Themes - War
War is a running theme in the novel, starting from plane the boys were travelling in.
- The boys are on the island because the plane that was evacuating them from Britain during a fictional nuclear war was attacked. Piggy reminds Ralph: "Didn't you hear what the pilot said? About the atom bomb? They're all dead.
- Ralph is proud of his father - a commander in the Navy. So, the character who tries hardest to keep peace comes from a home that revolved around war.
- We know that the civilisation from which they were trying to escape is being destroyed. When Roger stops himself throwing stones at the littluns, we're told:"Roger's arm was conditioned by a civilisation that knew nothing of him and was in ruins."
- The dead parachutist who lands on the island was gunned down during an overhead battle.
- Ironically, the naval officer who comes to their rescue is himself involved in the war. The boys may have been saved from life on the island, but what sort of life are they going back to?
Themes - Violence
Violence is always present. It starts as a game, but grows more horrific throughout the novel. For example:
- When he first finds out Piggy's name,"Ralph danced out into the hot air of the beach and then returned as a fighter-plane, with wings swept back, and machine-gunned Piggy."
- When the first pig is killed, Jack boasts,"You should have seen the blood!"
- The ritual 'dance' revolves around violence: "Kill the pig. Cut her throat. Bash her in."
- The boys become like wild and savage animals: when Jack hunts a pig he is "ape-like"; Simon is killed by the "tearing of teeth and claws"; Ralph becomes like a hunted animal, not a boy, at the end: "He raised his spear, snarled a little, and waited."
- The murder of Simon is particularly horrific because it involves all the other boys - they get caught up in the frenzied chant: "The crowd ... leapt onto the beast, screamed, struck, bit, tore."
Themes - Relationships
All the friendships and good relationships on the island break down, either through bullying and violence or death.
- Ralph and Jack seem to be friends at the start, yet Ralph knows Jack is hurt when he is not elected chief. This rivalry for power is at the root of some of the violence.
- Ralph finds it hard even at an early stage to get things done. He and Simon are left to build the third shelter by themselves, because everyone else is too busy having fun. The community spirit of the assemblies is hard to maintain.
- Even the littluns' games involve violence and broken friendships. Once Roger watches them playing: "Percival had gone off, crying, and Johnny was left in triumphant possession of the castles."
- As pressure builds, the boys find that they have to take sides. When Jack defies Ralph and goes off alone, he challenges,"Anyone who wants to hunt when I do can come too." He ignores Ralph's effort to make peace.
- Jack's tribe becomes ruled by fear. Most boys don't want to be involved, but have no option. He keeps control by intimidating them and bullying them, such as when he ties up and beats Wilfred.
Themes - The Island
The island slowly degrades as the story goes on, reflecting the break down of the boys' relationships.
- The island is first seen as like paradise, too good to be true. Ralph thinks: "Here at last was the imagined but never fully realised place leaping into real life".
- However, the island is soon found to contain many dangers. For example, coconuts fall from the trees and just miss injuring Roger, the sun burns them, and the isolation is a curse.
- Ralph reflects at the end that the island once had a "strange glamour", but becomes "scorched up like dead wood".
- All this echoes the Bible story of the Fall of Man, when Adam and Eve were cast out of Paradise as a punishment for disobeying God. The island becomes a burnt wasteland, as if as a punishment for all the violence committed by the boys.
Themes - Language
The language used by the boys progressively degenerates.
- At the start of the novel the youngest boys are called small boys. They becomelittle'uns, littl'uns and finally littluns.
- Percival Wemys Madison gradually forgets his name and address. When the naval officer finds them, he has forgotten it completely.
- Jack starts off as Merridew - the name he would have been called at school - but soon becomes Jack, then Chief. His followers - originally the school choir - become his tribe and are eventually seen as savages, having lost their individual identity.
- Sam and Eric become Sam'n Eric and then Samneric.
Themes - TLOTF
The title of the novel comes from the Arabic for one of the manifestations of the Devil. Baal-Zebub - or Beelzebub - means 'lord of the flies'.
In the novel, the pig's head on a stick, covered in flies, is a horrific symbol of how far the violence has come. The pig was killed by Jack and his hunters and the head is put on a stick as an offering to the 'beast'. Only Simon really appreciates that the 'beast' is actually the evil inside the boys themselves and it is that which is breaking things up.
So, the title of the novel reinforces the idea that we all have something of the 'devil' within us - and that the 'devil' can be released all too easily.
Characters - Ralph (1)
- He is twelve years and a few months old.
- He has an attractive appearance, which suggests that he has an attractive character too. "You could see he might make a boxer, as far as width and heaviness in the shoulders went, but there was a mildness about his mouth and eyes that proclaimed no devil."
- He is sensible: it was Ralph's idea to have a chief, establish rules and build a signal fire so they can be rescued. He speaks wisely.
- He is a good leader. He knows that it's important to keep Jack on his side and speaks to Piggy with the directness of genuine leadership. "There was a stillness about Ralph as he sat that marked him out: there was his size and attractive appearance." Later on he feels the weight of being chief as a personal hell - but he doesn't give up.
- He wants to hang on to civilised values. When he realises that their lives are full of dirt and decay, he feels a"convulsion of the mind". In the discussions about the beast, he feels "the understandable and lawful world... slipping away".
Characters - Ralph (2)
- He uses civilised language. Even when he is pleading with Jack for the return of Piggy's glasses, he speaks like a school boy: "You aren't playing the game".
- He is brave. He led the search for the beast at the fort alone: "I'm chief. I'll go. Don't argue." It is Ralph who approaches the dead airman at the top of the mountain, with leaden steps, while Jack and Roger stay back.
- Yet even Ralph sometimes gets carried away with the hunt. Ralph starts the game where they pretend Robert is a pig: "The desire to squeeze and hurt was over-mastering". Later on, he becomes part of the 'dance' that kills Simon. Near the end, he breaks the pig's skull on the stick with a sick fear and rage.
- Ralph finally becomes an outcast. He tells himself this is "Cos I had some sense".
- When he meets the naval officer, he is seen as a little scarecrow, but Ralph is still able to assert himself as the leader. Then he cries, for the first time on the island.
Characters - Jack (1)
- Jack is the leader of the choir. He was the chapter chorister, can sing C sharp, and was the head boy at school.
- He has red hair and is tall, thin and bony."His face was crumpled and freckled, and ugly without silliness". His fiery hair and his ugly appearance give us clues to his hot-headed, unpleasant character. "Out of this face stared two blue eyes, frustrated now, and turning, or ready to turn to anger."
- He is proud and arrogant.
- He is hungry for power. When we first meet him he bosses the choir around; later he undermines Ralph's leadership and sets up his own tribe against Ralph, even though he loses a vote. He gradually becomes a dictator. When he orders the tribe to tie up Samneric her boasts to Ralph "See? They do what I want."
- He knows as soon as Ralph asks him that the choir should be hunters. Hunting then pre-occupies him more and more through the novel.
- He can't kill the first pig he sees because of "the enormity of the knife descending and cutting into living flesh; because of the unbearable blood". Yet he quickly puts aside any doubts.
- Jack thinks of nothing but hunting. "All you can talk about is pig, pig, pig!"Ralph says angrily.
Characters - Jack (2)
- Jack paints on a mask to help him hunt better. The paint gives him a liberation into savagery: he is able to do savage things now he looks more like a savage.
- He is so moved by having killed a pig that he isn't anxious about the ship that went by while the fire was out. All he thinks about is the knowledge that"they had outwitted a living thing, imposed their will on it, taken away its life".
- By the end, Jack has moved on even further. His prey has gone beyond pigs - he is keen to hunt Ralph.
- He commits the first act of violence towards another boy on the island when he thumps Piggy. "His voice was vicious". He gets gradually more violent towards other boys: he has no thought for Piggy when he steals his glasses and later he ties up and beats Wilfred.
Characters - Jack (3)
- He pretends not to be frightened of the beast - but is shivering and croaking when he sees the 'beast' on the mountain. Does this suggest that he's not really as brave as he'd like to think he is?
- Although Jack says near the start: "We're not savages", it's soon clear he doesn't care about the rules or being civilised: "******** to the rules! We're strong - we hunt!" He rejects the order that had been established on the island: "We don't need the conch any more".
- At the end, he has no remorse for Piggy's death. He declares himself Chief. He has lost the name Jack, which suggests he has lost all.
Characters - Roger
- When he is first seen, he is described as"slight" and "furtive". "The shock of black hair, down his nape and low on his forehead, seemed to suit his gloomy face and make what had seemed at first unsociable remoteness in to something foreboding."
- He is a loner and uncommunicative by nature: he "kept to himself with an inner intensity of avoidance and secrecy."
- He is cruel. He deliberately spoils the littluns' games. Later, he relishes sharpening a stick at both ends with which to kill Ralph.
- He volunteers to go up the mountain with Ralph and Jack to find the beast.
- He becomes Jack's right hand man: they torture Samneric together to find out Ralph's hiding place. Yet he is capable of acting independently: he levers the rock that kills Piggy on his own initiative.
- He is an executioner. He kills Piggy and, in the final hunt, Ralph fears Roger because he "carried death in his hands".
Characters - Piggy (1)
- He has physical disadvantages because he is fat and asthmatic and is short sighted. Without his gl***es, everything becomes a blur.
- He is very intelligent - in Chapter 1 it is his idea to make a list of names, and it is he who realises that no adult knows the boys are on the island. Later he suggests making a sundial and hats. "What intelligence had been shown was traceable to Piggy." Ralph recognises Piggy could think: "Piggy, for all his ludicrous body, had brains."
- However, he does not speak as grammatically accurately as the others:" How can you expect to be rescues if you don't put first things first and act proper". Perhaps this is to suggest he wasn't as well educated as the others and that he is not from the right cl*** of people to be a successful leader. At the time the novel was written most power was still in the hands of the middle and upper cl***es. "Piggy was an outsider, not only by accent, which did not matter, but by fat, and ***-mar, and specs, and a certain disinclination to manual labour."
- He is embarr***ed by his nickname, and he behaves with dignity when Ralph betrays the name to the others. We never know his real name.
Characters - Piggy (2)
- He is kind and considerate to the littluns. He helps the boy with the birthmark talk about the 'snake-thing' and helps Percival talk about the beast. He is later often left to care for them when the others are exploring and hunting.
- He has the most mature attitude of any boy on the island. He scornfully sees the other boys "Acting like a crowd of kids".
- He is pragmatic. When Simon dies, Piggy tries to convince Ralph there was nothing they could have done: "It was an accident... and that's that".
- Like Ralph, he believes in civilised values and clings to what creates order: " I just take the conch to say this. I can't see no more and I got to get my glasses back". When they go to the fort to confront Jack, he shouts "I got the conch!" to try to show Jack that he has a right to be heard.
- Piggy and the conch are destroyed together by the rock Roger levers. Thus both intelligence and the symbol of authority are dead, so we know that there is nothing left to stop Jack gaining full control.
- At the end, Ralph mourns the fall through the air of "the true, wise friend called Piggy".
Characters - Simon (1)
- The first time we meet Simon, he is in his choir robes. He faints on the beach because of the heat and Jack mocks him. We know he is delicate. He has epilepsy.
- He is "a skinny, vivid little boy, with a glance coming up from under a hut of straight hair that hung down, black and course". His hair hides his face, which hints to us he is secretive.
- He is imaginative: he sees the buds on the bushes as "Like candles. Candle bushes. Candle buds".
- He is helpful and works for the good of others; he is the only one to stick with Ralph to make the shelters. He is kind to the littluns and finds fruit for them.
- The others recognise he is 'different' to them in some way. Ralph says "He's queer. He's funny." Piggy says "He's cracked".
- He has "a secret place in a clearing full of flowers and butterflies", and is sufficiently at one with the jungle to walk in it alone at night. He is at one with nature and he has no fear. "He walked with an accustomed tread through the fruit trees.
Characters - Simon (2)
- He seems able to prophesy - he is the first to suggest that "it wasn't a good island" and he tells Ralph, "You'll get back to where you came from".
- He is the most perceptive about the beast. He says "maybe there is a beast... What I mean is... maybe it's only us". He is the only one to see that the problems on the island stem from the boys' relationships with each other, not from an outside force. Yet nobody understands what he's trying to say.
- When the Lord of the Flies 'speaks' to him this idea is reiterated: the voice in Simon's head says "Fancy thinking the Beast was something you could hunt and kill!... You knew, didn't you? I'm part of you?"
- He is killed just as he is about to reveal the truth. It is ironic that he is the only one who finds out that the 'beast' was a dead parachutist, but is denied passing on the message because the group of boys think, in their frenzy, he is the beast.
- Simon's close relationship with nature seems to carry on even after he is dead: " The waves turned the corpse gently in the water. ... Softly, surrounded by a fringe of bright inquisitive creatures, itself a silver shape beneath the steadfast constellations, Simon's dead body moved out towards the open sea".
Characters - Sam & Eric
- The twins gradually lost their individual names on the island and become Samneric. They depend upon each other and do everything together. "They were twins and the eye was shocked and incredulous at such cheery duplication. They breathed together, they grinned together, they were chunky and vital."
- They are the first to see the parachutist (while they are tending the fire at night) and think it is a beast.
- They share Ralph and Piggy's dismay at the death of Simon.
- They are involved in the first successful pig hunt with Jack, but more and more they grow to support Ralph. They join the fight against Jack when Jack raids the shelters at night to get Piggy's glasses. Finally, only Samneric and Piggy are left on Ralph's side. Yet they are not strong enough to withstand a lot of pressure, and ultimately reveal Ralph's hiding place to Roger and Jack. In the end evil triumphs over good.