Literature: Lord of the Flies

Maybe there is a beast. Maybe it's only us.

"We are going to have fun on this island."
Repeated line, Lord of the Flies

Lord of the Flies is a 1954 novel written by William Golding. It is a Deconstruction of the Kids Wilderness Epic and Robinsonade. A plane full of British schoolboys crashes on a Deserted Island, and the darkness of humanity spills forth as they turn against each other.

It's had three cinematic adaptations (a British one in 1963, an American one in 1990, and a little-known Filipino adaptation called Alkitrang dugo in 1975 that had boys and girls) and is referenced and parodied in various media. It is very popular for English Literature assignments in High School on both sides of the Pond and Down Under, thanks to its themes about morality and authority, and its symbolism, which is extremely easy to spot, but open to many different interpretations.

The best-known example (and possibly the Trope Maker) of a Teenage Wasteland, even when all the kids are under the age of fifteen.

Now with a character sheet.

This work provides examples of:

  • Adaptation Dye-Job: In the novel, Ralph has light hair and Jack has red hair. The movies have Jack as a blond, Ralph as a brunette.
  • Adaptational Attractiveness: Jack is stated to be ugly in the novel, however he is good looking in both the 1963 and 1990 version.
  • After the End: The boys were on a plane fleeing the soon-to-be-nuked UK. Though the home country is apparently in dire straits, the British Navy is still out doing its job as best as possible. May have verged into Cosy Catastrophe if it wasn't for the fact that mention of the war was a very minor framing device with little direct bearing on the story.
  • A House Divided: The boys quickly devolve into two groups, a small one led by Ralph, and a much bigger one led by Jack.
  • Ambition Is Evil: Jack. His desire to be leader is evident from the outset.
  • Animal Motifs:
    • A sow's head on a pike, slowly decaying, serves as the metaphor for the decay of children's morals, thus making them closer to hoglike greed.
    • The title itself is a reference to Beelzebub.
  • Artistic License Physics: The divergent lens of Piggy's glasses (required for his short-sightedness) would be useless for lighting a fire. You would need a convergent lens, found in reading glasses. The kids would have had to learn one of the other methods for starting fires that they discussed, but that would break the plot.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: In the book, The Hero Ralph is described as fair-haired, athletic, charismatic and handsome; Rival Turned Evil Jack is redhaired, with freckles and ugly. The movie averts this. Jack is a perfectly pleasant looking boy.
  • Big Bad: Jack Merridew.
  • Big "NO!": Ralph's reaction to Piggy before he's about to be killed by a rock, dropped by Roger, in the 90's remake.
  • Bittersweet Ending: A Deus ex Machina prevents a Downer Ending, but the psychological scars remain.
    Ralph wept for the end of innocence, the darkness of man's heart, and the fall through the air of the true, wise friend called Piggy.
  • Black and Gray Morality: A number of those who side with Ralph are closer to the white side, but they're certainly not saints. The only character who is really above this is Simon. His foil, Roger, is established as someone who's pretty far on the black side.
  • Blonde Guys Are Evil: Averted in the book where Ralph is described as fair haired. Played straight in both movies where Ralph has dark hair while Jack is the one who is fair haired.
  • Break Them by Talking: Done by the Lord of the Flies to Simon about human nature and law of the jungle and stuff.
  • Catch Phrase: Ralph with 'sucks to your assmar''.
  • Chromosome Casting: A male example - a bit less than half of the characters are pupils at single-sex boarding schools.
  • Coming-of-Age Story: Ralph is very happy about the absence of adults on the island, but quickly realizes how much responsibility he must take as the chief.
  • Dare to Be Badass: Piggy, especially considering he's the most Non-Action Guy of the survivors...
  • Deconstructive Parody: It was actually written as a parody, though the specific form of Kids Wilderness Robinsonade that it was attacking is something of a Forgotten Trope. It is also considered a rather brutal skewering of the pip-pip-cheerio book Coral Island.
  • Deserted Island: The stranded boys are the only humans on the island where the story is set.
  • Deus ex Machina: Ralph is rescued by the Royal Navy at the last minute, effectively out of the blue. This was intentional, as the Naval Officer is important in rounding off the themes of the story; and the sudden abruptness with which he appears, with absolutely no foreshadowing, is crucial to highlighting the rapidity with which the appearance of an authority can change everything.
  • Dewey Defeats Truman: Lord of the Flies is actually set in the near future (of 1956), after a nuclear war between the USSR and Britain. This is mentioned by some of the boys in the book (along with the existence of nuclear bombs and their use), although usually in passing.
  • Disaster Democracy
  • The Dividual: Sam and Eric, who are commonly referred to with one name (Samneric) and are recognized as one person in the assembly.
  • Double Entendre:
    • The scene where the screaming sow is killed with sharpened sticks is written as a gang-rape.
    • The scene where the kids reenact this, using Robert as a replacement pig, is even worse, what with lines like "Ralph too was fighting to get near, to get a handful of that brown, vulnerable flesh."
  • The Dragon: Roger becomes this to Jack as his tribe's executioner.
  • Dying for Symbolism: Two incidents mark milestones in the makeshift society's descent into barbarism
    • Simon's death represents the end of innocence of the kids on the island.
    • Piggy's death, after he makes a moral stand for order and unity, marks the complete collapse of civilization. Sam and Eric are captured, and Ralph is left helpless and alone.
  • Eldritch Abomination: One of the many theories about what the beast really is. At first it's bad enough that there might be a beast on the island, and the boys argue over the beast's possible form. Until little Percival drops this bombshell:
    Ralph: He says the beast comes out of the sea.
  • Enemy Within: "Maybe there is no monster on the island. Maybe... it's just us..." The Lord of the Flies outright states this to Simon in a vision.
    Lord of the Flies: You knew, didn't you? I'm part of you? Close, close, close! I'm the reason why its no go? Why things are what they are?
  • Expository Hairstyle Change: As the months pass, all the boys' hair becomes long and shaggy (except for the wise Piggy's), and, especially for our hero, Ralph, starts obscuring their vision.
  • Foreshadowing: In hindsight, the arrival of the Royal Navy at the book's climax is predicted early in the book, though none present could have guessed the circumstances under which that would happen.

  • Four-Temperament Ensemble: Ralph and Jack are Choleric, Piggy is Melancholic, Samneric are Sanguine, and Simon is Phlegmatic.
  • Freudian Trio: Piggy: the superego; Ralph: the ego; Jack: the id.
  • Friend to All Living Things: Simon is the only boy who enjoys the island as a natural paradise and adopts a lizard as pet. Even, he makes a little "Happy Place" to himself in the more nature-beautiful side of the woods that represents his innate good nature and innocence. The sow's head placed later represents how evil has started to contaminate.
  • Genre Deconstruction: Takes a sledgehammer to the Kids Wilderness Epic.
  • Genre Savvy: Ralph describes being on an island "Like a book." Which causes many of the littluns to name out titles such as "Treasure Island" and similar stories.
  • Good Is Impotent: A major theme of the book.
    • Ralph and Piggy can't get the boys to work together for their own good when faced against the savage impulses that Jack champions, Simon, The Heart, spends all his time alone until he has an epiphany about "the monster" and is unable to tell the others about it, and in subtle but telling passage, when the twins, the last boys who support Ralph and Piggy, are bound by Jack and the others, the text describes their meager protests as "protested out of the heart of civilization" with lines like "Oh, I say!" and the like. This is contrasted with the brutal directnesss and action of Jack and his followers, and how easily it overwhelms the good.
    • Piggy more or less symbolizes this. He is the only one who keeps any kind of straight mind, but his severe physical handicaps and his own nerdiness prevent him from asserting these ideals. And when his glasses are stolen from him, it symbolizes the collapse of order as he is left helpless.
  • Half-Hearted Henchman: Some of those who join Jack's side only do so out of fear of being killed by him. Piggy even suggests to Ralph (when they're the only ones left of their team) that they might as well join him too or else they'll get killed like Simon was. Later on in the book, when Jack's group murdered Piggy and is searching for Ralph to kill him too, the twins who were formerly on Ralph's team, find him, but they don't blow his cover since they don't want to kill him, and never wanted to in the first place.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: Jack and his choir and eventually almost every boy on the island turn into savage beasts in their obsession with killing the beast.
  • Hobbes Was Right: Could be considered to be an example of this trope, but it could also be considered to simply be an example of a Crapsack World setting implying that government and anarchy are both bound to fail given that it starts with a wartime evacuation and ends with the boys being rescued by a naval warship, thereby subtly implying that even "civilised" society is not actually any better. The book is accessible to several critical interpretations.
  • Humanoid Abomination: The pig's head on a stick is suspiciously human-like, especially at a distance. It's about the height of a person... only with a pig's head instead of a human head. Considering it was quite dark when the boys first put it up, no wonder they ran away.
  • Humans Are the Real Monsters: The Beast is strongly implied to be a product of the boys' own natures.
  • Incorruptible Pure Pureness: Simon, who is usually described by literary critics as a Christ-like figure.
  • Irony: Ralph wants to keep the fire lit to attract rescue. Jack wants the fire snuffed out so their fun won't end. Jack manages to draw the attention of the Royal Navy by setting fire to the entire island in an attempt to kill Ralph. It is implied that they wouldn't have noticed the island at all otherwise.
  • It Gets Easier: Roger escalates from hitting "littluns" with rocks to leading the boys in killing Simon in mass hysteria to outright murdering Piggy.
  • Kids Are Cruel / Teens Are Monsters: Big time, especially with Roger. The islanders are particularly mean to Piggy.
  • Kill the Cutie: Simon and Piggy.
  • Lampshade Hanging: The officer who rescues them just as Ralph is about to be killed remarks, "Jolly good show. Like The Coral Island.", with said book being one of the cheerier Rousseau Was Right novels.
  • Madness Mantra: Percival Wemys Madison, The Vicarage, Harcourt Street, Anthony, Hants, telephone, telephone, tele
    • "Kill the beast! Cut his throat! Spill his blood!"
  • Meaningful Name: Three of the main characters are named directly after Coral Island characters. The fourth? Simon from Peterkin.
  • Messianic Archetype: Subverted and deconstructed. The description of Simon's death sounds very much alike an atonement sacrifice, but rather than save the boys for their sins, or just show them that how they act is wrong, it just pushes them deeper into moral guilt as they proceed to completely forget about him, cementing the lost and oblivion of innocence.
  • Murder by Mistake: Simon's death at the hands of the other boys.
  • Naming Conventions: At that time and place, the pupils should be on a Last Name Basis and Jack insists on "Merridew", but everyone quickly accepts First Name Basis, except for Piggy, whose nickname started out as an insult. Due to this, none of the important characters has his full name revealed except for Jack. And, to a lesser extent, the littlun with the birthmark.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: Jack has the entire island on fire to kill Ralph, but the massive amount of smoke attracts a Naval ship, which Ralph and Piggy have been awaiting the whole book long.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: In order to soften the blow of losing his leadership to him, Ralph declares Jack leader of the hunters. This earnest gesture can largely be seen as the beginning of the end, as it inadvertently sows the seeds of a rival faction with Jack at its head.
  • No New Fashions in the Future: Set in the near-to-mid future from 1954, so The Sixties...but it's inferred that nobody's hair was long and shaggy to begin with.
  • Oh Crap!: Ralph, upon seeing Sam and Eric fighting each other, realizes how screwed his order is.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Piggy, whose nickname started out as an insult. Ralph never bothers to learn his real name.
  • Parachute in a Tree: The 'monster' is actually a dead parachuter.
  • Power Trio: Again, a deconstruction.
    • Id: Jack.
    • Ego: Ralph.
    • Superego: Piggy (or Simon).
  • Primal Fear: What gradually leads the boys into becoming superstitious and violent savages.
  • Psychic Nosebleed: Simon and his feverish confrontation/hallucination with the pig's head.
  • Psycho Supporter: Roger
  • Putting on the Reich: Jack's attitude, rhetoric and eventual reign over the other boys have strong shades of Nazi Germany. His mud mask is a striking design in red, white and black...
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Jack and Ralph, respectively.
  • Robinsonade
  • Rule of Symbolism: Most of the book. Jack insists on being called "Merridew" and leads a choir. Eventually, after he discovers how to kill, his group degenerates into savagery. Sound similar to the story of anyone we know? Oh, and the spectral corpse on the mountain that terrifies everyone is the Shadow of War, harmless in fact (the pilot is dead), but terrifying to look at.
  • Satan: "Lord of the Flies" is a literal translation of the Hebrew "Baalzevuv", root of the modern "Beelzebub". note 
  • Sensitive Guy and Manly Man: Ralph and Jack. The blonde Ralph is mostly calm, sensible, collected and usually avoids confrontation, while the red-haired Jack is loudmouthed, aggressive, even downright brutal, and loves confrontation. They even practice different activities, as Ralph usually stays in the same place, watching over the other boys and trying to assure them their safety, while Jack runs around the entire island and is obsessed with hunting and killing animals.
    • Also, Simon and Piggy are the sensitive guys compared to the rest of the boys.
  • Shout-Out: Golding wrote Lord of the Flies partly to subvert children's adventure literature, in particular The Coral Island by R.M. Ballantyne, which also provided the names of Ralph and Jack. The Naval officer even has the following line:
    "I know. Jolly good show. Like the Coral Island."
    • This completes the Book Ends begun when the children first realize they're alone on a tropical island.
      "It's like in a book."
      At once there was a clamor.
      "Coral Island—"
      Ralph waved the conch.
      "This is our island. It's a good island. Until the grownups come to fetch us we'll have fun."
  • Single-Minded Twins: Sort of. Sam and Eric are separate people, but separately, they can't do anything. They are treated as one person: Samneric.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: Way, way down on the cynical end of the scale. It's big on the Kids Are Cruel/Teens Are Monsters and nothing the "good" characters do yields good results. Just ask Simon and Piggy... oh wait.
  • Small Secluded World
  • The Sociopath: Roger.
  • Solar-Powered Magnifying Glass: Piggy's glasses are used to set fires, despite the above mention of Artistic License.
  • Survival Mantra: Poor Percival, one of the littluns' having been driven to a depression and loneliness from the neglect by the older boys tirelessly recites his name and address—"Percival Wemys Madison, of the Vicarage, Harcourt St. Anthony"—like an incantation", only for his memory to begin to falter as the story and degradation of the island's civilization progresses. By the end, when Percival is finally able to recite this crucial information to someone that can actually help him, he can only mouth wordlessly at the naval officer, his time on the island causing him to have forgotten it.
  • Take That: To The Coral Island.
  • Team Mom: Simon is the one who mostly takes care of the littluns. In a lesser degree, Piggy, whose constant quoting of his aunt makes him the only female voice around the bunch of boys. Ralph also shows his concerns over the younger boys later and actually bickers with Jack about this, who doesn't care in the least about the problem.
  • Teenage Wasteland: The children have to figure out how to govern themselves on the island. It doesn't go well. Possibly the Trope Maker.
  • That Man Is Dead: Implied when Percival Wemys Madison, who has made of his name and address his Survival Mantra, forgets it exactly at the moment he meets someone who can really help him.
  • Those Two Guys: Samneric.
  • Title Drop
  • Too Good for This Sinful Earth: Simon is a Jesus figure, and meets a similar fate.
  • Tribal Face Paint: Featured with Jack and the hunters. One of the chapters is, after all, named "Painted Faces and Long Hair".
  • True Companions: Subverted. The boys think they'll be like this, but they quickly turn against each other.
  • Waif Prophet: Simon
  • Weird Moon: A thin crescent moon cannot possibly rise at sunset, as shown in one scene — such a moon would have to be full.
  • What Beautiful Eyes: Simon's eyes are described as "so bright they had deceived Ralph into thinking him delightfully gay and wicked." In Fanon, these are portrayed as Innocent Blue Eyes due to Simon being the purest of the boys, or Green Eyes to show Simon's connection to nature.
  • Wise Beyond Their Years: Ralph, Piggy and Simon.

And whatever you do, we mustn't let the fire go out. Because... because...oh God, I can't remember.

Alternative Title(s):

Lord Of The Flies