Lesson 3: Themes in “Lord of the Flies”

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.

Guiding Questions

No guiding questions

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