Complete Summary and Analysis of Lord of the Flies

Summary

In the midst of war, a transport plane carrying a group of English boys is shot down, crashing in a thick jungle on a deserted island. Scattered by the wreck, the surviving boys lose each other. One of the older boys, Ralph, meets Piggy, a chubby, intellectual boy, on the beach. They discover a large white conch shell; Piggy realizes that it could be used as a kind of makeshift trumpet and convinces Ralph to blow it to find the other boys. Summoned by the blast of sound from the shell, boys begin straggling onto the beach. The oldest among them are around twelve; the youngest are only five. Among the group is a boys' choir, dressed in black gowns and led by an older boy named Jack. The boys all taunt Piggy, mocking his appearance and his nickname; Jack snaps at them to stand at attention.

The boys decide to elect a leader; Ralph wins the vote, though Jack clearly wants the position. To mitigate Jack's ambition, Ralph asks the choir to serve as the hunters for the band of boys, and asks Jack to lead them. Mindful of the need to explore their new environment, the boys choose Ralph, Jack, and a choir member named Simon to explore the island, ignoring Piggy's whining requests to be picked. The trio of explorers leaves the meeting place and climbs up the side of a large hill; they play together and feel a bond emerging between them. They find a wild pig caught in a tangle of vines; Jack, the newly appointed hunter, attempts to kill it with his knife, but is unable to bring himself to do it. The pig gets away, and Jack vows that next time he will not flinch from the deed.

When the explorers return, the boys meet again. Ralph tells the group that there are no adults on the island, but that if they remain calm and orderly, they will eventually be rescued. Ralph declares that, at meetings, the conch shell will be used to determine who has the right to speak; whoever is holding the conch shell will be allowed to speak, and the others must silently listen. Piggy haughtily informs the group that they should focus on increasing their chances of rescue, but he is largely ignored; one of the younger children claims that he saw a snake-like beast or monster the night before, and, though half-frightened, the older boys tell him that it was only a nightmare. Ralph then proposes that the group should build a signal fire on top of the island's central mountain, so that if a ship passes, it will know someone is trapped there. The boys rush off to the mountain, while Ralph and Piggy lag behind--Piggy whining again about the childishness and stupidity of the group.

The boys collect a mound of dead wood and use Piggy's glasses as a lens to set it alight. They get a large fire going, but it quickly dies down; in their frenzied, disorganized efforts to rekindle it, they set a swath of trees ablaze. Piggy angrily declares that the boys need to act more proficiently if they want to get off the island, but his words carry little weight. Piggy tells them furiously that one of the littlest boys has been missing since the fire started, and has probably burned to death. The boys are crestfallen and struck with shame, but they are unable to discuss their feelings, instead pretending among themselves that nothing has happened.

Chapters 3-4

Jack trails a pig through the thick jungle, but he is unable to catch it. At the beach, he finds Ralph and Simon at work building huts, while most of the other boys splash about and play in the lagoon. Ralph gripes that few of the boys are willing to do any work, and implies that Jack and the hunters use their hunting duties as an excuse to avoid the real work; they have failed to catch a single pig. Jack protests that the work of the hunters is central to the group's survival and claims that they will soon have more success. The bond between the two boys seems to crack as hostile feelings well up in each of them. They go swimming together, but their feelings of mutual dislike fester and remain.

In the meantime, Simon wanders through the jungle alone. He helps some of the younger boys--known in the emerging parlance of the island civilization as "littluns"--to reach a high branch with fruit. Having walked deeper into the forest, Simon sits in a thick jungle glade, marveling at the abundance and beauty of life surrounding him.

Life on the island soon assumes a deliberate pace. Morning is pleasant, with cool air and sweet smells; the boys are able to play happily. By afternoon, though, the sun becomes oppressively hot, and the boys nap fitfully, often troubled by illusory images, which Piggy dismisses as mirages. Evening again brings cooler temperatures, but darkness falls quickly, and nighttime is hard going; the boys are increasingly frightened by the idea of beasts and monsters lurking in the thick jungle foliage. The littluns in particular, who spend most of their days eating fruit and playing with one another, are troubled by visions and bad dreams. Their lives are quite separate from those of the older boys, and they are often tormented by the older hunters; one vicious boy named Roger cruelly stomps on their sand castle. But the harassment is still rather tame; he is careful not to hit the littluns with his stones.

Jack camouflages his face with clay and charcoal, then enters the jungle to hunt, accompanied by several other boys. On the beach, Ralph and Piggy see that a ship has appeared on the horizon; they also see that the signal fire has gone out. The group hurries to the top of the hill, but it is too late to rekindle the flame, and the ship does not come for them. Ralph is furious with Jack, because it was the responsibility of the hunters to see that the fire was maintained.

Jack and the hunters return from the jungle, and Ralph accosts Jack, but the hunters have actually managed to catch and kill a pig; they are so excited, chanting a primitive song, that Ralph's anger fails to affect them. Piggy shrilly complains about the hunters' immaturity, and Jack slaps him hard, breaking one of his lenses. Angered anew, Ralph lunges toward Jack. At last, Jack admits his culpability in the failure of the signal fire. The boys roast the pig, and the hunters dance wildly around the fire, singing and reenacting the savagery of the hunt. Ralph declares that he is calling a meeting and stalks down the hill toward the beach.

Chapters 5-6

At the meeting-place, Ralph grips the conch shell and berates the boys for their failure to uphold the group's rules. They have not done anything required of them: they refuse to work at building shelters, they do not gather drinking water, they neglect the signal fire, and they do not even use the designated toilet area for their defecation. He restates the importance of the signal fire, and attempts to allay the group's growing fear of beasts and monsters; the littluns in particular are increasingly plagued by nightmare visions. Piggy seconds Ralph's rational claim that there are no monsters on the island. But one of the littluns claims to have seen a beast, and when he is pressed by the others about where it hides during the daytime, he claims that it might come up from the ocean at night. This previously unthought-of explanation terrifies all the boys, and the meeting plunges into chaos; Jack torments Piggy and runs away, followed by many of the other boys. In the distance, the hunters who have followed Jack dance and chant.

Piggy urges Ralph to blow the conch shell and summon the boys back to the group, but Ralph is afraid that the summons will be ignored, and that all order will then disintegrate. He tells Piggy and Simon that he might relinquish the leadership of the group, but his friends reassure him that the boys need his guidance. As the group drifts off to sleep, the sound of a littlun crying echoes along the beach.

As the boys sleep, military airplanes battle fiercely above the island, yet none of the boys see the explosions and flashes in the clouds, because Sam and Eric, who were supposed to watch the signal fire, have fallen asleep. A dead parachutist drifts down from the sky onto the island; his chute becomes tangled in some rocks and flaps in the wind, while his shape casts fearful shadows on the ground. When Sam and Eric awake, they mistake the figure of the dead parachutist for the hypothesized monster and rush back to the camp, claiming breathlessly that they have been attacked by the beast. The group is electrified and horrified by their claims. They organize an expedition to search the island for monsters. Most of the boys are afraid to go, but they are even more afraid to be left behind. Armed with wooden spears, they set out to find the beast. Only Piggy and the littluns remain behind.

The boys soon reach a part of the island that none of them has ever explored before, a hill dotted with dark caves and grottoes. Ralph investigates the grottoes; he is frightened while among the other boys, but quickly regains his confidence once he is alone. The group climbs the hill, and Ralph and Jack feel the old bond between them rekindling. But the other boys begin playing games, pushing rocks into the sea, and many of them lose sight of the purpose of their expedition. Ralph angrily reminds them that they are looking for the beast, and says that they must return to the other mountain so that they can rebuild the signal fire. The other boys, lost in whimsical plans to build a fort on the new hill, are displeased by his commands, but they grudgingly obey.

Chapters 7-8

Summary

On their way back from the mountain, the boys stop to eat. Ralph gazes disconsolately at the choppy ocean, but Simon lifts his spirits by reassuring him that they will be rescued soon. That afternoon, Jack suggests that they should hunt a pig; the boys agree and quickly track a large boar, which wounds Jack and leads them on a wild chase. Ralph has never been on a hunt, and he is caught up in the exhilaration of the chase. The boar escapes, but the boys are in a frenzy and reenact the chase amongst themselves, with a boy named Robert playing the boar. The group nearly kills Robert before they remember themselves. Robert suggests that they use a real boar in the game next time, but Jack replies that they should use a littlun instead. The boys laugh, delighted and stirred up by Jack's audacity.

Darkness falls, and Ralph proposes that they wait until morning to climb the mountain, since it will do no good to hunt the monster at night. Jack calls him a coward, and Ralph finally agrees to go on the hunt simply to regain his position in the eyes of the group. Simon volunteers to return to the beach to tell Piggy and the littluns that they will not return until late that night. Ralph, Roger, and Jack climb the mountain; Ralph and Roger wait at the halfway point while Jack climbs alone to the top. He returns and claims to have seen the monster. Ralph and Roger climb up to have a look and see a terrifying specter: a large, shadowy form, with the shape of a giant ape, making a strange flapping sound in the wind. Horrified, the boys hurry down the mountain.

The next morning, the boys are back at the beach, and the news of the monster has them in a state of uproar. Piggy, who was not at the mountain, is baffled. Jack seizes the conch shell and blows clumsily on it, calling for an assembly. Jack tells the others that there is definitely a beast on the mountain, and goes on to claim that Ralph is a coward who should be removed from his leadership role. The other boys, however, refuse to vote Ralph out of power. Jack is enraged, and he storms away from the group, saying that he is leaving, and that anyone who likes is welcome to join him. Deeply troubled, Ralph does not know what to do. Piggy is thrilled to see Jack go, and Simon suggests that they should return to the mountain in search of the beast. The other boys are too afraid to act on his suggestion. Ralph slips into a depression, but Piggy cheers him up with an idea: they should build a new signal fire, on the beach instead of the mountain. The idea restores Ralph's hope that they will be rescued. The boys set to work and build a new fire, but many of them disappear, sneaking into the night to join Jack's group. Piggy tries to convince Ralph that they are better off without the deserters.

Along another stretch of sand, Jack gathers his new tribe and declares himself the chief. In a savage frenzy, the hunters kill a mother sow, Roger driving his spear forcefully into the sow's anus. Then the boys leave its head on a sharpened stake in the jungle, a gift for the beast. As they place the head upright in the forest, something suddenly seems wrong to them; the black blood drips down the sow's teeth, and the boys, suddenly terrified, run away.

As Piggy and Ralph sit in the old camp discussing the desertion, the hunters from Jack's tribe descend upon them, shrieking and whooping. The hunters steal burning sticks from the fire on the beach; Jack tells Ralph's followers that they are welcome to come to his feast that night, and even to join his tribe.

Simon sits alone in the jungle, staring with rapt attention at the impaled pig's head, which now swarms with flies. The sight mesmerizes him; it even seems as if the head comes to life. The head speaks to him in the voice of the Lord of the Flies, ominously declaring that Simon will never be able to escape him, for he lies within all human beings. Terrified and troubled by the apparition, Simon collapses in a faint

Chapters 9-10

Summary

Simon awakens into dark and humid air; a storm is approaching. His nose is bleeding, and he staggers toward the mountain in a daze. He crawls up the hill and, in the failing light, sees the dead pilot with his flapping parachute. He untangles the parachute lines and stumbles toward the distant light of the fire at Jack's feast to tell the other boys what he has seen.

Piggy and Ralph go to the feast, hoping that they will be able to keep some control over events. Jack sits like a king on a throne, waited on by boys acting as his servants, and languidly issuing commands. After the large meal, Jack extends an invitation to all of Ralph's followers to join his tribe; most of them accept, despite Ralph's attempts to dissuade them. In the heavy twilight, Jack orders his tribe to do its wild hunting dance. Chanting and dancing wildly around the fire, the boys are caught up in a kind of frenzy; even Ralph and Piggy are swept away and dance on the fringes of the group. The boys see a shadowy figure crawl out of the forest: it is Simon. In their frenzy, however, they do not recognize him; shouting that he is the beast, the boys descend upon Simon and tear him apart with their bare hands and teeth.

The storm explodes over the island. In the whipping rain, the boys run for shelter. Howling wind and waves wash Simon's mangled corpse into the ocean, where it drifts away, surrounded by glowing fish. At the same time, the body of the parachutist is blown out into the lagoon, never to be discovered by the other boys.

The next morning, Ralph and Piggy meet on the beach, awkward and ashamed of their behavior. Piggy is unable to confront his role in Simon's death, and attributes the tragedy to mere accident. But Ralph, clutching the conch desperately and laughing hysterically, insists that they have been participants in a murder. Piggy whiningly denies the charge. In any case, the two are now virtually alone; everyone except Sam and Eric and a handful of littluns has joined Jack's tribe at Castle Rock.

There, Jack rules with absolute power; Roger is now his lieutenant. Boys who disobey are swiftly and viciously punished. Jack convinces the boys who feel guilty about Simon's death that it really was the beast who appeared to them, that the beast is capable of assuming any disguise. He states that they must continue to guard against the beast, for it is never truly dead. He warns the boys against Ralph and his small group, saying that they are a danger to the tribe. He says that he and the other hunters should raid Ralph's camp, and that they will hunt again tomorrow.

The boys at Ralph's camp drift to sleep, depressed and losing interest even in the signal fire. They are awakened by howling and shrieking, and are suddenly attacked by a group of Jack's hunters. They are badly beaten, and when the attack is over, they are unsure even of why they were assaulted, since they would gladly share the fire with the other boys. But Piggy knows why: they have stolen his glasses. Now Jack has the power to make fire.

Chapters 11 and 12

Summary

Ralph and Piggy, along with Sam and Eric, hold a meeting to discuss their options. They decide that their only choice is to travel to Castle Rock in an attempt to make Jack see reason. The signal fire has burned out, and Piggy is nearly blind without his glasses. Ralph decides to take the conch shell to Castle Rock, hoping that it will remind Jack's followers of his former authority. Once at Jack's camp, however, the group is met by armed guards who taunt them and pelt them with stones. Suddenly, Jack and a group of hunters emerge from the forest, dragging a dead pig. Jack and Ralph immediately face off; Jack commands Ralph to leave his camp, and Ralph demands that Jack return Piggy's glasses. Jack attacks Ralph, and they fight. Ralph struggles to make Jack understand the importance of the signal fire, but Jack orders his hunters to capture Sam and Eric and tie them up. This sends Ralph into a fury, and he lunges at Jack.

They fight for a second time. Piggy cries out shrilly, struggling to make himself heard over the brawl. But as he tries to speak, Roger shoves a massive rock down the mountain slope. Piggy hears it thundering toward him, but cannot see it. He is crushed, and the conch shell is shattered. Jack throws his spear at Ralph, and the other boys quickly join in. Ralph escapes into the jungle, and Roger and Jack begin torturing Sam and Eric, forcing them to submit to Jack's authority and join his tribe.

Ralph hides in the jungle, thinking miserably about the chaos that has subsumed the island. He stumbles across the sow's head, the Lord of the Flies, now merely a gleaming white skull--as white as the conch shell, he thinks. Disgusted and angry, Ralph knocks the skull to the ground, and takes the stake it perched on as a weapon to use against Jack.

That night, Ralph sneaks down to the camp at Castle Rock and finds Sam and Eric guarding the entrance. The twins give him food, but they refuse to join him. They tell him that Jack plans to send the entire tribe after him the next day. Ralph hides in a thicket and struggles to stay awake. In the morning, he hears some boys talking and learns that Sam and Eric have told Jack where he is hiding. Jack has set the jungle on fire in order to smoke him out. Ralph abandons his hiding place and fights his way through a group of Jack's hunters. Chased by a group of body-painted warrior-boys--once his companions and followers--wielding sharp wooden spears, Ralph plunges frantically through the undergrowth, fleeing like a hunted animal, looking only for a place to hide. At last he is forced onto the beach, where he collapses in exhaustion, his pursuers close behind.

Suddenly, Ralph looks up to see a naval officer standing over him. The officer tells the boy that his ship has come to the island after seeing the blazing fire in the jungle. Jack's hunters reach the beach; upon seeing the officer they stop in their tracks. The officer, stunned at the sight of this group of small, bloodthirsty savages, asks Ralph to explain. When he learns what has happened on the island, he is reproachful; how could this group of boys, and English boys at that, have lost all reverence for the rules of civilization in so short a time? For his part, Ralph is overwhelmed by the knowledge that he has been rescued, that he will escape the island after coming so close to a violent death. He begins to sob.

Characters

Ralph - The novel's protagonist, a boy twelve years of age. Marooned on a tropical island with a group of boys, Ralph is elected leader of the group and attempts to coordinate efforts to build a miniature civilization on the island, as well as to attract the attention of rescuers by maintaining a signal fire on a mountain. But as the restraints of civilization fall away and the boys begin to act more and more wildly, Ralph is supplanted by the savage Jack. By the end of the book, Ralph has become a hunted outcast, as doomed as his civilizing endeavor; it is only the improbable arrival of a navy ship that saves his life. Throughout Lord of the Flies, Ralph represents the civilizing instinct within human beings, as opposed to the savage instinct symbolized by Jack.

Jack - The novel's antagonist, one of the older boys stranded on the jungle island. Jack is the leader of the choirboys, and, after Ralph is elected leader, Jack becomes the leader of the hunters. But Jack longs for overarching power; he becomes increasingly wild, barbarous, and cruel as the novel progresses. By the end of the book, he has learned to use the mythology of the beast as an instrument of control over the other boys, and has supplanted Ralph as ruler of the island. Jack's behavior leads directly to the murders of Simon and Piggy, and the only thing that keeps him from killing Ralph is the arrival of the navy ship at the very end of the book.

Simon - One of the most important and difficult characters in the novel, Simon is in some ways the only naturally "good" character on the island. Simon acts kindly toward the "littluns" and is always helpful to Ralph; moreover, because his motivation seems rooted in his deep feeling of connection to nature, Simon is the only character whose moral behavior does not seem a forced imposition of society. Simon is also the first character to realize that the "monster" frightening all the boys is indeed real (though not externally); it exists within each of them. After a terrifying, hallucinatory confrontation with the Lord of the Flies, Simon discovers that the figure the boys thought was a monster is only the body of a dead parachutist. But before he can reveal this knowledge, Simon is brutally murdered by the other boys, who mistake him for the beast as he approaches them on the beach.

Piggy - Ralph's lieutenant; a whiny, intellectual boy whose inventiveness frequently leads to innovation, such as the makeshift sundial. Just as Ralph represents the civilizing instinct and Jack the barbarizing instinct, Piggy represents the scientific, rational side of civilization. He is killed toward the end of the book when Roger drops a boulder on him, also crushing the conch shell that symbolized the boys' early, orderly civilization on the island.

Roger - Jack's lieutenant, a sadistic, cruel older boy who brutalizes the littluns and eventually murders Piggy by rolling a boulder onto him.

Sam and Eric - A pair of twins closely allied with Ralph until the end of the novel, when they are tortured into joining Jack's tribe. They are the first characters to mistake the body of the parachutist for the beast; they later betray Ralph by divulging his hiding-place to Jack. Sam and Eric are always together, and are often treated as a single entity by the other boys; they are frequently referred to as "Samneric."

The Lord of the Flies - The name given to the sow's head impaled on a stake and erected in the forest as an offering for the "beast" just after Jack's most brutal hunt. Just as the conch shell symbolizes order and civilization, so does the blood-encrusted sow's head, covered with flies, come to symbolize the primordial instincts of power and cruelty that take control of Jack's tribe. Simon has a hallucinatory encounter with the sow's head, during which it comes to life as the Lord of the Flies; it tells Simon horribly that he will never escape the Lord of the Flies, for he exists within all human beings. Toward the end of the novel, Ralph lashes out against the totem and casts the sow's head, now a bare skull, to the ground. He takes up the leftover stake as a weapon to use against Jack.




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