Lord of the Flies

Lord of the Flies is an allegorical novel by Nobel Prize-winning author William Golding. It discusses how culture created by man fails, using as an example a group of British school-boys stuck on a deserted island who try to govern themselves with disastrous results. Its stances on the already controversial subjects of human nature and individual welfare versus the common good earned it position 70 on the American Library Association's list of the 100 most frequently challenged Books of 1990–2000. The novel was chosen by TIME magazine as one of the 100 best English-language novels from 1923 to the present.

Published in 1954, Lord of the Flies was Golding's first novel, and although it was not a great success at the time — selling fewer than three thousand copies in the United States during 1955 before going out of print — it soon went on to become a bestseller, and by the early 1960s was required reading in many schools and colleges. It was adapted to film in 1963 by Peter Brook, and again in 1990 by Harry Hook (see "Film adaptations").

The title is said to be a reference to the Hebrew name Beelzebub (בעל זבוב, Ba'al-zvuv, "god of the fly", "host of the fly" or literally "Lord of Flies"), a name sometimes used as a synonym for Satan.


The book was written during the first years of the Cold War and the atomic age; the events arise in the context of an unnamed nuclear war. The boys whose actions form the superficial subject of the book are from a school in Great Britain. Some are ordinary students; some arrive as an already-coherent body under an established leader (the choir). The book portrays their descent into savagery, contrasting with other books that had lauded the inevitable ascendancy of a higher form of human nature.

At an allegorical level, the main theme is the conflicting impulses towards civilization (live by rules, peacefully and in harmony), and towards the will to power. Other themes include the tension between groupthink and individuality, between rational and emotional reactions, and between morality and immorality. How these play out, and how different people feel the influences of these, forms a major subtext of the story.


The story itself takes place on an isolated island. A plane has crashed, and it transpires that there are no adult survivors. Two English boys named Ralph and Piggy form the initial focus, as they begin to make sense of their new surroundings. The boys soon find a conch shell and Piggy suggests that Ralph uses the conch as a horn to call for any other survivors who might be nearby. The boys include "biguns" (several older children) and "littluns" (younger children), and rapidly divide into two camps headed by Ralph, and another older boy named Jack (the head of a choir group that also landed on the island). Ralph is voted in charge and 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 one goal which constantly gets sidelined is keeping the signal fire going as some of the boys, the hunters, led by Jack, focus their energy on hunting the wild pigs on the island. The children's belief in a beast on the island also creates a problem. The children begin to split into two groups, based on the existence of the beast. Ralph attempts to disprove the existence of the beast while Jack exploits the belief in the beast to encourage his group of hunters.

Jack soon forms a separate tribe from Ralph's. Jack gains defectors from Ralph's tribe by promising them meat, fun, and, most importantly, protection from the beast. Jack's tribe gradually becomes more savage and they use face paint and focus mainly on hunting, while Ralph's group focuses on keeping the fire going and getting rescued. Simon, a part of Ralph's tribe, sets off on a mission to investigate the mountain. While on his way there, he find the pig's head on a stick Jack put there earlier, and begins to hallucinate. He sees the head as "The Lord of the Flies," and believes that it is talking to him, telling him the truth, that they created the beast, and that the real beast was inside him, inside them all. He also finds the dead parachuter which had been mistaken for the beast. On his return, he arrives at the peak of a tribal ritual at Jack's tribe, and his explanation goes unheard as he is killed. Jack's tribe then raid Ralph's camp, attacking the non-hunters in order to steal Piggy's glasses in order to make a cooking fire.

By this time Ralph's tribe consists of just himself, Piggy, and twins Sam and Eric. They all go to the rock fort of Jack's tribe to try to get back Piggy's glasses so he can see. In the ensuing confrontation Piggy is struck by a boulder thrown by Roger knocking him off the cliff; he falls to his death. The conch is shattered into millions of pieces by the launched rock. Eric and Sam are captured and both become part of Jack's tribe, leaving Ralph by himself.

In the final sequence of the book, Jack and his friend Roger lead the tribe of 'hunters' on a hunt for Ralph, intending to kill him. In order to do this Jack sets the entire island on fire. The fire is so large that it attracts the attention of a nearby warship which comes to the island and rescues the boys. A navy officer lands on the island and his sudden appearance brings the children's fighting to an abrupt halt. When learning of the boys' activities, the officer remarks that he would have expected better from British boys. In the final scene of the book, Ralph cries, in mourning for his friend Piggy, his own loss of innocence, and his newfound awareness of the darkness of human nature.

A hint of the author's intention can be found in the final description of the officer as he remains unaware of the importance of the events that have transpired, watching his peacefully floating ship (representing civilization) that is still described as far away.

Allegorical relationships

Film adaptations

There have been two film adaptations:


References to other works

Lord of the Flies borrows key elements from R. M. Ballantyne's The Coral Island (1857). Ballantyne's book, a simple adventure without any deep social themes, portrays three boys, Ralph, Peterkin and Jack, who land on an island. Golding used two of the names in his book, and replaced Peterkin with Simon. Lord of the Flies has been regarded as Golding's response showing what he believed would happen if children (or generally, people) were left to form a society in isolation.

Golding read 'The Coral Island' as he was growing up, and thought of Ballantyne as racist, since the book teaches that evil is associated with black skin and is external. In Chapter 11 of the original Lord of the Flies, Piggy calls Jack's tribe "a pack of painted niggers. This was changed to "savages" in some editions and "Indians" in the mass media publication.


Many writers have borrowed plot elements from Lord of the Flies.

Printed works

Robert A. Heinlein's Tunnel in the Sky, published in 1955, can be seen as a rebuttal to Lord of the Flies as it concerns a group of teenagers stranded on an uninhabited planet who manage to create a functional tribal society.

Stephen King has stated that the Castle Rock in Lord of the Flies was the inspiration for the town of the same name that has appeared in a number of his novels. The book itself also appears prominently in his novels Hearts in Atlantis and Cujo. King's fictional town in turn inspired the name of Rob Reiner's production company, Castle Rock Entertainment.

The DC Comics series Salvation Run is an adaptation of the "Lord of the Flies" concept with all the major DC Supervillains being marooned on an Alien planet

The young adult novel Gone, by Michael Grant, is closely related, with all of the adults and teens above 14 disappearing, leaving the rest to fend for and attempt to govern themselves.


Lord of the Flies inspired Sunrise Animation's classic anime series Infinite Ryvius, which follows the lives of nearly 500 teenagers stranded aboard a space battleship.

Also the "Das Bus" episode of The Simpsons is based on this book.

The "Club SpongeBob" episode of SpongeBob SquarePants, in which he, Patrick, and Squidward are stranded in the woods and rely on the "magic conch" for guidance.

The ABC television show Lost has also shown loose similarities to the book.

The South Park episode The Wacky Molestation Adventure parodies Lord of the Flies, in which Eric Cartman represents Ralph, while Stan Marsh and Kyle Broflovski both represent Jack. In a twist of irony, the civilised tribe in the episode (Cartman's tribe) is more evil than the savage tribe. Kenny McCormick may have represented Simon, since he was killed because he was seen dead by the two adults.


  • The English heavy metal band Iron Maiden composed a song about the novel, with the title "Lord of the Flies".
  • The American hard rock band Aerosmith composed a song about a pimp and his stable of women, with the title "Lord of the Thighs" which was a take off and play on Lord of the Flies.
  • The debut studio album, Boy, by Irish rock band U2 was loosely based on the novel's theme of childhood corruption, and the final song on the album, "Shadows and Tall Trees," takes its title from the novel's chapter of the same name. Additionally, some printings of the book's cover are similar to the cover of the album.
  • American punk rock band Bad Religion referenced the novel in the song "1000 More Fools", from their 1988 album Suffer: "I've seen the rapture in a starving baby's eyes, Inchoate beatitude, the Lord of the Flies".


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