Lord of the Flies by William Golding is a commonly set text for GCSE English Literature. It deals with key themes of civilisation, rule and order, democracy and dictatorship – and the latent potential for evil that exists within us all. Many of these ideas are evident from the very first page of the book, providing a great opportunity to practice your analysis. The key questions relating to this chapter will focus on how each of the main characters are presented (Ralph, then Piggy and later Jack), as well as how the integral setting of the island is presented. So why not get started making your own notes on these aspects?
You’ll find plenty of pointers on analysis below (its one of my favourite beginnings to a book ever). But to get you in the English Literature frame of mind, and persuade you that this novel really is worth reading, take a look at TedEd’s video on Why you should read Lord of the Flies:
Let’s do some close analysis on just the first paragraph – and how Golding sets the scene. What connotations, associations and themes can you take from these few lines?
“The boy with fair hair lowered himself down the last few feet of rock and began to pick his way toward the lagoon. Though he had taken off his school sweater and trailed it now from one hand, his grey shirt stuck to him and his hair was plastered to his forehead. All round him the long scar smashed into the jungle was a bath of heat. He was clambering heavily among the creepers and broken trunks when a bird, a vision of red and yellow, flashed upwards with a witch-like cry; and this cry was echoed by another.”
- What’s the significance of our first character just being a “boy”?
- Think about his innocent, “angelic” appearance – why does he have “fair hair”?
- We’re dropped straight into the action (lowering himself down) – this is a technique called “In Media Res” (Latin for “In the middle of things”). What effect does it have?
- Why does Golding make sure to let us know he’s wearing a “school sweater”?
- What do you think “the long scar” is? What are the connotations of scars?
- Spot the metaphor… (Clue: its feeling hot). What other details describe the heat?
- What do the verbs – “pick his way toward”, “clambering heavily” suggest about the boys movements, and ease with his surroundings?
- Why do you think the scar “smashed” and the bird “flashed”? Is this unsettling?
- The bright bird emits a “witch-like cry”. What are the connotations of this?
- The bird’s cry is “echoed by another” – how does this create suspense?
- This is could be an idyllic tropical island, but is all as it seems?
With this atmospheric scene set for the reader (and the ominous island introduced), we then meet two of the main characters (we’ll later find out this is Ralph and Piggy). How does Golding present these two boys, and what could their initial dialogue foreshadow?
“Hi!” it said. “Wait a minute!” / The undergrowth at the side of the scar was shaken and a multitude of raindrops fell pattering. / “Wait a minute,” the voice said. “I got caught up.” / The fair boy stopped and jerked his stockings with an automatic gesture that made the jungle seem for a moment like the Home Counties. The voice spoke again. “I can’t hardly move with all these creeper things.”
The owner of the voice came backing out of the undergrowth so that twigs scratched on a greasy wind-breaker. The naked crooks of his knees were plump, caught and scratched by thorns. He bent down, removed the thorns carefully, and turned around. He was shorter than the fair boy and very fat. He came forward, searching out safe lodgments for his feet, and then looked up through thick spectacles.
“Where’s the man with the megaphone?” / The fair boy shook his head. / “This is an island. At least I think it’s an island. That’s a reef out in the sea. Perhaps there aren’t any grownups anywhere.” / The fat boy looked startled. / “There was that pilot. But he wasn’t in the passenger cabin, he was up in front.” / The fair boy was peering at the reef through screwed-up eyes. / “All them other kids,” the fat boy went on. “Some of them must have got out. They must have, mustn’t they?”
The fair boy began to pick his way as casually as possible toward the water. He tried to be offhand and not too obviously uninterested, but the fat boy hurried after him. / “Aren’t there any grownups at all?” / “I don’t think so.” / The fair boy said this solemnly; but then the delight of a realized ambition overcame him. In the middle of the scar he stood on his head and grinned at the reversed fat boy. / “No grownups!”
- What does Piggy’s entrance (crying out “wait a minute” and “caught up”) suggest?
- What does the juxtaposition of the jungle and the “home counties” suggest? Have the boys fully come to terms with their new situation yet?
- What do the details about Piggy’s appearance suggest? (Think: “naked, plump knees” “shorter than the fair boy and very fat” and “thick spectacles).
- There are lots of religious links in Lord of the Flies (The Garden of Eden and the Fall from Innocence) – if you think about the story of Jesus (who wore a crown of thorns when sacrificed for humanity on the cross) – how could this relate to Piggy? If you’ve got this far in the book, what happens to him, and how does Ralph react? Piggy is “caught and scratched by thorns” in this early stage, which he’s able to remove… but will this always be the case? Who and what could the thorns represent?
- Who’s asking the questions, and who’s providing the answers? What does this suggest about who’s likely to provide leadership?
- Why does Ralph try to be “offhand and not too obviously uninterested” whilst Piggy “hurried after him”. What does this tell us about the power dynamics between them?
- What do the boys’ reactions to “No grownups!” tell us? How could Ralph’s “delight of a realized ambition” be significant? (Think themes of power, leadership etc.)
- Bonus: Why is the fat boy described as being “reversed”!?
- Overall, how do the two boys respond to being on the island? In what ways to Ralph and Piggy relate to each other, and how do they seem different?
This should give you plenty of ideas for starting your analysis of Lord of the Flies, as well as giving some great practice for exams and essays. You should always pay close attention to the opening and closing lines of books, with William Golding’s novel being no exception. Work through the rest of Chapter 1 yourself – writing your own bullet points, prompts and collecting key quotes. Let me know your thoughts on any of the points above, as well as the rest of the chapter. I’d love to hear how you get on.
Our next focus on Lord of the Flies will look at context, but for anyone needing a bit of extra help, here’s a summary of Chapter 1: