Lord of the Flies Novel Summary
Reading level: Young Adult
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Lord of the Flies Novel Summary
Golding's first chapter describes a new world, an uninhabited tropical island, which a group of English boys discover after their plane crashes, killing all the adults on board. The first two characters described are Ralph, the tall boy with "fair hair," and Piggy, said by Golding to be a short and "very fat" child. While Ralph seems perfectly content and almost exited with the prospect of being free of adults and on his own in this strange island, Piggy, the perpetual voice of the adult world, is terrified by the idea of having no grown-ups to take charge. Piggy continually makes references to his "auntie," who has instilled in him the logic and reasoning of adult England.
Right away Piggy tries to make sense of their chaotic situation, telling Ralph that they need to hold a meeting and make a list of every boy's name. This again underscores Piggy's reliance on law and order to ensure his (and society's as a whole) well-being. Yet Ralph doesn't go along with Piggy completely; often he rejects Piggy's ideas, saying, "sucks to your auntie!"
Ralph, like Piggy, believes strongly in the idea that the boys' rescue is most important. He even boasts about his dad being a commander in the Navy. Right now, the whole episode seems like a tale of Swiss Family Robinson to Ralph; he doesn't recognize the deep consequences which will quickly ensue. Golding describes Ralph's feelings of independence, narrating, "Here at last was the imagined but never fully realized place leaping into real life. Ralphs lips parted in a delighted smile..."
Finally Ralph and Piggy find the conch shell. After tinkering with the fascinating object for awhile, Ralph eventually finds the way to call from it by blowing into the shell. Piggy quickly seizes the opportunity, telling Ralph, "We can use this to call the others. Have a meeting. They'll come when they hear us."
Soon hosts of boys emerge from the jungle and along the beach, following the sound of the conch. Most of the boys are similar in dress except for Jack and his gang of choir members who wear all black. Immediately Jack turns on Piggy, ridiculing him for his weight and awkwardness. It obvious that these two won't get along well. Also, its soon apparent that Jack, their leader, is not willing to submit his authority to Ralph, and a direct confrontation quickly ensues when Roger calls for a vote for chief. Although all of the choir members vote for Jack in grudging obedience, Ralph wins the majority of votes mostly because he's the won who holds the conch.
Eventually Ralph and Jack (who seems to function as a co-leader of sorts, though not officially) decide to take a tour of the island in order to determine that it is an island and also to make sure there isn't anyone else on it. Soon Simon joins them and the trio of exploration is complete. During the journey, the three experience a peaceful contentment of brotherhood and common purpose. Golding narrates, "Eyes shining, mouths open, triumphant, they savored the right of domination. They were lifted up: were friends." Here, the reader feels a genuine sense of hope that the boys, despite their differences, will ultimately get along and cooperatively find a mode of rescue.
Golding concludes his first chapter with an eerie foreshadowing when he details the near killing of a pig which the trio discovers on the trail. Jack is especially enamored by the pig, feeling a creeping desire to slay it with his knife. Yet Jacks anarchist, hunting influence hasn't had sufficient time to conquer the voice of reason articulated by Piggy. All three boys are afraid of actually taking the life of a living thing. Golding articulates their feelings, saying, "They knew very well why he hadn't: because of the enormity of the knife descending and cutting into living flesh; because of the unbearable blood." Soon Jack's attitude will change when the desire to kill transcends the necessity to obey.
Golding's second chapter begins with a second, nightly meeting following the return of Ralph and the others from their trip around the island. Aside from a few exceptions, everyone respects the conch as the symbol of authority and it's soon established that anyone speaking with it in his hands must be listened to.
First Ralph tells the assembly that indeed they are on a deserted island. He doesn't seem particularly upset at the idea that they are on their own, in fact he relishes the notion, confident in his own leadership abilities. Many routine things are established, such as the rule about speaking with the conch and respecting authority. Soon, Jack insists that the boys create an army of hunters, which he will lead to find food for the boys. Piggy, seemingly uninterested in this, takes the conch and addresses the crowd through his thick glasses, warning them that this is no game, that no one knows where they are so a signal fire is of crucial importance. Ralph quickly agrees, bolstering Piggy's opinion.
Now that all the major players have had their chance to speak, many of the littluns (slang for little ones) push a small boy with a mulberry-colored birthmark forward to tell Ralph and the others about the "beastie" which he and the other littluns are having nightmares about. After he admits his fears about the snake-like beast, there's an uproar of laughter and Ralph and the other older kids quickly dispel the rumor, saying its just in their imaginations.
Finally the boys decide to build the fire, placing it on the top of the mountain. Although there's plenty of tinder and help carrying branches, the boys soon realize that they have no way to light it. Luckily, Piggy comes to the rescue, and the boys use his specs to start the signal fire.
Soon there is more strife on the island, leading to a confrontation on the mountain between Jack and Piggy which Ralph quickly diffuses. It seems Jack and his hunters don't give Piggy any respect, making fun of his looks and his obsession with the conch as a tool of his own authority.
Quickly fire spreads outside of the fire-pit, leading to the burning of quite a sizable piece of the mountain. Piggy criticizes the others for this, calling them "little kids." He continues, "How can you expect to be rescued if you don't put first things first and act proper?"
Ominously, the littlun with the birthmark vanishes, leaving Piggy and the others worried. Unfortunately the real terror is yet to come for the boys on the island.
Golding's third chapter begins with Jack hunting for pigs in the jungle. Meanwhile, Ralph and Simon keep busy working on the shelters. Ralph becomes upset that he and Simon are doing all of the work, realizing that everyone else is "bathing, or eating, or playing."
Soon the rivalry between Ralph and Jack grows more tense when Ralph criticizes Jack for neither helping with the shelters nor having any success as a hunter. Ralph asks Jack indignantly, "Don't you want to be rescued? All you can talk about is pig, pig, pig!" This is only a foreshadowing of the tension yet to come between these two.
Later in the conversation, Jack admits to Ralph that he too seems to sense the presence of the beast on the island. He explains, "If you're hunting sometimes you catch yourself feeling as if...you're not hunting, but being hunted, as if something's behind you all the time in the jungle." This is very telling because indeed there is something hunting Jack' himself. The evil nature of his own soul is preying on its good side exemplified in Piggy and Ralph. All of the boys on the island (except perhaps Piggy) feel the beast, the anarchical side of themselves, growing in one way or another. Jack, however is the most susceptible to this spirit.
The last part of the chapter gives the reader a sense of Simon's strange behavior. Simon already is portrayed as a martyr of sorts, though in a very small way in this case. He reaches up to the higher branches to give the littluns fruit from the jungle. Later, he crawls beneath the undergrowth, leaving the others to be by himself in this mysterious tropical paradise.
The beginning of chapter four details the events of life as a littlun. Percival, Johnny, and Henry, three littluns who suffer from unknown terror during the night but play happily during the day, are on the beach, near the ocean water, engaged in their usual trivialities. Soon Roger and Maurice, two of Jacks hunters, begin to harass the boys, kicking over their sand-castles and throwing stones near them. These events are precursors to the actual violence Roger and Maurice will use later in the novel to threaten Ralph and Piggy. Yet for the time being, there is an invisible wall of protection around Henry, whom Roger throws stones near. Roger's conditioning of the old world is still present but will soon wear off.
The second major theme of the chapter is the adoption of face paint by Jack and the hunters. Wearing masks of green and other colors, the boys feel compelled to hunt the pig, being much more brave than normal. Golding explains that with the masks, the boys were "liberated from shame and self-consciousness."
Meanwhile, Piggy is thinking about a sun-dial. This again shows how Piggy is thinking logically about tools which could help the boys. Yet not even Ralph accepts this, saying that it's not practical. The other boys on the island dislike Piggy in general. Golding explains, "There had grown up tacitly among the biguns the opinion that Piggy was an outsider, not only by accent, which did not matter, but by fat, and ass-mar, and specs, and a certain disinclination for manual labor." The others hate Piggy because he is the only one (except Ralph) unwilling to give up the logic and order of the old world of adults.
Soon the rivalry between the two schools of thought are again in conflict when Jack and his hunters abandon the fire to hunt. When the fire goes out, Piggy and Ralph are enraged, seeing a ship which wasn't able to see them because there was no smoke signal. When confronted, Jack shrugs off the whole thing, starting a group chant and dance with his hunters concerning the pig hunt. Golding explains the two sides, saying, "There was the brilliant world of hunting, tactics, fierce exhilaration, skill, and there was the world of longing and baffled common sense."
Chapter five begins with Ralph deep in thought about what he should do as chief. It seems that Ralph is losing his authority over many of the boys, especially Jack and the hunters. Though Piggy is always at his side to remind him, a still graver problem is emerging for Ralph: he is forgetting the purpose of the signal fire. Like Jack and the hunters who have already forgotten, Ralph too is growing more and more susceptible to the beast's power of persuasion.
Soon Ralph calls another meeting to discuss matters. Here, it's made obvious that everyone is becoming more fearful of the beast. Even Jackss hunters say that they dream of the beast at night.
Soon killing the pigs is associated with killing Piggy. Although the boys make a joke of this, Golding is very clever in the way he links the two ideas. Indeed killing the pigs is like killing Piggy because with each successful hunt, Piggy loses more and more power as an advocate of order. This is evident from the partial breaking of his glasses. Giving into the beast by hunting is parallel to betraying Piggy, who rejects hunting as a worthwhile endeavor.
During the meeting there is a continued and heightened sense that the beast is real. One of the littluns believes that the beast comes from the sea. This fear is further strengthened when Simon, the first of the biguns to do so, admits the possibility of there being a beast on the island. This makes sense, since Simon is the only one of the boys with the moral conscious to identify the beast when he perceives it. Indeed Simon has a greatly heightened perception of matters the other boys cant understand. This is be made clearer later in the novel.
Piggy, too, senses something, though not as easily as Simon. Piggy confides to Ralph his fear of Jack. He says, "I'm scared of him, and that's why I know him. If you're scared of someone you hate him but you can't stop thinking about him..." Soon Piggy tells Ralph that Jack hates him too, and this is the first time Ralph realizes that indeed he is hated by Jack. It's at this time that Ralph clearly sees the distinction between Jack and himself.
Golding's sixth chapter starts with a very eerie introduction. He details the night-time arrival of a parachutist onto the mountain of the island. Its often speculated that this is the plane's pilot, yet Golding never confirms this one way or the other. The man in the parachute is dead: that's for sure. Golding narrates, "There was a sudden bright explosion and corkscrew trail across the sky; then darkness again and stars. There was a speck above the island, a figure dropping swiftly beneath a parachute, a figure that hung with dangling limbs."
Samneric, who are tending the fire, see this figure and run down to the shelters to tell the frightening news to Ralph. When morning comes. Jack and Ralph decide to seek out the beast at Castle Rock, and if they don't find him there, they will search the mountain. Ralph leads the way, and Jack follows, yet when they reach the top no beast is in sight. This frustrates all the boys, but especially Ralph, who vents his frustrations on Jack. He tells the hunter, "We want smoke. And you go wasting your time. You roll rocks."
The hunters want to stay at Castle Rock to build a fort and roll more rocks, but Ralph convinces them to follow him to the mountain.
This chapter begins with the boys following the winding pig-runs, up the side of the mountain to its peak. Though everyone is nervous about confronting the beast, somehow Simon knows that Ralph will make it back alright. When Ralph tells Simon he's "batty," Simon gets angry, again insisting that Ralph will return from the mountain safely. What's strange about this dialogue is the fact that Simon never predicts his own safe return. Like Christ on the Garden of Gethsemane, Simon knows that he will die soon.
On the trip to the mountain, which also serves as a pig hunt, Ralph sees a pig and spears it. He is shocked and enamored by his own success, saying, "I hit him! The spear stuck in." Unfortunately the pig escapes, wounded, and Jack's tribe is upset at Ralph for not bringing it down.
To make up for their loss, Jack and the hunters decide to pretend to be killing the pig, using Robert as the sow. Even Ralph can't resist the temptation of killing. Golding explains the motives in the minds of the boys. "The desire to squeeze and hurt was over-mastering."
Soon Jack decides to go to the mountain alone (he's the only one willing) to kill the beast. After awhile Jack comes running back to the group. Golding narrates, "There was a slithering noise high above them, the sound of someone taking giant and dangerous strides on rock or ash. Then Jack found them, and was shivering and croaking in a voice they could just recognize as his. "I saw a thing on top."
Eventually everyone decides to go up and look together. What they see is nightmarish. Golding again narrates, "Behind them the silver of moon had drawn clear of the horizon. Before them, something like a great ape was sitting asleep with its head between its knees. Then the wind roared in the forest, there was confusion in the darkness and the creature lifted its head, holding toward them the ruin of a face."
Quickly everyone runs back to the shelters on the shore in sheer terror.
Golding's eighth chapter begins with a meeting on the shore following the previous night of fright and unknown terror. It seems the beast is very close to the fire, which has long since gone out. Ralph suggests that the beast doesn't want them rescued; indeed he doesn't.
Soon Jack confronts Ralph in front of the assembly. He tells his hunters the lie that Ralph said they were "no good." Then he calls for another vote for chief. When no one votes for him, he becomes suddenly embarrassed and starts crying. He tells them, "I'm not going to play any longer. Not with you. I'm not going to be a part of Ralph's lot."
When Jack leaves, three things occur: Ralph thinks that matters are hopeless; Piggy suggests building the fire on the shore; Simon decides to confront the beast.
Piggy is thrilled that Jack, his arch enemy, has left Ralph and the others. Golding narrates, "Piggy was so full of delight and expanding liberty in Jack's departure, so full of pride in his contribution to the good of society, that he helped to fetch wood."
Soon Ralph and Piggy realize that many of the others are slowly and silently deserting camp to join Jack. Maurice, Bill, and Roger (Jack's strongest supporters) are first to go. Simon has also left but for a different reason he wants to find the beast, not to kill it, but to find out what it is and what it wants.
Meanwhile Jack and his dedicated followers go back to their hunt for pigs. When they see a large sow with piglets, they attack her, throwing dozens of spears into her body until she finally collapses in the middle of an open field. Yet this kill is different. Golding explains, "Then Jack found the throat and the hot blood spouted over his hands. The sow collapsed under them and they were heavy and fulfilled upon her. The butterflies still danced, preoccupied in the center of the clearing." This marks a major turning point for the adolescent boys. The pig satisfies not only their desire to kill, but also their sexual need. This is further exemplified when Robert boasts, "Right up her ass!"
Soon the boys cut off the head of the pig and leave it poking up from the ground on a stick sharpened at both ends. This is a sacrifice to the beast, or so they say. Simon, also is nearby, but for a different reason. Now he can confront the beast in his own way. Soon Simon begins hearing statements from the beast. The Lord of the Flies tells Simon "I know that" when Simon thinks to himself about the "infinite cynicism of adult life."
Eventually the beast begins speaking to Simon more directly. The Lord of the Flies tells him, "Fancy thinking the Beast was something you could hunt and kill! You knew, didn't you? I'm part of you? Close, close, close! I'm the reason why it's no go? Why things are what they are?" This overwhelms Simon, seeing himself inside the mouth of the beast, losing consciousness and falling down.
Meanwhile, Jack and his hunters in face paint, steal fire for Ralph and Piggy.
Golding's ninth chapter mostly concerns Simon. The chapter begins with Simon sleeping in the creepers. Golding explains, "With the running of the blood Simon's fit passed into the weariness of sleep."
Yet Simon is much changed from the preceding affairs concerning his conversation with the beast. Again Golding explains, "The usual brightness was gone from his eyes and he walked with a sort of glum determination like an old man." Simon has lost his innocence; he knows more than anyone else about the beast, which is taking its toll on his body.
The parachute man is soon swarmed with the flies. This is quite fitting the order that the man represents is being replaced with the chaos of the beast. This also is parallel to the pain Piggy gets in his head at this time. His logic is being impaired as the beast grows in power and control of their island society.
Soon Simon decides to tell the others about the beast. Golding narrates Simon's thoughts. "The beast was harmless and horrible; and the news must reach the others as soon as possible."
The change in power from the parachutist to the Lord of the Flies mirrors the change in power from Ralph to Jack. Golding follows, "Power lay in the brown swell of his forearms; authority sat on his shoulder and chattered in his ear like an ape." Here, the author proves that Jack has replaced Ralph as chief, not democratically, but practically.
Soon all the boys, including Ralph and Piggy, congregate around a bonfire where the sow is being cooked and eaten. During another of their pagan-like chanting ceremonies where they pretend to kill the pig, Simon appears. In the darkness the boys believe that Simon is the beast, so they descend upon him, slowly murdering the poor boy. Simon's body gradually floats out to sea. Here the Christ metaphor for Simon is strongest.
Like the opening scene of the novel, chapter ten begins with two figures alone on the beach Ralph and Piggy. Both of them are very frightened about their future; both feel guilty for taking part in the previous night's feast which turned out to be Simon's murder. Piggy won't believe that he had anything to do with it, saying that it was just an unfortunate accident.
Soon Samneric appear, helping to keep up the fire on the shore. Ralph seems to forget the meaning of the fire, however. Golding explains, "Ralph tried indignantly to remember. There was something good about a fire. Something overwhelmingly good." Here again is proof that Ralph is becoming increasingly weary as the power of the beast infects his soul. Piggy, of course, comes to the rescue, reminding Ralph that the fire is the only way for the boys to be saved.
That night, Jack and his hunters raid Ralph's camp, taking the fire and stealing Piggy's glasses. Soon it will be all over the adult world of logic.
This chapter begins with Ralph, Piggy, and the twins recovering from the previous night's battle with Jack and the hunters. Ralph blows desperately at the fire, but there are no sparks. Without Piggy's glasses there is no way to start another fire either. The situation has become hopeless for Ralph and his few remaining followers.
Piggy soon shows his rage and contempt for Jack when he tells Ralph, "I got the conch. I'm going to that Jack Merridew an' tell him, I am." Ralph and the twins decide to follow Piggy's lead and confront Jack and the hunters at Castle Rock. They decide to carry spears while Piggy brings the conch, his last semblance of order.
When the two tribes meet each other at the hunter's fortress of Castle Rock, words and stones are hurled back and forth, eventually leading to a fight between the two chiefs. This fight ends in a draw, but Samneric are quickly taken as prisoners. This inspires Jack and his hunters to become more aggressive. When Piggy screams at them in desperation, "Which is better to have rules and agree, or to hunt and kill?," the hunters are enraged. Roger, Jack's torture specialist, rolls a giant boulder down the hill, striking Piggy head on. Instantly Piggy's body is hurled over the ledge, crashing onto a rock below revealing his blood and guts before his corpse is washed away with a wave from the ocean.
Ralph, in savage-like panic, crashes through the foliage, escaping the situation which has killed his only source of encouragement.
In this chapter, Ralph loses his sanity, not believing the events he has witnessed. Ralph approaches the fortress again at night, when Samneric are serving as guards. They tell Ralph that Jack is planning a hunt for him tomorrow, and he will surely be killed unless he finds a clever place to hide. Ralph tells them that he'll hide in the thicket near Castle Rock.
The next morning, Roger sharpens a stick at both ends, signaling the time for another big hunt and showing that now Ralph has become the beast the boys must kill. Soon Samneric tell the others where Ralph is hiding, betraying their loyalty to him. This devastates Ralph, who can't reason any longer. Golding explains his feelings, "There was no Piggy to talk sense. There was no solemn assembly for debate nor dignity of the conch."
The rest of the chapter is dedicated to the hunt which almost kills Ralph several times. In desperation, Ralph runs out into the ocean, trying to escape Jack and the savages. To Ralph's surprise, he almost runs into a naval officer, who asks what is going on and where the adults are. Ralph tells him that two people have been killed. The puzzled officer takes Ralph and the others aboard, and their deadly battle is over.
Golding explains, "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." In this way, though the boys are rescued, the novel has anything but a happy ending. Indeed Golding's dark vision of man has come true: all men are inherently evil.
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