William Golding’s Lord of the Flies

William Golding, 1983.
Photo caption

William Golding, 1983.

"The theme is an attempt to trace the defects of society to the defects of human nature. The moral is that the shape of a society must depend on the ethical nature of the individual and not on any political system however apparently logical or respectable."

—William Golding

Well over half a century since its first publication in 1954, William Golding’s Lord of the Flies wields the power to rivet readers’ attention and to pose questions about human nature, civilization, and evil. War is raging in the outside world and it does not take long for the group of children stranded on what should be a tropical paradise to also erupt into violence. This is a novel that engages students in thought-provoking discussion, as well as one that provides the opportunity for students to practice literary analysis skills.

The three lessons in this unit all stress textual evidence to support observations and generalizations. The assumption is that students have completed reading the novel before beginning the unit. Lesson 1 focuses on the four major characters (Ralph, Jack, Piggy, and Simon) and on ways William Golding used both direct and indirect characterization to portray them. Lesson 2 deals with major symbols: the island itself; the conch; the pig’s head on a stick; fire. Students also consider ways the boys themselves can be considered as symbolic personality types. Lesson 3 grapples with Golding’s themes related to human nature, roles of law and authority, and the apparent inevitability of war.

The Internet provides many websites dealing with the novel. While these can be helpful for study and review, they tend to be reductive and can interfere with the reader’s independent comprehension and analysis. Encourage students to do their own reading and thinking and to avoid using these sources as shortcuts to understanding the novel.

Guiding Questions

What does Lord of the Flies say about the importance of a system of law and order for maintaining civilization?


What causes individuals and groups to wage war against each other?