Get a better grasp of 'Lord of the Flies' plots, characters, themes, and context with this article!
Are you looking to revise Lord of the Flies or research it to get a better understanding of the text? Well, you came to the right place! Our Ultimate Lord of the Flies Cheatsheet goes through the plot summary, important characters and themes and analysis.
A group of British schoolboys aged 6-12 evacuates on a plane to escape the warfare. However, the plane is shot down and crashes on a deserted island. With no adults or signs of civilisation, the boys are forced to create their own system of governance, find their own food and shelter.
Two of the boys, Ralph and Piggy find a conch shell and use it as a way of maintaining order; whoever is holding the shell is able to speak and everyone has to listen. The boys also vote for Ralph and another boy, Jack as the chiefs of the group.
Life on the tropical island is fun at first because there were no adults. However, it soon turns sour. Ralph declares that the boys take turns maintaining a fire to signal passing ships for their rescue. The boys agree. However, Jack soon becomes jealous of Ralph’s control and sways the boys to go hunting for pigs instead. The boys quickly jump on this idea because it seems more fun. As they are hunting, the fire dies out. Unluckily, a ship sails by and misses the signal. This causes Ralph and Jack to physically fight.
As time goes on, Jack and the hunter boys become more maniacal and bloodthirsty. They enjoy killing pigs and torturing them. They even chant and dance during the hunt, and even create a fence out of pig’s heads.
Meanwhile, Ralph, Simon, and Piggy attempt to keep order on the island. They try to maintain the fire and build shelters. They also try to protect the ‘Littleuns’ from their nightmares. However, this becomes an incentive for the hunter boys to target and attack them. Jack punches Piggy and breaks his glasses.
One night, a man on a parachute falls on the island. However, all the boys (except Simon) mistake it for a Beast. Both Jack and Ralph climb the mountain to hunt it. However, their fear overtakes them and they both return before finding the man’s body. Simon is the only one who is sceptical about the Boy’s theories. So, he goes into the wood himself to find the truth. However, he stares directly into the head of the pig on a stick and hallucinates it talking to him. He faints and hits his head. When he wakes, he sees the dead parachute man and realises that he was hallucinating the Beast.
It only gets worse from here. Ralph and Piggy join Jack’s meat feast. They are all ravenous from hunger because Jack withheld meat from the two boys. Then, as they are reenacting the killing of the pig, Simon appears and tries to tell them what he saw. But in their frenzied state, they kill Simon.
The next day, Ralph and Piggy discuss what happened last night and try to convince themselves that they weren’t murderers. As this is happening, Jack and his boys attack Ralph and Piggy and steal Piggy’s glasses to make their own fire. When Ralph and Piggy try to talk to Jack, Jack’s boys fight them. In the midst of the chaos, Roger rolls a boulder down the mountain. This kills Piggy and breaks the conch shell.
Ralph runs away in the mountains as Jack and his boys hunt Ralph. Ralph manages to run to the other side of the island and lands on the beach, where a British officer towers over him. The boys are rescued.
Learn more about the Matrix English course.
Let’s take a look at some key characters in Lord of the Flies and what they represent.
Ralph is the protagonist of LoTF. He is the responsible and charismatic elected leader. Throughout the novel, Ralph attempts to maintain order by using the conch, maintaining the fire, and building huts, and increasing the boy’s chances of being rescued. However, this also makes him an easy target for Jack. The two fight consistently throughout the novel because of their moral differences. He is also hunted by Jack’s boys.
By the end of the book, Ralph joins Jack and his frenzied, bloodthirsty hunts. He is slowly losing grip on reality and civilisation.
Jack is driven by chaos and savagery. He is chosen as the leader just because he has “experience”, not because he has the qualities of a leader. Jack is a very jealous and power-hungry character, which is why he always targets Ralph.
Over time, Jack manages to convince the boys to follow him on his savage hunts. He leads the boys towards chaos and violence. Jack also finds delight in violence, often torturing the pigs for fun and displaying them as totems.
Piggy is Ralph’s loyal friend. He is very intelligent and often the brains behind Ralph’s proposals and ideas.
However, Piggy is fat and, so, the rest of the boys often underestimate him and bully him because he cannot contribute to the group physically (i.e. hunting). Piggy isn’t his real name, but Golding never reveals his true name.
Simon is a quiet and timid boy, but he is good, kind and compassionate. He shares food with others and he tries to help and protect the little’uns from their nightmares.
He is a strong believer in morality and upholds it to a high standard. He is also very wise and has a good understanding of human nature and the world. Simon can be seen as a symbol of morality as his personality and character parallel Jesus Christ. The only difference is that Simon’s death adds to the boy’s sins, whereas Jesus’ death alleviates human sins.
The Little’uns are the young boys who are stranded on the island. They are both young (6-8 years old) and physically small. The Little’uns are weak and easily scared by their superstitious ‘beast’. Golding refers to the Little’uns as a collective, so there is no individual identity. They also represent the weak members of society.
In order to get a good grasp of Lord of the Flies, you must understand both Golding’s personal context and the historical context of the novel. William Golding’s personal life experience had a large effect on how he viewed the world. Understanding this will help you understand why it is written the way it is, and why it is still important in today’s world.
Remember, this text was written in 1954. That is nearly 70 years ago!
So, let’s jump into the key contextual points of LoTF.
Golding was born in the early 1900s and grew up in a family that was big on rationalism, especially his father. They even urged him to study Science at university (where Golding soon switched to Literature in his second year).
Rationalists believe that reasoning is the main source and test of knowledge and decision-making. They do not believe in things that cannot be logically explained, like supernatural Beasts. Instead, they think that humans are independent of superstitions, fate and emotions, and instead behave based on their logical reasoning.
This way of thinking is reflected and explored in Lord of the Flies, especially in the “parachute man” incident (Chapter 6: Beast From Air). The first thought that crosses the boy’s mind was that the parachute man is a beast. Sam and Eric yell “we saw the beast”, even though they only see something fall from the sky in an ‘explosion’. Then, they proceed to describe the beast’s “wings”, “teeth”, and “claws” and how it was “slinking behind the trees” following them. This causes everyone to freak out as they automatically believe Sam and Eric. Jack and Ralph even go out to hunt the “beast”. This demonstrates how the lack of rationalism can cause hysteria and fear in society. There is no physical evidence of the Beast, and the boys pretty much make up the story. However, everyone believes and validates the story without thinking twice about it.
The only person who uses any sense of logic at that moment is Simon. He says “I don’t believe in the beast” and goes off on his own to find the truth: it is a dead parachutist, not a Beast. However, his rationalism cannot convince the Boys out of their delusions as they are far too gone for too long. So, they kill him.
Clearly, what Golding is attempting to show us is that rationalism is an important aspect of society as it ensures that people are not acting out of their own fears and emotions, and instead, are finding rational answers before they act.
Golding was part of the Royal Navy in WWII. He commanded a rocket-launching ship landing at Normandy and was part of the Bismarck battle (the Bismark is a German ship that sunk).
His experience in the war changed his perspective on humanity and society. He saw death, destruction and evil, not only on the opposing side but also on his side of the warfare. Each side had an excuse for going to war, and it’s often for ‘morality’ or ‘protection’. Due to this, Golding thought that humans were evil and savage. In his essay, Fable, he even wrote, “I began to see what people were capable of doing”.
The character of Jack represents the evil that Golding witnessed in the war. At first, Jack and his boys kill the animals for meat. Then they begin to torture and keep the animal’s heads as totems.
“Kill the pig. Cut her throat. Spill her blood” – The boys chant for their hunt.
Soon after, they begin to kill humans too. It is a slippery slope of destruction and evil. The line of morality disappears, just like wars.
World War II was significant because of the clashing ideologies involved. The Nazis believed in purifying the human race by eliminating certain groups like Jewish people, homosexuals, and people with disabilities. This way of thinking clashed with the Allies who thought that protecting human lives was more important. As such, this disparity of ideology is represented in LoTF as Jack’s idea of surviving on the island is very different from Ralph’s.
Now you understand the plot, characters, and key contextual issues. You’re ready to start analysing the text! Let’s look at some key moments to get you started.
The dichotomy between chaos and order is a major theme in LoTF. Golding argues that without order and civilisation, humans will turn to chaos and savagery.
This follows the same school of thought as the well-renowned psychologist, Sigmund Freud. In Civilisation and Its Discontents (1930), Freud claims that civilisation exists because men suppress feelings of aggression and destruction. He states that primal men will kill their fathers to get with the woman. This is because humans are innately aggressive and violent. However, feelings of guilt are what causes them to hold back and be more civilised.
In this view, when there is no order, rules, or laws, society becomes chaotic and savage.
In Lord of the Flies, the deserted island is a representation of society. In the beginning, the boys attempted to create a system of governance because there were no adults on the island. The conch shell is an especially important symbol for this theme.
Piggy and Ralph first find the conch shell and decide to use it to maintain order. The conch is used to call a meeting, and whoever is holding the conch is able to talk with the full attention of everyone else. This is especially important because the boys were beginning to get noisy and a bit chaotic.
“We can use this to call the others. Have a meeting. They’ll come when they hear us—” He (Piggy) beamed at Ralph.
“That was what you meant, didn’t you? That’s why you got the conch out of the water.”
However, near the end of the novel when the parachute man fell on the island, Jack yells “We don’t need the conch anymore”. This highlights how democracy, order and civilisation begin to fall when something disrupts that order. In this case, it is the parachute man who the boys believe is a beast.
The boys slowly fall into their innate savage beings. They find enjoyment in hunting and killing, and eventually, ignore the rules.
“Bollocks to the rules! We’re strong – we hunt! If there’s a beast, we’ll hunt it down! We’ll close in and beat and beat and beat – !” – Jack
It is almost as if they are becoming animals themselves. Piggy asks the boys:
“What are we? Humans? Or animals? Or savages?”
And Simon questions who the real beast is:
“Maybe there is a beast… Maybe it’s only us.”
The novel’s events are much more jarring knowing that these are young boys aged 6-12. In the beginning, the boys are innocent and young. They don’t know much about the real world and how it works. We see them having fun on the island without adults; swimming in the lagoon and exploring the island.
However, as the novel progresses, the children become less and less innocent. They begin killing the pigs for food at first, then they start torturing the pig for fun. Soon after, the boys start bullying Piggy and fighting with Ralph, and finally, they murder Piggy and Simon.
Golding doesn’t provide an external catalyst for this loss of innocence. There is no villain forcing the boys to torture and kill animals and humans. Instead, this is all naturally occurring.
Golding is attempting to show that without the restraints of civilisation, humans will turn to their innate evil and destruction.
This innate evil is the internal catalyst for the loss of innocence.
The first case of this loss of innocence is when the boys irresponsibly left the fire unchecked. This causes a bushfire to rage across a part of the island, burning the woods into a wasteland. This symbolic burn shows the beginning of the loss of innocence. Here, a boy also dies. Piggy says:
“‘That littl’un that had a mark on his-face-where is-he now? I tell you I don’t see him.’
They all experience their first real death on this island. Soon, they all become killers. As such, Golding is exploring how one’s innocence is lost when human nature takes over.
You’ve learned all about the plot, characters, Golding’s context and the themes in Lord of the Flies. So, it is time for you to put this knowledge into practice! This cheatsheet is especially helpful for students who are looking to build a better understanding of Lord of the Flies or to get to know what the text is about before they start reading it. Use this cheatsheet as a starting point to further break down the text, write your English notes, and write your essays!