A Group of British Boys, Marooned on an
A group of British school-boys find themselves marooned on an island (perhaps in the
Pacific Ocean). They were being transported by an aircraft from to some safer country on account of a nuclear war which had broken out in England Europe.
When, on the way, the aircraft caught fire the pilot released the detachable passenger-tube carrying the school-boys. The passenger-tube crash-landed on this island, and most of the boys managed to come out of it although some were trapped in the passenger-tube which was soon carried away by the waves into the open sea and lost. At first the boys who have landed on the island get scattered but soon they are able to get together when one of the boys by the name of Ralph, having discovered a conch-shell, happens to blow it. Ralph did not know what this object, which he had discovered, was; nor did he know that one could blow it so as to produce a loud sound from it. A fat, bespectacled boy, by the name of Piggy, told Ralph that this object was called a conch-shell and it was Piggy again who taught Ralph how to blow the conch-shell in order to produce a loud sound from it. A few blasts from the conch-shell have brought the scattered boys together.
Ralph Elected as the Chief. His Constructive Suggestions
Ralph now suggests that the boys should have a chief to guide them and to direct their activities. A boy called Jack, who is the leader of a group of choir-boys, says that he should be accepted as the chief because he is chapter-chorister and head boy and because he can sing C sharp. But Ralph says that the chief should be chosen by votes. As the majority of the boys are in favour of Ralph, Ralph declares himself as the duly elected chief. Ralph now frames certain rules regarding the holding of the meetings of the boys and about the conduct of these meetings. He says that, if anyone wishes to address the assembly at any meeting, he should ask for the conch and should hold the conch in his hands. Only when a boy is holding the conch in his hands, would he have the right to speak and command the attention of the others. Thus the conch becomes a symbol of authority and democracy on the island. Ralph also says that they are bound to be rescued in course of time though it may take long for the rescue to come because they are on an island. He then suggests that they should light a fire on the mountain-top so that the smoke rising from the fire can serve as a signal of their distress to the sailors of a passing ship. He says that, if the sailors of a passing ship see the smoke rising, they are bound to sail towards the island in order to find out what is wrong. Thus Ralph makes a constructive proposal by implementing which the boys can reasonably hope to be rescued from the island on which they are marooned. Ralph also suggests that they should build a few huts or shelters on the beach. Accordingly, a fire is lighted on the mountain-top, and the work of building the huts is also started. As the marooned boys also include a fair number of children of the age of six or so, special care has to be taken of them. Some of these children, who come to be known as the “Littluns”, feel scared because they say that they have seen a beastie or a snake-thing on the island. Ralph tries to dispel their fears by telling them that on a small island there can be no beastie.
A Disagreement Between Ralph and Jack
A conflict now begins between Ralph and Jack. Ralph had allowed Jack to continue as the leader of his choir-boys. Jack had then designated his choir-boys as the “hunters”. Having seen pigs on the island, Jack makes plans to hunt down and kill them in order to obtain meat for the boys who feel fed up with the fruit which they have to eat everyday to keep themselves alive and who are craving for meat. Jack is a boy of an adventurous spirit, and the desire to hunt pigs becomes an obsession with him. As Jack now begins to concentrate all his energies upon hunting, he ignores such essential tasks as building the huts and keeping the fire on the mountain-top burning all the time. One day a golden opportunity of being rescued is lost because Jack and his hunters, being occupied with their hunting plans, have neglected the fire which has gone out. If the fire had been burning and the smoke from it had been rising, the sailors might have observed the smoke and might have sailed towards the island and rescued the boys. This incident greatly annoys Ralph who was very particular that the fire should be kept burning all the time. In the meantime the Littluns are still feeling scared of the beastie or the snake-thing despite Ralph’s, and also Jack’s, assurances to them that there is no beastie on this island. A boy by the name of Simon has a philosophical mind and has developed a habit of going into the forest and spending some time in complete solitude at a secluded spot where he holds a sort of communion with the objects of Nature.
Jack’s Hatred of Ralph and Piggy
Jack now begins to hate Ralph because Ralph’s priorities are different from Jack’s. Ralph insists on the maintenance of the fire and the smoke, while Jack is wholly occupied with the hunting of pigs. Jack, having proved quite successful in his hunting expeditions, has won the support of the majority of the big boys who have come to be known as the “Biguns”. Jack therefore becomes increasingly defiant towards Ralph. Ralph now develops a liking for Piggy who becomes an ardent supporter of Ralph. Jack hates Piggy even more than he hates Ralph.
A Beast on the Mountain-Top
One morning Sam and Eric, who are twins and who had been put on duty one night to keep the fire burning, come in a state of deep perturbation from the mountain-top and tell Ralph and the others that they have seen a beast on the mountain-top and that the beast had tried to chase them in order to seize them. At a suggestion by Jack, all the boys get ready to make a search for the beast and hunt it down. The expedition is led jointly by Ralph and Jack. In the course of the search, Jack, Ralph, and a boy called Roger climb to the mountain-top and see what they too think is the beast. Actually, there is no beast on the mountain-top. What the twins had seen and what these three boys have now seen is the dead-body of an air pilot entangled in the strings of his parachute. This air pilot had tried to land by parachute from an aircraft which had perhaps been attacked by the enemy, and had got killed in the process of landing on the mountain-top.
Ralph, Displaced By Jack. Simon’s Hallucination
Jack now instigates the Biguns against Ralph by bringing all kinds of accusations against him. Jack says that Ralph is not it to be the chief, that Ralph is a coward, that Ralph cannot hunt pigs, that Ralph cannot sing, and that Ralph has spoken disparagingly about the hunters. Jack then bursts into tears of self-pity. The consequence of Jack’s campaign against Ralph is that most of the Biguns forsake Ralph and accept Jack as their chief. Only Piggy, Simon, and the twins (who together have come to be known as “Samneric”) stick to Ralph, besides the Littluns in whom Jack is not interested at all. Having weaned away most of the Biguns from Ralph, Jack now organizes more and more hunting expeditions. In the course of one such expedition, lack offers the head of a slain pig as a gift to the beast in the hope that the beast would not harm him and his hunters. Simon at this time is at his usual haunt in the forest and witnesses the action of Jack and his hunters in offering a gift to the beast. When the hunters have gone away, Simon imagines that the pig’s head, which had been stuck by Jack on a stick, has assumed the shape of the Lord of the Flies and is speaking to him (Simon). The Lord of the Flies tells Simon that evil is part of all the boys and cannot be removed from them. (The Lord of the Flies is a personification of evil, his other name being Beelzebub. The talk of the Lord of the Flies to Simon is, of course, a hallucination which Simon experiences).
Simon, Killed By Jack’s Hunters
Jack has now begun to adopt the primitive methods of tribal leaders. He refers to his followers as his “tribe” and he keeps his face painted all the time with red clay, white clay, and charcoal, asking his followers also to paint their faces in the same way. He has also begun to encourage mock-hunts in the course of which the boys dance and sing and chant certain words relating to their hunting operations and their killing of pigs. Jack and his followers now become more and more callous, with the result that, in the course of one mock-hunt, Simon is killed by the hunters. Simon had come to inform the boys that there was no beast on the mountain-top and that, what had appeared to Ralph and the others as the beast, was actually the dead-body of a parachutist. But Simon had hardly spoken a few words about the existence of the dead-body on the mountain-top when he was attacked by the hunters and killed. The hunters, in their frenzied excitement, had taken Simon for the beast and had pounced upon him. Jack does not experience the least regret over Simon’s death. Later, Jack, accompanied by a couple of his supporters, raids Ralph’s camp and takes away Piggy’s spectacles because he and his supporters need the spectacles in order to light a fire every time they want to roast pig-meat. Jack has now become quite oblivious of the need to be rescued from the island; but Ralph and Piggy are feeling constantly worried as to whether any rescue will come, especially now when they cannot light a fire and keep it burning as a distress-signal to the sailors of a passing ship.
Piggy, Killed. Ralph’s Life in Danger
Piggy feels distraught because, without his spectacles he cannot see anything. He therefore says that he would go to Jack and demand the return of his spectacles. Ralph offers to go with him because he is still recognized as the chief by Piggy, the twins, and the Littluns. Then Ralph, accompanied by Piggy and the twins, goes to Jack’s camp and calls upon Jack to return Piggy’s spectacles. Jack gives a rude reply and asks Ralph to go away and not to bother him. Ralph thereupon calls Jack “a swine” and “a bloody thief”. There is an exchange of blows between Ralph and Jack. Then Piggy speaks and, addressing Jack’s savages, urges them to follow a sensible course of action instead of living like primitive savages. At this point Roger, who has become as savage as Jack, releases a rock from above in order to kill Piggy. The rock comes thundering down and hits Piggy. Piggy is thrown into the sea below and is instantly killed. His dead-body is carried away by the waves into the open sea. Jack now attacks Ralph with his spear. Ralph realizes that he is in grave danger because he is all alone against Jack and the large number of his followers. He flees from the spot in order to save his life. The twins have already been seized by Jack’s followers and tied up. Roger gives a cruel beating to the twins who then feel compelled to become members of Jack’s tribe.
The Savages’ Pursuit of Ralph. Ralph, Saved
Ralph hides himself in the forest. But a little later he sees the twins standing guard at the entrance to Jack’s den. He stealthily crawls towards the rock and climbs up to the point where the twins are on duty. The twins, on seeing him, feel alarmed and urge him to go away in the interest of his own safety. They inform him that, as soon as the day dawns, Jack would make a search for him in order to put him to death. The twins then give a chunk of meat to Ralph who is feeling extremely hungry. Ralph goes back into the forest and spends the night there in a restless condition. At dawn Jack and his savages start a search for him through the forest. As they are unable to locate him, Jack orders a rock to be pushed down in the hope that the rock might hit Ralph at his hiding-place and kill him. However, Ralph escapes being hit by the rock. Then a search for Ralph through the forest begins once more. Ralph runs this way and that way, and feels utterly exhausted with the effort of running about in order to escape being caught by the savages. Jack then orders his savages to set fire to the forest in order to smoke out Ralph. Ralph has now to get out of the forest. In a state of panic he runs out of the forest towards the beach. He stumbles and falls down on the sand. Thinking that now there is no hope for him, he cries for mercy. On looking up, however, he sees a British naval officer in full uniform standing close to him. The officer was sailing past the island in his cruiser when he saw the smoke rising from the forest which was on fire. It is in response to the smoke that the naval officer has come to the island. Thus Ralph’s life has been saved. The officer says that he would take all the boys home. Ralph now bursts into tears. His whole body is shaken by spasms of grief. He weeps over the sad events which have taken place on the island and he weeps at “the loss of innocence”, at “the darkness of man’s heart”, and at the thought of the death of Piggy who was his true friend. Rescue had come, but two noble-minded and innocent boys have been killed on account of the brutality of Jack. Evil had reigned supreme on the island for some time.
The Allegorical Significance of the Story
We may read this novel purely as a story of the adventures of a group of boys marooned on an island. But the novel is an allegory and has a certain significance which we cannot fail to perceive. Golding wanted to demonstrate that the evil instincts in a human being would rise to the surface and assert themselves as soon as that human being has been liberated from the restraints of civilized life. One who is inherently good will remain good even when liberated from all restraints and from the fear of consequences; but one, like Jack and his followers, who is inherently evil would manifest the evil in him and would, in course of time, regress to the ways of savages. The number of those who are inherently good is very small. The majority of people in this world are inherently evil. Evil is ineradicable, and it asserts itself as soon as it finds a favourable climate. The favourable climate consists in the removal of the few of law and in the removal of all those restraints which civilized life imposes upon human beings.