The main theme of Lord of the Flies is that moral nature is not instinctive in mankind. There is a capacity for evil in all people, and their morality is superficial. Nonetheless, it is this moral integrity that must continue in order for a person to be ethical, for society to be maintained, and to keep society from falling in on itself. Society holds everyone together.Without the rules and the structure, evil in everyone becomes more prominent, and ideals, values, and basics of right and wrong are forgotten. Without society’s rigid rules, chaos and savagery come to light. There are also a number of secondary themes in the book such as: people will abuse power when it is not earned; people will degrade others to heighten their own sense of security; the fear of the unknown is powerful; it can make you turn to insight or hysteria. All of the themes are shown using symbolism.
A group of young boys are in a plane that crashes on a deserted island where the current appears to be flowing backwards. The island is a microcosm representing the world, and the current gives the impression that civilization might be going backward for the island or its inhabitants. Young boys were probably chosen because they would have had less time to be moulded by society, and their individual characteristics would be more prominent.
The first two characters to appear are Piggy and Ralph. They are both probably about twelve years old.
Ralph is an attractive boy, “built like a boxer.” His name, Anglo-Saxon in origin, means “counsel.” He, along with Piggy, depicts the struggle for order and democracy. He illustrates law, order, organized society, and moral integrity. He knows right from wrong, and he is constantly making commonsense rules for the boys to follow.
Piggy is shorter, fat, with glasses and asthma. Piggy is just his nickname, but no attempt is made to learn his real name. His nickname parallels the wild pigs that are hunted on the island, and it also represents his intelligence. Piggy portrays clear-sightedness and intelligence. He tries to keep peace and clings to civilization, and he is the smartest boy on the island even though he has no social skills. He does not like strenuous work so he refrains from physical work. His only contribution to survival on the island are his specs which become very important in lighting the signal and cooking fires.
The two boys together find a conch shell which comes to represent democracy and order, and the high hand of authority. Ralph blows it to bring together any other people that might be on the island. Soon a crowd gathers. The boys are made up of bigguns and littluns, the bigguns being around twelve years old, and the littluns being around five or six. Immediately the conch is seen as a token of respect, so it is always used to call meetings. We are now introduced to the rest of the main characters.
Jack Merridew is the leader of the boy’s choir. His name means “one who supplants” reflecting his use of force, and it is derived from Hebrew. He will come to represent savagery, anarchy, and anger. He is about the same age as Ralph.
Simon is a bit younger than Jack and Ralph, but he is still a biggun. He represents pure goodness, and he is seen as a “Christ” figure. He has a positive outlook of being trapped on the island, he believes they will be rescued. His name comes from the Hebrew word meaning “listener” which is quite accurate, as he will be the one to listen to the beast, and know what the beast is.
Roger is the antithesis of Simon. His name which is Germanic in origin means “spear.” He is a sadist who enjoys torturing pigs and the other boys. He is seen as somewhat of a “Satan” figure. He is also the first to intentionally kill another one of the group, Piggy.
Sam and Eric are twins who represent reliance and unity. They do everything together, in fact they find it hard to be apart. They eventually become known as Samneric. They were the last of the bigguns to stay with Ralph, but finally gave in to Jack, and even gave away Ralph’s hiding spot in the end, which meant the last hope for order and society was lost.
The rest of the characters were littluns, who didn’t have a big part; they were usually just referred to as one big group.
Everyone decides they need a chief. They take a vote and Ralph is elected because of his positive qualities. Jack is embarrassed that he did not win, but Ralph told him that his choir would be the hunters, and he could be the leader of that part of the group, and Jack was happy with that.
The first decision Ralph makes is that they should make a signal fire on top of the mountain. This fire represents common sense and rescue from immorality. When they get to the top of the mountain, the littluns are already starting to complain about the beast. The beast plagues them the most because they are the least conditioned by society. No one is paying attention to the fire and it gets out of control. The first death happens here, to a littlun with the mulberry-coloured birthmark. The fire creates a scar on the island which portrays mans destruction and destructive forces.
Jack starts preferring to spend all his time hunting rather than helping Ralph with rescue. He is beginning to have a fascination with killing, and conflicts are starting to arise between the two boys. Eventually Jack decides he doesn’t want to follow Ralph’s rules, and he breaks away from the group saying “I don’t want to play your game any more.” He forms his own group, “The Savages”, painting their faces so they can hide behind the paint and do as they please. Jack no longer has the integrity to ward off the beast.
Jack had previously broken one of the lenses in Piggy’s specs, and now he stole the other one, in effect stealing fire from Ralph’s group. With the loss of the fire, its beacon of hope and knowledge is no longer present to guide Ralph who must then be constantly reminded by Piggy of what is right. The breaking and stealing of the specs by Jack show a slow and inescapable descent into anarchy and evil.
Simon goes to the clearing and sees the sow’s head on the stick. He calls it Lord of the Flies because hundreds of flies are eating the flesh from the skull. Lord of the Flies is a translation of the Hebrew word Ba’alzevuv, which is Beelzebub in Greek, which was a translation of the word devil. Therefore, Lord of the Flies is a translation of devil. It represents great danger, so this scene was foreshadowing the deaths that were to come. Simon hears the head talking to him. It tells him what the beast really is; it is the evil living inside of them all. Everyone knows the beast exists, but Simon is the only one to know it exists in them.
The Savages are having a roast of pig meat. They reenact the killing, and even Ralph and Piggy join in. Simon crawls out of the woods and into the circle to tell them what the beast is, but before he has a chance, they murder him in a frenzy of dancing and grabbing and poking and spearing.
Ralph realizes that the murder of Simon was not an accident, so he, Piggy and Samneric go to Jack’s part of the island to talk about it. Jack has set up guards so that nobody can get in his area if he doesn’t want them there. Ralph goes up and he and Jack get into a duel, using sticks as sabers. Roger releases the boulder, but Ralph sees it and ducks. Piggy, who is blind without his glasses, doesn’t see it, and it hits him. He is thrown forty feet to his death. He was killed because of his moral influence on the group. The conch is destroyed with him since he was holding it. The destruction of the conch shows the authority on the island is gone, and Ralph has to fend for himself.
Jack forces Samneric to his side. He plans to kill Ralph, and Samneric tells Ralph that Jack has given orders to “sharpen a stick on both ends” but Ralph doesn’t understand what this means. He tells Samneric where he plans to hide, but they end up telling Jack.
Jack decides to set fire to the island to force Ralph out of hiding. Jack was the perpetrator of all three deaths that happened on the island. He systematically removes forces opposing him. Ralph realizes that man is not a kind creature by nature.
Just as the Savages find Ralph and they are about to kill him, he bumps into a Naval officer who saw the smoke from the fire and came to rescue them. It’s ironic that the fire that was meant for death actually saved them. However, now all the events that happened in the story are transferred to the shoulders of the officer. He rescues the children who are in the middle of a manhunt, and takes them away on his ship. It is precisely the same thing, as he is also involved in a manhunt. He was able to save the children, but who will save him?