Lesson Plans: Grades 6-8

Lesson 3: Themes in “Lord of the Flies”

Created July 15, 2015

Tools

The Lesson

Introduction

William Golding once reflected on the Lord of the Flies stating, “The theme is an attempt to trace the defects of society to the defects of human nature.”

This novel stresses the flawed nature of humanity and its proclivity to deterioration. While the overall text certainly proclaims this idea, it also suggests there are other possible ways of relating to each other in a civil society—building constructive human interactions and abiding by the nature of law and order.

Theme analysis can be challenging, especially because the word “theme” has several connotations and appears in a number of ways in common usage—e.g., a musical theme in a movie or a floral theme on wallpaper. Themes differ from motifs, which are essentially patterns. Motifs often underpin themes, but they are not the same thing. It is not enough to identify a theme as: love, death, youth, life, religion. It is necessary to articulate the underlying concept or message the author is trying to express.

This lesson begins with emphasis on the fact that in literary analysis a theme is a concept, not merely a topic. Worksheet 5 leads students to consider ways narratives can convey themes; Worksheet 6 focuses on themes in the novel. The teacher versions provide sample answers, but these are by no means comprehensive.

To complete this lesson, students need to have read the entire novel. Part of a three lesson unit on Lord of the Flies, it may be taught in sequence or stand on its own. Teachers may link to the full unit with Guiding Questions, Background and summative Assessment. Lesson 1 aligns with CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.8.2.

Learning Objectives

  • Identify the distinction between a literary topic and a literary theme
  • Articulate a variety of William Golding’s themes implicit in the novel Lord of the Flies
  • Recognize the dominant theme in Lord of the Flies: human nature’s propensity for destruction

Preparation and Resources

Students need to have read the entire novel.

Note: In preparation for the thematic analysis, teachers may want to provide the following examples of motif vs. theme:

Music might feature a flute motif, which can convey a mood but is not, in itself, a theme. You might play an example of a musical theme the students would be familiar with and discuss the implications for the story. (e.g., "Hedwig's Theme" by John Williams conveys aspects of the Harry Potter series films, such as Harry’s magical nature and the magical normalcy inherent in his world.)

Wallpaper might feature a motif of baby farm animals, which are generally cute, but one has to go beyond these motifs to infer thematic implications. (e.g., the underlying theme might be the transience of youth and innocence.)

It may be helpful to insist that students phrase themes in complete sentences (e.g., a life can be abruptly extinguished), although there will be occasions where a phrase will suffice (e.g., the fragility and brevity of life).

Lesson Activities

Activity 1. Establishing Themes

On a board or screen establish two columns with contrasting topics and themes:

Topic

Theme

Telling the truth

At times, telling the truth causes enormous damage.

Beauty of nature

Nature can inspire people with peace and happiness.

Health

Without good physical health, people have nothing.

Discuss how a theme is an idea, a concept, or a belief, not just a topic. Have the class generate examples of how events and characters in stories and films convey themes, either directly or indirectly. Teachers may want to use themes from previous texts studied this year to use as a springboard to this analysis. (Refer to EDSITEment’s Literary Glossary for a discussion of the term, theme.)

Distribute Worksheet 5 and ask the students to work in their small groups to complete the activity. Follow with whole-class discussion. See Worksheet 5 (teacher version) for sample ideas. Ask students if they think the ideas in Lord of the Flies are more positive or negative. Have them support their responses with evidence from the novel.

Suggested Answers: The murder of Simon and Piggy and the ruthless hunt for Ralph at the end are profoundly negative. No one likes to think that children would really behave like that. The arrival of the navy at the end provides a glimmer of optimism.

Distribute Worksheet 6, and lead the discussion as the students work their way through it. See Worksheet 6 (teacher version) for sample theme statements. Have students arrive at an understanding of how everything in the novel centers on the concept that people tend more toward savagery than order and peace. Discuss examples illustrating how this human tendency has played out in current events such as riots and war.

Follow-up questions

Golding presents a scenario in which children are stranded on a tropical island with no adult supervision. Pose the following scenarios:

  • What would happen if students arrived for a class and no teacher or other authority figure arrived for the entire period? For the entire school day?
  • What would happen on highways and city streets if everyone knew that all available police officers were away at a conference in another state for the entire day?
  • What would happen at a youth dance if no chaperones arrived?

Do people of all ages really tend to mayhem and violence if no one is there to enforce order and rules? Is a police force necessary to establish a civil society?

Answers will vary.

Assessment

William Golding said, “Man produces evil as a bee produces honey.” Was he right, or is this view unduly pessimistic? Write a short essay in which you explain the extent to which you do or do not agree with the novel’s portrayal of human nature. Provide concrete reasons and examples of characterization, symbols, and themes from the novel to support your views.

The Basics

Time Required

1 class periods

Subject Areas
  • Literature and Language Arts > Genre > Common Core
  • Literature and Language Arts > Place > British
  • Literature and Language Arts > Genre > Novels
Skills
  • Critical analysis
  • Discussion
  • Expository writing
  • Literary analysis
Authors
  • Mary Anne Kovacs