless we get frightened of people" and this is followed by Simon who walks in the forest alone at night, who acknowledges that there may be a beast and "... maybe it's only us."
Thus it is Simon who senses what Golding calls "mankind's essential illness."
Unable to convince Jack of the importance of rules, Ralph is left alone with Piggy and Simon. Ralph and Piggy long for the security of home and, as Golding puts it, "the majesty of adult life." What an irony!
Ralph, Jack, Piggy and Simon have been asked to fill in the following questionnaire:
the good things about the island?
the bad things about the island?
the most important thing to do on an island?
the most important quality in a leader?
the most important quality in a friend?
the way to survive?
the way to be happy?
You may use one word only from those givenbelow as a key to their attitude about life onthe island. Attempt this exercise and then check how youranswers compare with those suggested.