Lord of the Flies




















Here is some explanation of the themes and symbols in the novel (courtesy of SparkNotes



Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.
Civilization vs. Savagery
The central concern of Lord of the Flies is the conflict between two competing impulses that exist within all human beings: the instinct to live by rules, act peacefully, follow moral commands, and value the good of the group against the instinct to gratify one’s immediate desires, act violently to obtain supremacy over others, and enforce one’s will. This conflict might be expressed in a number of ways: civilization vs. savagery, order vs. chaos, reason vs. impulse, law vs. anarchy, or the broader heading of good vs. evil. Throughout the novel, Golding associates the instinct of civilization with good and the instinct of savagery with evil.
The conflict between the two instincts is the driving force of the novel, explored through the dissolution of the young English boys’ civilized, moral, disciplined behavior as they accustom themselves to a wild, brutal, barbaric life in the jungle. Lord of the Flies is an allegorical novel, which means that Golding conveys many of his main ideas and themes through symbolic characters and objects. He represents the conflict between civilization and savagery in the conflict between the novel’s two main characters: Ralph, the protagonist, who represents order and leadership; and Jack, the antagonist, who represents savagery and the desire for power.
As the novel progresses, Golding shows how different people feel the influences of the instincts of civilization and savagery to different degrees. Piggy, for instance, has no savage feelings, while Roger seems barely capable of comprehending the rules of civilization. Generally, however, Golding implies that the instinct of savagery is far more primal and fundamental to the human psyche than the instinct of civilization. Golding sees moral behavior, in many cases, as something that civilization forces upon the individual rather than a natural expression of human individuality. When left to their own devices, Golding implies, people naturally revert to cruelty, savagery, and barbarism. This idea of innate human evil is central to Lord of the Flies, and finds expression in several important symbols, most notably the beast and the sow’s head on the stake. Among all the characters, only Simon seems to possess anything like a natural, innate goodness.
Loss of Innocence
As the boys on the island progress from well-behaved, orderly children longing for rescue to cruel, bloodthirsty hunters who have no desire to return to civilization, they naturally lose the sense of innocence that they possessed at the beginning of the novel. The painted savages in Chapter 12 who have hunted, tortured, and killed animals and human beings are a far cry from the guileless children swimming in the lagoon in Chapter 3. But Golding does not portray this loss of innocence as something that is done to the children; rather, it results naturally from their increasing openness to the innate evil and savagery that has always existed within them. Golding implies that civilization can mitigate but never wipe out the innate evil that exists within all human beings. The forest glade in which Simon sits in Chapter 3 symbolizes this loss of innocence. At first, it is a place of natural beauty and peace, but when Simon returns later in the novel, he discovers the bloody sow’s head impaled upon a stake in the middle of the clearing. The bloody offering to the beast has disrupted the paradise that existed before—a powerful symbol of innate human evil disrupting childhood innocence.


Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, and literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.
Biblical Parallels
Many critics have characterized Lord of the Flies as a retelling of episodes from the Bible. While that description may be an oversimplification, the novel does echo certain Christian images and themes. Golding does not make any explicit or direct connections to Christian symbolism in Lord of the Flies; instead, these biblical parallels function as a kind of subtle motif in the novel, adding thematic resonance to the main ideas of the story. The island itself, particularly Simon’s glade in the forest, recalls the Garden of Eden in its status as an originally pristine place that is corrupted by the introduction of evil. Similarly, we may see the Lord of the Flies as a representation of the devil, for it works to promote evil among humankind. Furthermore, many critics have drawn strong parallels between Simon and Jesus. Among the boys, Simon is the one who arrives at the moral truth of the novel, and the other boys kill him sacrificially as a consequence of having discovered this truth. Simon’s conversation with the Lord of the Flies also parallels the confrontation between Jesus and the devil during Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness, as told in the Christian Gospels.
However, it is important to remember that the parallels between Simon and Christ are not complete, and that there are limits to reading Lord of the Flies purely as a Christian allegory. Save for Simon’s two uncanny predictions of the future, he lacks the supernatural connection to God that Jesus has in Christian tradition. Although Simon is wise in many ways, his death does not bring salvation to the island; rather, his death plunges the island deeper into savagery and moral guilt. Moreover, Simon dies before he is able to tell the boys the truth he has discovered. Jesus, in contrast, was killed while spreading his moral philosophy. In this way, Simon—and Lord of the Flies as a whole—echoes Christian ideas and themes without developing explicit, precise parallels with them. The novel’s biblical parallels enhance its moral themes but are not necessarily the primary key to interpreting the story.


Symbols are objects, characters, figures, and colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.
The Conch Shell
Ralph and Piggy discover the conch shell on the beach at the start of the novel and use it to summon the boys together after the crash separates them. Used in this capacity, the conch shell becomes a powerful symbol of civilization and order in the novel. The shell effectively governs the boys’ meetings, for the boy who holds the shell holds the right to speak. In this regard, the shell is more than a symbol—it is an actual vessel of political legitimacy and democratic power. As the island civilization erodes and the boys descend into savagery, the conch shell loses its power and influence among them. Ralph clutches the shell desperately when he talks about his role in murdering Simon. Later, the other boys ignore Ralph and throw stones at him when he attempts to blow the conch in Jack’s camp. The boulder that Roger rolls onto Piggy also crushes the conch shell, signifying the demise of the civilized instinct among almost all the boys on the island.
Piggy’s Glasses
Piggy is the most intelligent, rational boy in the group, and his glasses represent the power of science and intellectual endeavor in society. This symbolic significance is clear from the start of the novel, when the boys use the lenses from Piggy’s glasses to focus the sunlight and start a fire. When Jack’s hunters raid Ralph’s camp and steal the glasses, the savages effectively take the power to make fire, leaving Ralph’s group helpless.
The Signal Fire
The signal fire burns on the mountain, and later on the beach, to attract the notice of passing ships that might be able to rescue the boys. As a result, the signal fire becomes a barometer of the boys’ connection to civilization. In the early parts of the novel, the fact that the boys maintain the fire is a sign that they want to be rescued and return to society. When the fire burns low or goes out, we realize that the boys have lost sight of their desire to be rescued and have accepted their savage lives on the island. The signal fire thus functions as a kind of measurement of the strength of the civilized instinct remaining on the island. Ironically, at the end of the novel, a fire finally summons a ship to the island, but not the signal fire. Instead, it is the fire of savagery—the forest fire Jack’s gang starts as part of his quest to hunt and kill Ralph.
The Beast
The imaginary beast that frightens all the boys stands for the primal instinct of savagery that exists within all human beings. The boys are afraid of the beast, but only Simon reaches the realization that they fear the beast because it exists within each of them. As the boys grow more savage, their belief in the beast grows stronger. By the end of the novel, the boys are leaving it sacrifices and treating it as a totemic god. The boys’ behavior is what brings the beast into existence, so the more savagely the boys act, the more real the beast seems to become.
The Lord of the Flies
The Lord of the Flies is the bloody, severed sow’s head that Jack impales on a stake in the forest glade as an offering to the beast. This complicated symbol becomes the most important image in the novel when Simon confronts the sow’s head in the glade and it seems to speak to him, telling him that evil lies within every human heart and promising to have some “fun” with him. (This “fun” foreshadows Simon’s death in the following chapter.) In this way, the Lord of the Flies becomes both a physical manifestation of the beast, a symbol of the power of evil, and a kind of Satan figure who evokes the beast within each human being. Looking at the novel in the context of biblical parallels, the Lord of the Flies recalls the devil, just as Simon recalls Jesus. In fact, the name “Lord of the Flies” is a literal translation of the name of the biblical name Beelzebub, a powerful demon in hell sometimes thought to be the devil himself.
Ralph, Piggy, Jack, Simon, and Roger
Lord of the Flies is an allegorical novel, and many of its characters signify important ideas or themes. Ralph represents order, leadership, and civilization. Piggy represents the scientific and intellectual aspects of civilization. Jack represents unbridled savagery and the desire for power. Simon represents natural human goodness. Roger represents brutality and bloodlust at their most extreme. To the extent that the boys’ society resembles a political state, the littluns might be seen as the common people, while the older boys represent the ruling classes and political leaders. The relationships that develop between the older boys and the younger ones emphasize the older boys’ connection to either the civilized or the savage instinct: civilized boys like Ralph and Simon use their power to protect the younger boys and advance the good of the group; savage boys like Jack and Roger use their power to gratify their own desires, treating the littler boys as objects for their own amusement.

Once More to the Lake: More to think (and talk) about...

These are lecture discussion notes (from a US college) that we can think about and discuss in class.

What is this story about? Can you find a clear thesis statement? This essay does not provide a stated thesis, though one is clearly implied. From your discussion, you may have come to many conclusions based on information that is in the story but which are inferences on your part. This is an advanced level of thinking, to be able to draw conclusions from a narrative which are not explicitly stated. When you are a proven writer, you will probably write narratives more like E. B. White’s that like the narrative you will write for our class, implying your purposes strongly but not putting them in writing. For this class, of course, you will have to be able to explicitly state your thesis. So it would be good practice for you to learn to state an understood thesis like the one from this essay. 

So where should we begin in this essay? Usually authors put important points at the very end of the essay as this is the most emphatic position. When you read the story, you were probably put off by the last sentence, the last word of which is "death." Young people, actually all people, don’t really want to think about death. If we ignore it, perhaps it will go away. But it does not. And we cannot undo the effect of that last sentence on our interpretation of the entire story. It probably made you depressed, confused you at first, and then made you rethink what the overall essay is all about. Most students’ first impression of the story while in the midst of reading it is that it is a nostalgic tale about one man’s memories of his own visits to the lake with his father which are stirred up by his visit to bring his own son to that same lake. Because of the last sentence, we begin looking around for someone who might have died to make our persona (the "I" in the story) think about death. And most students notice that the original father (who would be the grandfather now) is not at the lake, though it was said that he goes every August. The simple inference is that the persona’s father is dead, probably died within the last year, so that the persona wanted to come back to the lake rather than going deepsea fishing with his son as was his custom, perhaps to come to terms with the death of his own father. 

He hasn’t been to the lake in a while and gets confused because he associates with his own son as the son steals off to canoe out onto the lake or gets back into wet swim trunks to go swimming after a storm. E.B. White encourages this confusion using his paragraph structure and references to the persona’s confusion of identity. We become equally confused because the author keeps going back and forth in time until we aren’t sure if the story is talking about the father or the son having the same experiences. This leads us to one of the purposes of the story, a new view of time. Actually this view of time is not new; there seems to be a paradox between seeing time as cyclical, repeating with the seasons each year, in which case nothing much has changed on the lake and seeing time as linear in which case change does take place and the original son in 1904 is now the father in the present time of this essay (approximately 1935?). E.B. White resolves this paradox by suggesting that time is both linear and cyclical in that the place or nature can seem to remain the same but man ages and experiences nature at different times in his life.

The confusion between the son and the father in the present day and the juxtaposed view of time as both linear and cyclical lead us to our second important deduction: the epiphany or sudden realization that the persona goes through at the end of the story when he is watching his son pull on cold swim trunks and seems to feel the coldness himself but interprets it as the chill of death is that the persona himself will someday be in the same position occupied by his own father (the grandfather of the story) and that means he will be dead. This is a profound realization that few young people have gone through unless their experiences include having to face the death of a friend or someone else their own age. It can be so profound and depressing an awareness that it could completely alter the enjoyment the persona was having in revisiting the lake. The last sentence has, in fact, had exactly that effect on the reader, so it is particularly effective in getting the point or purpose across.
Although this is a narrative, it does not conform to typical chronological narrative structure. Since obviously I want to demonstrate good writing for you to base your own writing on, why would I assign this essay? Equally obviously "Once More to the Lake" contains many passages of vivid description, most especially one of my favorite paragraphs, the next to last in the essay about a typical storm. Reread that paragraph, perhaps reading it aloud to get the entire impact of the words. He uses the metaphor of the sounds of the storm being like percussion instruments. He puts many short actions into the same sentence to show how the storm builds and changes over the course of just a few hours. But also if you look at the length of the sentences at the end of this paragraph when the storm is quieting down, read the words aloud about the calm after the storm, you will discover that you cannot read those words fast, as you could the violence of the storm. This is another example of how form enhances content, how the structure of individual sentences matches the meaning those sentences are trying to convey. I want you to try to emulate this quality of matching the sentence structure, length, flow or rhythm to the meaning of the words. When you can be critical and perfectionistic about individual sentences in your paragraphs, you will be on the way to becoming an excellent writer.

The overall structure of the essay, the jumping back and forth in time to the point of confusion on the part of the reader is also a way form enhances content because part of the purpose of the essay is to convince us that the persona can associate so clearly with his son that he gets confused about whether he is experiencing the events as a son or as a father. This makes his realization that he would someday be in the grandfather position more powerful. I do not expect that you will have a similar important reason for choosing some other organizational principle--other than chronology--for your narrative essay, but it does suggest that you could break out of chronological order IF you had a very good reason and IF you conveyed that reason to us as part of your purpose.

So, in conclusion, this is an excellent essay for you to read and use as a model first, for its vivid description and metaphorical associations which help us experience the events in the same way as the author, and second, for the profundity of its purpose and the power of the last sentence which completely changes our typical, sentimental response to a nostalgic story into one of thoughtful questioning and critical thinking.

Once More to the Lake

At the start of every fall term, countless students are asked to write an essay on what must be the most uninspired composition topic of all time: "How I Spent My Summer Vacation." Still, it's remarkable what a good writer can do with such a seemingly dull subject--though it may take a bit longer than usual to complete the assignment.

In this case, the good writer was E.B. White, and the essay that took more than a quarter century to complete was "Once More to the Lake."

First Draft: Pamphlet on Belgrade Lake (1914)

Back in 1914, shortly before his 15th birthday, Elwyn White responded to this familiar topic with uncommon enthusiasm. It was a subject the boy knew well and an experience that he fiercely enjoyed. Every August for the past decade, White's father had taken the family to the same camp on Belgrade Lake in Maine. In a self-designed pamphlet, complete with sketches and photos, young Elwyn began his report clearly and conventionally:
Maine is one of the most beautiful states in the Union, and Belgrade is one of the most beautiful of the lakes of Maine.

This wonderful lake is five miles wide, and about ten miles long, with many coves, points and islands. It is one of a series of lakes, which are connected with each other by little streams. One of these streams is several miles long and deep enough so that it affords an opportunity for a fine all-day canoe trip. . . .

The lake is large enough to make the conditions ideal for all kinds of small boats. The bathing also is a feature, for the days grow very warm at noon time and make a good swim feel fine.
(reprinted in Scott Elledge, E.B. White: A Biography, Norton, 1984)

Second Draft: Letter to Stanley Hart White (1936)

In the summer of 1936, E. B. White, by then a popular writer for The New Yorker magazine, made a return visit to this childhood vacation spot. While there, he wrote a long letter to his brother Stanley, vividly describing the sights, sounds, and smells of the lake. Here are a few excerpts:
I returned to Belgrade. Things haven't changed much. There's a train called the Bar Harbor Express, and Portland is foggy early in the morning, and the Pullman blankets are brown and thin and cold. But when you look out of the window in the diner, steam is rising from the pastures and the sun is out, and pretty soon the train is skirting a blue lake called Messalonksi. Things don't change much. . . .

The lake hangs clear and still at dawn, and the sound of a cowbell comes softly from a faraway woodlot. In the shallows along shore the pebbles and driftwood show clear and smooth on bottom, and black water bugs dart, spreading a wake and a shadow. A fish rises quickly in the lily pads with a little plop, and a broad ring widens to eternity. The water in the basin is icy before breakfast, and cuts sharply into your nose and ears and makes your face blue as you wash. But the boards of the dock are already hot in the sun, and there are doughnuts for breakfast and the smell is there, the faintly rancid smell that hangs around Maine kitchens. Sometimes there is little wind all day, and on still hot afternoons the sound of a motorboat comes drifting five miles from the other shore, and the droning lake becomes articulate, like a hot field. A crow calls, fearfully and far. If a night breeze springs up, you are aware of a restless noise along the shore, and for a few minutes before you fall asleep you hear the intimate talk between fresh-water waves and rocks that lie below bending birches. The insides of your camp are hung with pictures cut from magazines, and the camp smells of lumber and damp. Things don't change much. . . .

Over at the Mills there's a frog box, sunk half in the water. People come there in boats and buy bait. You buy a drink of Birch Beer at Bean's tackle store. Big bass swim lazily in the deep water at the end of the wharf, well fed. Long lean guide boats kick white water in the stern till they suck under. There are still one-cylinder engines that don't go. Maybe it's the needle valve. . . .

Yes, sir, I returned to Belgrade, and things don't change much. I thought somebody ought to know.
(Letters of E.B. White, edited by Dorothy Lobrano Guth, Harper & Row, 1976)

Final Revision: "Once More to the Lake" (1941)

White made the return journey in 1936 on his own, in part to commemorate his parents, both of whom had recently died. When he next made the trip to Belgrade Lake, in 1941, he took along his son Joel. White recorded that experience in what has become one of the best known and most frequently anthologized essays of the past century, "Once More to the Lake":
We went fishing the first morning. I felt the same damp moss covering the worms in the bait can, and saw the dragonfly alight on the tip of my rod as it hovered a few inches from the surface of the water. It was the arrival of this fly that convinced me beyond any doubt that everything was as it always had been, that the years were a mirage and there had been no years. The small waves were the same, chucking the rowboat under the chin as we fished at anchor, and the boat was the same boat, the same color green and the ribs broken in the same places, and under the floor-boards the same fresh-water leavings and debris--the dead hellgrammite, the wisps of moss, the rusty discarded fishhook, the dried blood from yesterday's catch. We stared silently at the tips of our rods, at the dragonflies that came and went. I lowered the tip of mine into the water, pensively dislodging the fly, which darted two feet away, poised, darted two feet back, and came to rest again a little farther up the rod. There had been no years between the ducking of this dragonfly and the other one--the one that was part of memory. . . .

After breakfast we would go up to the store and the things were in the same place--the minnows in a bottle, the plugs and spinners disarranged and pawed over by the youngsters from the boys' camp, the fig newtons and the Beeman's gum. Outside, the road was tarred and cars stood in front of the store. Inside, all was just as it had always been, except there was more Coca Cola and not so much Moxie and root beer and birch beer and sarsaparilla. We would walk out with a bottle of pop apiece and sometimes the pop would backfire up our noses and hurt. We explored the streams, quietly, where the turtles slid off the sunny logs and dug their way into the soft bottom; and we lay on the town wharf and fed worms to the tame bass. Everywhere we went I had trouble making out which was I, the one walking at my side, the one walking in my pants.
(One Man's Meat, Tilbury House Publishers, 1997)
Certain details from White's 1936 letter reappear in his 1941 essay: damp moss, birch beer, the smell of lumber, the sound of outboard motors. In his letter White insisted that "things don't change much," and in his essay we hear the refrain, "There had been no years." But in both texts we sense that the author was working hard to sustain an illusion. A joke may be "deathless," the lake may be "fade-proof," and summer may be "without end." Yet as White makes clear in the concluding image of "Once More to the Lake," only the pattern of life is "indelible":
When the others went swimming my son said he was going in too. He pulled his dripping trunks from the line where they had hung all through the shower, and wrung them out. Languidly, and with no thought of going in, I watched him, his hard little body, skinny and bare, saw him wince slightly as he pulled up around his vitals the small, soggy, icy garment. As he buckled the swollen belt, suddenly my groin felt the chill of death.
To spend almost 30 years composing an essay is exceptional. But then, you have to admit, so is "Once More to the Lake."

Postscript (1981)

According to Scott Elledge in E.B. White: A Biography, on July 11, 1981, to celebrate his eighty-first birthday, White lashed a canoe to the top of his car and drove to "the same Belgrade lake where, seventy years before, he had received a green old town canoe from his father, a gift for his eleventh birthday."

                  E.B. White (1899-1985)



Back to our roots

Hey there

Here are some very useful lists that focus on Latin and Greek roots - and how they are employed in English words. From now on you are required to use these roots - or, more accurately, words that use these roots -  in your journal entries.

Don't worry we'll discuss this in more detail in class.

Medical Roots

Latin and Greek Roots