Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Lord of the Flies Summary

Today we'd like to profile another great work in literature, Lord of the Flies by William Golding.

The story itself takes place on an isolated island. A plane has crashed (though this plane is never mentioned nor seen again for the rest of the story), and it transpires that there are no adult survivors. Two English boys, the fair-haired Ralph and an overweight, bespectacled boy named "Piggy", form the initial focus, as they begin to make sense of their new surroundings. The boys soon find a white conch shell and Piggy suggests that Ralph use the conch as a horn to call for any other survivors who might be nearby. Ralph, thus, initiates the island's first assembly where all of the survivors are revealed to be male children, none seemingly over the age of thirteen: "biguns" (a few older boys) and "littluns" (several younger boys).

The survivors rapidly side with one of two dominant boys: Ralph, and another older boy named Jack Merridew (the head of a choir group that also landed on the island, presumably in the same plane crash). A brief election is held among the children and Ralph is voted chief (losing only the votes of Jack's loyal fellow choirboys) and he calls everyone together to work toward two common goals, the first being to have fun and the second to be rescued by creating a constant fire signal, to be lit using Piggy's glasses. For a time the boys work together towards building shelters, gathering food and water, and keeping the fire going. The choirboys then create their own goal, to become the hunters of the local animals.

Jack, a bony, freckled redhead, becomes an immediate threat to Ralph's leadership, obviously envious of Ralph's ascent to chief, and empowers himself instead by becoming the unanimous leader of the hunters. Together, Ralph, Jack, and a black-haired boy named Simon, become the supreme trio among the children, going on a short expedition to confirm that they are indeed on an island. Piggy, the most sensible of the bunch, is quickly outcast by his fellow biguns and becomes an unwilling source of laughter for the other children. Ralph, in addition to leading the project of building shelters, feels an instinctive need to protect the littluns.

Many of the littluns have begun believing that the island is inhabited by a monster, quickly referred to by all as "the beast," that fills their nightmares. When those responsible for maintaining the smoke signal seem to be preoccupied with their worry towards the beast, Ralph calls an assembly to debunk rumours of such a monster once and for all. The assembly, however, turns into something of a riot and Jack gains control of the discussion by boldly promising to kill the beast, again challenging Ralph's authority as chief. Later, Ralph contemplates abdicating his position, though Piggy discourages him from doing so while the two of them and Simon wish hopefully for some guidance from the adult world.

Identical twins Sam and Eric (often referred to collectively as "Samneric") are in charge of the signal fire that night, though they fall asleep. When they awake, they find the corpse and open parachute of a fighter pilot who has landed on the island, believing it to be the beast and reporting it during the next assembly. In an expedition to find such a beast, Ralph and Jack come upon a cavernous part of the island that they name Castle Rock. Ralph and Jack together find the dead pilot on top of the mountain and also fearfully mistake it to be the sleeping beast. Jack blows the conch to call another assembly, confirming the beast's existence to the others. The assembly results in a schism, splitting the children into two groups. Ralph's group continues holding the belief that preserving the signal fire is the necessary focus. Jack becomes the chief of his own tribe, focusing on hunting while exploiting the belief in the beast. Jack and the hunters, having killed their first pig, gain defectors from Ralph's group by promising them meat, fun, and, most importantly, protection from the beast. Jack's tribe gradually becomes more animalistic, applying face paint from coloured clay discovered by Sam and Eric. To Ralph, these painted faces represent the hunters' masking their more civilised selves in order to liberate their inner "savages."

Simon, a part of Ralph's tribe, finds the head of the hunters' dead pig on a stick, left as an offering to the beast. Simon then undergoes a peculiar experience, presumably a hallucination, in which he sees the pig head, swarming with scavenging flies, as the "Lord of the Flies," and believes that it is talking to him, identifying itself as the real "Beast". It tells him the truth about itself - that the boys themselves "created" the beast, and that the real beast was inside him and inside them all. He also finds the dead parachuter which had been mistaken for the beast, and is the only one of the group to recognise that it is a cadaver rather than a sleeping monster. Simon eventually arrives at the peak of a tribal ritual at Jack's tribe, pursued by the ravenous flies, and tries to explain the truth about the beast and the dead man on the mountain. However, Jack's tribe, raging with bloodlust from their first kill, attack and murder Simon, believing him to be the beast in the shadows. Ralph, who took part in the murder along with Piggy, though both indirectly, feels intense remorse.

The savages then raid Ralph's camp, attacking the non-hunters in order to steal Piggy's glasses for making a cooking fire. By this time, Ralph's tribe consists of just himself, Piggy, and Sam and Eric. They all go to the rock fort of Jack's tribe at Castle Rock to try to get back Piggy's glasses so that he can see. In the ensuing confrontation, the dark boy Roger triggers a rock ambush in which Piggy is struck by a boulder and thrown off the edge of the cliff to his horrific death. Simultaneously, the conch is shattered. Eric and Sam are captured and tortured by Roger to become part of Jack's tribe. Ralph is forced to flee for his own safety, now completely alone.

The following morning, in the final sequence of the book, Jack and Roger lead their tribe on a manhunt for Ralph, intending to kill him. Ralph has secretly told Sam and Eric (believing them still loyal to him) where he will hide. The twins, however, are forced to betray Ralph's position, though he escapes with his life in many close calls as the savages tear apart the island to find him. Jack, now nearly complete in his demonic role as the ultimate savage, sets the entire island ablaze. Ralph skillfully evades capture on multiple occasions but soon is so stricken by terror and exhaustion from running that he gives up, expecting to be found and killed. However, the fire started by Jack is so large that it has attracted the attention of a nearby warship.

A navy officer lands on the island near where Ralph is lying, and his sudden appearance brings the children's fighting to an abrupt halt. Upon learning of the boys' activities, the officer remarks that he would have expected better from British boys, believing them only to be playing a game, unaware of the two murders that have taken place and the imminent occurrence of a third. In the final scene, although now certain that he will be rescued after all, Ralph cries, in mourning for his friend Piggy, his own loss of innocence, and his newfound awareness of the darkness of human nature.

From Wikipedia.

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