This coming-of-age book by William Golding is published by Riverhead Books, a division of Penguin Group and is written for ages 13 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.
When a plane wreck strands a group of British boys on a tropical island without adults, the children initially revel in their freedom and try to develop a society by holding assemblies, appointing hunters, and tending a signal fire to alert passing ships. It isn't long before their "savage natures" take over; they argue, paint their faces and hunt bloodthirstily, eventually even killing some of their own. They fear and stalk "the Beast," whom they believe to be a dangerous creature on the island. In fact, there is no such animal — their anxiety about the Beast symbolizes their fear of the emerging monster within each of them. In the end, they are rescued and returned to the "civilized" world — a world in the throes of a war.
Literary critics consider Simon a "Christ figure." He demonstrates compassion for his fellow man and looks for goodness in a rapidly-declining civilization. His conversation with The Lord of the Flies (which is a rotting pig's head the boys have left as an offering to the Beast) is likened to the temptation Christ experienced during his fasting in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11). The loss of innocence the boys experience is sometimes compared to the fall of man (Genesis 3:1-21).
The boys initially elect Ralph as their chief; he chooses Jack and Simon to assist him. Ralph's primary concern is to keep a signal fire going in case a ship passes; he tries to maintain order and structure within the group. As Jack's lust for hunting and blood increases, he convinces most of the boys to join a new tribe under his leadership. He is dominating and brutal, rousing the boys to kill pigs and, eventually, other humans for sport.
Other Belief Systems
Lord of the Flies contrasts democracy and anarchy.
Ralph makes fun of Piggy's asthma (a----mar). Characters use God’s name in vain, and d--n you once or twice. Violence intensifies as the characters become less civilized: First they kill pigs with spears, enjoying the pigs' squealing and blood. They often dance and chant, "Kill the pig. Cut her throat. Spill her blood. Bash her in." They even spear the head of one pig, leaving it as an offering for the Beast. By the end, boys are killing other boys by mobbing and hunting them, simply because they "get caught up" in the frenzy of their savage rituals.
If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:
- What happens to a society where people have too much personal freedom?
- How is our society like this?
- Why do some people constantly degrade others (the way Ralph did to Piggy, for example)?
- Are people inherently good or bad?
- What happens when we let our fear of the unknown rule us (like the boys did with regard to the Beast)?
Note: Golding was awarded the 1983 Nobel Prize in literature.
Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.