The Lord of the Flies Synopsis
Lord of the Flies is a dystopian novel in which a group of young boys are in a plane crash on a deserted island. The boys were leaving England, which is struggling to fight an intense war. When they arrive on the island, they are forced to struggle between the urge to maintain some order and structure, which they’ve known all their lives.
Instead, however, some of the more rebellious boys give in to their wild natures earlier on and this spreads as a kind of hysteria among the boys. The novel speaks to what can happen when structure is removed forcibly.
Literary Elements of Lord of the Flies
Author: William Golding
Type of Work: Novel
Genres: Dystopian allegory
Published Date: 1954
Setting: A deserted island sometimes in the not-distant future
Main Characters: Ralph, Jack, Simon, Piggy
Major Thematic Elements: Civilization vs. savages; the innate evil of humanity; loss of innocence through struggle
Motifs: Nature’s beauty; Biblical references; bullying; symbols of savagery
Exposition: As a war wages in England, a plane carrying a group of evacuated British schoolboys is shot down and lands on a deserted island somewhere in the tropics.
Conflict: The group of deserted boys struggle between their desire to maintain the rules and structure they know of civilization and the instinct to turn wild like the island they inhabit.
Plot: Chronological, told from a third-person omniscient point of view
Major Symbols: The conch shell; Piggy’s glasses; the signal fire; the Lord of the Flies; the groups of boys
Climax: Simon discovers the Lord of the Flies in the forest and realizes that it is less a beast and more a natural instinct, one which exists within each of the boys. When Simon tries to convey this revelation to the other boys, they attack and kill him.
Literary Significance of Lord of the Flies
The author of The Lord of the Flies, William Golding, was a British soldier in World War II. He was intensely impacted by his experiences and became convinced that within all humans exists the possibility of evil. His writing work, after his time in the war, reflected this idea. The Lord of the Flies was written post-WWII during what is known as the “atomic age.” During this time, Western society lived in fear of nuclear attacks, which came to an initial rise at the end of WWII. The Cold War started developing between Russia and the United States as both countries engaged in a nuclear arms race. This had an intense effect for many people across the world, who had to live in constant fear of a nuclear bomb falling on them like it did in Japan at the end of WWII.
Because of the world’s current events at the time of this novel’s publishing, it begs the question—will human beings be able to maintain order if society is destroyed in nuclear war? Is human nature self-destructive, as is the case on this deserted island? Or will there be a moral movement in the interest of a common good that will rise above this self-destructive tendency? These poignant questions are part of what led Golding to win the Nobel Prize in literature as societies across the globe grappled with these possibilities.
Lord of the Flies Book Summary
A group of English schoolboys have been in a plane crash on a deserted island as they were being evacuated from war-torn England. Two boys, Ralph and Piggy, find each other on the beach and discover a conch shell, which Piggy recommends using as a trumpet to signal to the other boys to meet them on the beach. Once they’ve gathered, they elect a leader and plan ways in which they can get rescued. Ralph is elected as the leader and he makes Jack the head of the hunting committee.
Ralph and Jack set off to explore the island along with another boy named Simon. They decide to build a fire at the top of the highest mountain on the island so any passing ships may see it and come rescue them. The boys manage to light a fire but are distracted by play and wind up burning down part of the surrounding forest. Piggy exclaims that one of the younger boys is now missing, presumably killed in the negligent fire.
In chapter three, Ralph and Simon try to build huts for the younger boys but are frustrated at the lack of help. Many of the boys continue to play in the same negligent manner that led to the fire. Jack is shortsighted about concerns for the younger boys because he is intent on killing a pig that had evaded him earlier. The younger boys, now called “littluns” are tormented by mirages over the water, nightmares, and fear of a “beastie” in the forest. To make things worse for them, some of the older boys torment the littluns.
In chapter four, Ralph is horrified to see a ship out on the horizon, realizing that the signal fire has burned out because nobody has taken the responsibility to maintain it. Ralph blames Jack, the leader of the hunting group, because it was their job to maintain the fire. Piggy criticizes the hunters for their immaturity and Jack slaps him hard, breaking Piggy’s glasses. Ralph and Jack’s feelings towards one another reach high tensions, and Ralph calls a meeting of the boys down at the beach in which he berates them for not following the island’s rules. He also tries to reassure the littluns that there are no monsters to fear.
Later that night, in chapter six, some military planes fly over the island and engage in a battle. A dead parachutist drifts down towards the island towards the signal fire, which has again gone out due to negligence. The twins responsible for watching it have both fallen asleep but wake up because of the flapping sounds from the parachute. Fearing the parachutist is the monster, they run yelling down to the camp in fear. When Ralph refuses to agree to a hunting expedition against the beast, Jack and the hunters branch out on their own, refusing to follow the established leadership structure anymore. The rest of the boys decide to build a new signal fire on the beach instead of up on the mountain.
Chapter seven reveals the savagery that has now overtaken the boys. The boys decide to reenact a hunt, having a boy named Robert play the part of the hunted boar. It is only when they have nearly killed Robert that they realize the game had consumed them. Later, Jack tries to have Ralph removed from his leadership position, but the other boys refuse to vote him out. Jack storms off and establishes himself leader of a new tribe and organizes a hunt and slaughter of a cow. Once they kill it, they place its head on a stake as an offering to the island’s monster. After some time, the head attracts flies and Simon encounters it, having a vision. He imagines a voice coming from the head, which he determines comes from the Lord of the Flies. The voice tells Simon that the Lord of the Flies exists in all the boys. Later Simon finds the dead parachutist and realizes the meaning of his earlier vision. There is no island beast—the nature of the beast lives within each of the boys, not within an external threat. Simon heads back to the chaotic ritual on the beach and when he appears out of the shadows, all of the boys attack him and kill him by ripping him apart with their hands and teeth.
Chapter ten opens with Ralph and Piggy meeting on the beach to discuss the events of the previous night. They are sore and bruised, ashamed of giving in to their wild natures and joining Jack’s chaotic ritual. Piggy can’t confront his role in Simon’s death and Ralph is losing emotional control, clutching the conch shell and laughing hysterically. At this point, Jack rules with absolutism and punishes boys for no real reason. Piggy and Ralph are virtually alone at this point. Jack’s hunters attack Ralph and Piggy and steal Piggy’s glasses. Ralph and his few remaining group members confront Jack, but Jack only wants to engage in a fight with Ralph. As the fight, a boy pushes a boulder off the mountain, which crushes and kills Piggy. Ralph escapes an attack from Jack’s hunters carrying spears.
Jack hides while the other boys hunt him. Eventually, exhausted and out of places to hide, he returns to the beach and waits for the hunters to catch up to him. He collapses, but when he wakes up he sees a British naval officer standing over him. The officer is startled at what he has found as the other boys arrive at the beach, crazed and bloodthirsty. The officer asks Ralph to explain, but all he can do is weep at the officer’s feet. The other boys begin to weep as well and the officer waits for them to compose themselves.