Themes and Characters

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.

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