How to Study the Novel Lord of the Flies

How to Study the Novel Lord of the Flies

Lord of the Flies is an allegorical debut novel by William Golding, who won the Nobel Prize of Literature later on in his career. Influenced by Golding’s experiences serving during World War II, the novel is an exploration of human nature, bringing up age-old questions around morality, cruelty, civilization and savagery. Whether you’re trying to write an essay on Lord of the Flies or reading it for fun, here are some ways to explore the literary elements and social commentary of this acclaimed book!

Method 1 of 3:
Analyzing the Plot and Themes

1
Pinpoint the basic elements of the plot. Lord of the Flies recounts the story of a group of schoolboys who are left to survive on their own on an island after their plane crashes. Published in 1954, the novel was written by William Golding, a British writer and schoolteacher who also served for the Royal Navy during World War II. The main characters are Ralph and Jack, and other important characters include Simon, Piggy, Roger, Sam and Eric. Major turning points you should focus on are when Ralph first calls a meeting with the conch, the arrival of a paratrooper's corpse on the island, the signal fire being neglected when a ship passes by, Jack creating a tribe of his own and brutally butchering a sow, the ritualistic killing of Simon, and the destruction of the conch and Piggy.
2
Consider the juxtaposition of order vs. chaos in the book. The opposition of these concepts creates tension in Lord of the Flies as characters struggle to behave in a mature, socially-acceptable way (order) rather than selfishly and violently (chaos). This theme can also be interpreted in the context of civilization vs. savagery. As Jack notes in Chapter 2, they need to set rules and obey them, as civilized people would; however, the boys find themselves losing order day by day. Ralph and Piggy initially attempt to organize the boys and accomplish tasks like keeping a signal fire burning. Yet, others show disinterest in such efforts, and go with adventures that suit their interests. As time goes on, the boys become filthy, sunburned and long-haired. Note that those in Jack’s tribe often end up removing all of their clothes and wearing masks of warpaint instead, demonstrating their return to mankind’s innate state of savagery.
3
Study the theme of evil in the boys’ devious behaviors. The boys in Lord of the Flies struggle with their human nature of cruelty throughout the novel. They make fun of Piggy, engage in violent behaviors and don’t show care for how traumatized the littluns are by the entire experience. The theme of evil peaks when the boys end up intentionally murdering a couple of their number. Jack’s hunting instinct seems fun at first, but as the story progresses, it takes a sinister turn and hunting becomes a venue for the boys to manifest their primal instincts and exhibit sadistic behaviors, such as taking pleasure in violently killing a pig and offering it to “the beast.”
4
Look for the theme of loss and innocence as you read about conflicts among the boys. The novel starts with an intriguing premise—a group of schoolboys left on an uninhabited island without any adults. What would innocent children do when they are forced to take on “adult” responsibilities such as finding shelter, food and establishing safety against potential “beasts” as well as in-group threats? As the boys are forced to fend for themselves, they lose their childish qualities and are forced to deal with the harsh realities of life. The deaths of three boys—the boy with the mulberry birthmark, Simon, and Piggy—and the killing of the pigs represent the boys’ diminishing innocence. The brutal murder of the pig is perhaps the epitome of the theme of lost innocence, given the sexual and sadistic undertones. At the end of the novel, all of the boys burst into tears, having realized the impossibility of returning to their blissful, childish innocence.
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Method 2 of 3:
Interpreting Motifs and Symbols

1
Understand how the motif of Piggy’s glasses represents rationality. The references to the “specs” throughout the book as well as Piggy’s constant cleaning of them represent their value. The glasses provide pragmatic value by helping start fires—essential for heat, cooking, as well as creating a rescue signal. The glasses represent logical solutions, and when they are stolen, the boys can’t start a fire, signaling the group’s diminishing sanity and rationality.
2
Consider the beast as a representation of fear. The boys attribute their fear to the existence of a beast on the island; however, their biggest threat turns out to be the inner beasts within them all, manifesting through their savage and violent actions. In that sense, the beast also symbolizes the dark side of human nature.
3
Reflect on what the island and the plane crash symbolize. At first, the island symbolizes freedom for the schoolboys—a place without the rules of adults. The island has a “glamour” that excites the boys and provides hope for adventures and fun. The island can also be seen as the representation of pure nature, undisturbed by humans until the crash. Afterwards, humans invade the island and start polluting and destroying it by starting fires and burning part of the jungle. In that sense, the plane crash represents the havoc humans wreak on nature.
4
Think of flies as a symbol of death and decay in the novel. Having made it into the title of the book, the flies symbolize the decay of life and morality. They eat rotting organic material and are found around dead animals as well as human and animal waste. Flies buzz around the sow’s head and signal impending death to Simon.
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Method 3 of 3:
Delving into Characters and Reading Critically

1
Deconstruct the important characters in the novel. What kind of a leader is Ralph and what’s important to him? Why does Piggy care about the things he cares about? What makes Jack different from the rest of the boys? Analyzing each main character and getting to the bottom of why they act the way they act will help you understand the sides of human nature the author tried to convey in these characters.
2
Determine what the biggest obstacles the boys faced were and what compelling qualities representative of human nature each of them exhibited. Challenge yourself to think through open-ended questions about the novel. What stood in the way of the boys’ attempts to maintain civilization on the island? Of all the boys, who do you think is most “different?” In what ways does this shape the rest of the group’s interactions with the boy and with each other as time progresses?
3
Ponder the absence of girls and adults on the island. Do you believe the situation would have been improved by having either a girl or an adult on the island? Why or why not? Which of the boys' impulses might a female or older presence have heightened or restrained? What do the events of the novel say about maturity or gender?
4
Understand the vocabulary used in the book. There are many new words you may learn as you read Lord of the Flies. Don’t forget to note these down and review their definition as you come across them. Some key words include: Antagonism (n): hostility or opposition Clout (n): a hard strike or hit; often with the hand Cynicism (n): a belief that people are self-interested Furtively (adv): suspiciously or secretly Grotesque (adj): distorted or ugly; often in a dramatic or exaggerated way Leviathan (n): a large and powerful sea creature or ship Perilous (adj): dangerous or risky Tumult (n): violent disturbance or riot
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Method 1 of 3:
Analyzing the Plot and Themes

1
Pinpoint the basic elements of the plot. Lord of the Flies recounts the story of a group of schoolboys who are left to survive on their own on an island after their plane crashes. Published in 1954, the novel was written by William Golding, a British writer and schoolteacher who also served for the Royal Navy during World War II. The main characters are Ralph and Jack, and other important characters include Simon, Piggy, Roger, Sam and Eric. Major turning points you should focus on are when Ralph first calls a meeting with the conch, the arrival of a paratrooper's corpse on the island, the signal fire being neglected when a ship passes by, Jack creating a tribe of his own and brutally butchering a sow, the ritualistic killing of Simon, and the destruction of the conch and Piggy.
2
Consider the juxtaposition of order vs. chaos in the book. The opposition of these concepts creates tension in Lord of the Flies as characters struggle to behave in a mature, socially-acceptable way (order) rather than selfishly and violently (chaos). This theme can also be interpreted in the context of civilization vs. savagery. As Jack notes in Chapter 2, they need to set rules and obey them, as civilized people would; however, the boys find themselves losing order day by day. Ralph and Piggy initially attempt to organize the boys and accomplish tasks like keeping a signal fire burning. Yet, others show disinterest in such efforts, and go with adventures that suit their interests. As time goes on, the boys become filthy, sunburned and long-haired. Note that those in Jack’s tribe often end up removing all of their clothes and wearing masks of warpaint instead, demonstrating their return to mankind’s innate state of savagery.
3
Study the theme of evil in the boys’ devious behaviors. The boys in Lord of the Flies struggle with their human nature of cruelty throughout the novel. They make fun of Piggy, engage in violent behaviors and don’t show care for how traumatized the littluns are by the entire experience. The theme of evil peaks when the boys end up intentionally murdering a couple of their number. Jack’s hunting instinct seems fun at first, but as the story progresses, it takes a sinister turn and hunting becomes a venue for the boys to manifest their primal instincts and exhibit sadistic behaviors, such as taking pleasure in violently killing a pig and offering it to “the beast.”
4
Look for the theme of loss and innocence as you read about conflicts among the boys. The novel starts with an intriguing premise—a group of schoolboys left on an uninhabited island without any adults. What would innocent children do when they are forced to take on “adult” responsibilities such as finding shelter, food and establishing safety against potential “beasts” as well as in-group threats? As the boys are forced to fend for themselves, they lose their childish qualities and are forced to deal with the harsh realities of life. The deaths of three boys—the boy with the mulberry birthmark, Simon, and Piggy—and the killing of the pigs represent the boys’ diminishing innocence. The brutal murder of the pig is perhaps the epitome of the theme of lost innocence, given the sexual and sadistic undertones. At the end of the novel, all of the boys burst into tears, having realized the impossibility of returning to their blissful, childish innocence.
Advertisement

Method 2 of 3:
Interpreting Motifs and Symbols

1
Understand how the motif of Piggy’s glasses represents rationality. The references to the “specs” throughout the book as well as Piggy’s constant cleaning of them represent their value. The glasses provide pragmatic value by helping start fires—essential for heat, cooking, as well as creating a rescue signal. The glasses represent logical solutions, and when they are stolen, the boys can’t start a fire, signaling the group’s diminishing sanity and rationality.
2
Consider the beast as a representation of fear. The boys attribute their fear to the existence of a beast on the island; however, their biggest threat turns out to be the inner beasts within them all, manifesting through their savage and violent actions. In that sense, the beast also symbolizes the dark side of human nature.
3
Reflect on what the island and the plane crash symbolize. At first, the island symbolizes freedom for the schoolboys—a place without the rules of adults. The island has a “glamour” that excites the boys and provides hope for adventures and fun. The island can also be seen as the representation of pure nature, undisturbed by humans until the crash. Afterwards, humans invade the island and start polluting and destroying it by starting fires and burning part of the jungle. In that sense, the plane crash represents the havoc humans wreak on nature.
4
Think of flies as a symbol of death and decay in the novel. Having made it into the title of the book, the flies symbolize the decay of life and morality. They eat rotting organic material and are found around dead animals as well as human and animal waste. Flies buzz around the sow’s head and signal impending death to Simon.
Advertisement

Method 3 of 3:
Delving into Characters and Reading Critically

1
Deconstruct the important characters in the novel. What kind of a leader is Ralph and what’s important to him? Why does Piggy care about the things he cares about? What makes Jack different from the rest of the boys? Analyzing each main character and getting to the bottom of why they act the way they act will help you understand the sides of human nature the author tried to convey in these characters.
2
Determine what the biggest obstacles the boys faced were and what compelling qualities representative of human nature each of them exhibited. Challenge yourself to think through open-ended questions about the novel. What stood in the way of the boys’ attempts to maintain civilization on the island? Of all the boys, who do you think is most “different?” In what ways does this shape the rest of the group’s interactions with the boy and with each other as time progresses?
3
Ponder the absence of girls and adults on the island. Do you believe the situation would have been improved by having either a girl or an adult on the island? Why or why not? Which of the boys' impulses might a female or older presence have heightened or restrained? What do the events of the novel say about maturity or gender?
4
Understand the vocabulary used in the book. There are many new words you may learn as you read Lord of the Flies. Don’t forget to note these down and review their definition as you come across them. Some key words include: Antagonism (n): hostility or opposition Clout (n): a hard strike or hit; often with the hand Cynicism (n): a belief that people are self-interested Furtively (adv): suspiciously or secretly Grotesque (adj): distorted or ugly; often in a dramatic or exaggerated way Leviathan (n): a large and powerful sea creature or ship Perilous (adj): dangerous or risky Tumult (n): violent disturbance or riot
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