The Lord of the Flies is a famous novel that explores the lives of young boys who are stranded on an island without adult supervision. The story examines the breakdown of morality seen in most of the characters, and the purpose of human society and culture. Click here to read a brief summary of the novel before jumping into the literary analysis.
Background information on Lord of the Flies
The novel examines the lives of young boys who were lost on an island with no adult supervision. Many of them had been taken from Britain after witnessing the atrocities of war, and they had to build and maintain a society with the most basic tools that could be found on the abandoned island. The Lord of the Flies also challenges readers to consider their personal beliefs regarding order and one’s ability to think independently. The vivid depictions and intense language also encourages the reader to take on the main character’s identities in order to experience their difficult choices, shifts in personality and perspective and even their deepest desires and thoughts when making the decision sin which they did that affected the entire group. The Lord of the Flies provides a case for order, and the role that each individual plays in maintaining such order.
This analysis will focus on the development and outcomes of the three major characters are named Ralph, Jack and Simon. Each of these characters represents aspects of human beings and varying perspectives of life, morality and love; and drastically differentiated in their response to power, responsibility and accountability when faced with adversity and unmonitored.
Character analysis of Ralph
Ralph was the objective, goal-oriented, the picture of order and most focused member of the group. He was quickly elected leader due to his quick thinking after the crash, in which his primary goal was to ensure the rescue and safety of he and the other boys on the island.
While his peers were mindlessly enjoying their first experience of complete freedom, he was obsessively developing an effective plan for survival and perfecting the details. He organized different units for various basic needs, and established basic order not without critics and jealousy. Ralph struggled with comprehending ill will and represents the innocence that most people have prior to being exposed to the corrupt world in that we live in. As the book progressed, it was incomprehensible to him that the boys could behave so savagely, and he denied this same attribute within himself. Eventually he also engaged in savage acts (i.e., the death of Simon), and came to understand and empathize with other individuals whom he had previously judged. This represents the wisdom acquired through learning experience.
Ralph, as the protagonist, represents the good in society. Throughout the story he encountered challenges in which he acquired many epiphanies. By the end of the story, he had acquired wisdom, a more accurate perspective of the human race and a deeper sense of introspection. Ralph was elected the leader due to his positive attributes including psychological maturity as well as his physical abilities. Ralph was altruistic in his approach, while also being concerned with his survival and that of the others. He attempted to encourage the others by facilitating order, but was overthrown by Jack as the book progressed. This presents the theme of human beings tendency to lean towards primitive, chaotic blood thirsty values.
While this may be true, it can also be analyzed that before the order of civilizations, mankind was primitive and governed by chaos, nomads who roamed aimlessly, and had no rules of interaction. If someone wanted a friend’s partner, they would just kill that person with little thought of consequences, as there were none. It is no wonder these young men, who are developmentally primitive, engaged in such tactics when they had the responsibility of governing themselves. The final pages of the novel deal with the theme of redemption. Ralph was rescued by the naval officer and became overwhelmed with tears. It was as if he were asking for forgiveness for his transgressions, and apologizing to those in which he had harmed.
Jack – The main antagonist
The next character to be examined is Jack. Jack was the antithesis of Ralph. He was Ralph’s main antagonist throughout the story and eventually ordered Ralph killed. Jack appeared insecure multiple times throughout the story including when he lost the election, had difficulty killing the pig initially and in his daily interactions with the group. He changed his identity both literally and metaphorically; as he began painting his face to increase his warrior image and became extremely blood thirsty after being asked to hunt and gather the food. These physical changes were also an example of his insecurity. This represents the theme of morality being innately in individuals.
Throughout the novel, Jack was jealous of Ralph, undermined him and coveted his power and possessions. He seemingly had an innate disposition to behave savagely, and less morality to hold these primitive desires in check. Near the end of the story, Jack ordered Ralph to be killed and had already killed other boys. He thirsted for power and this became his main obsession. He facilitated group think with the other boys and they conformed out of necessity and fear.
Simon – The saint
It is better to end on a positive note, therefore Simon was purposely chosen as the final character to summarize. Simon represents the absolute good and kindness in society as he was the only main character who engaged in moral behavior independent of adult supervision and consequences. He was independent, free-spirited and nurturing to the other boys. Simon remained positive through the unknown times, and provided solace to the others when in need. While he was brutally murdered by the others, the theme learned from Simon is that there are individuals who are genuinely morale without the threat of punishment and consequences. Simon appears to be the author’s perspective on the hope of humanity. The shame is that the majority of people are not innately morale and if provided autonomy and no governing body, our society would probably become just as chaotic as the characters in The Lord of the Flies.
Like what you read? Check out our literary analysis of The Light in the Forest, the story of a boy held captive by the Lenape tribe.
Golding, W, Lord of the Flies, Reissue, Perigee Books, London, 1959.