Lord of the Flies | Study Guide

William Golding

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Chapter 1

Course Hero's video study guide provides in-depth summary and analysis of Chapter 1 of William Golding's novel Lord of the Flies.

Lord of the Flies | Chapter 1 | Summary

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Summary

The novel begins with Ralph making his way down to a lagoon. There he meets Piggy, who is going to the same place. Through their conversation, the boys realize that there are no adults on the island. Ralph is happy at this thought, while Piggy is concerned. Their conversation reveals that the plane they were on has been shot down and crashed on the island.

Piggy is chubby, has asthma, and wears glasses. Ralph makes fun of Piggy for the nickname that had been given him at school, which Piggy does not want repeated. Ralph is surprised when Piggy doesn't join him for a swim and then mocks him for his asthma when he learns the reason. Piggy goes on to reveal that his parents are dead and he lives with his aunt. Ralph's father is in the navy and says that his father will come to the island and rescue them. Piggy cautions Ralph that might not happen because the pilot told them an atom bomb went off and destroyed humanity.

When Ralph gets out of the lagoon, he and Piggy find a conch shell. Upon Piggy's suggestion, Ralph blows the shell to call any others who survived the crash. Boys start trickling in, the first one being a six-year-old named Johnny. As the boys arrived, "they sat down on the fallen palm trunks and waited."

A group of boys dressed similarly in black appear. They are the choir and are led by a boy named Jack, who expects that an adult called them. When he comes to realize that there are no adults around, he says that the boys will "have to look after ourselves."

As the meeting begins, Piggy tries to get all the names but is unsuccessful. Jack thinks Piggy is talking too much and tells him to shut up, calling him "Fatty." Ralph corrects Jack and says the boy's name is Piggy; everyone laughs.

After more introductions, Ralph says they have to decide about being rescued and that they need a chief. Jack says he should be chief, but Roger says they should vote. Ralph is elected to be chief for no strong reason but apparently because, as the narrator says, "there was his size, and attractive appearance; and most obscurely, and yet most powerfully, there was the conch." All the boys, including the choir, applaud the decision, which embarrasses Jack. Ralph puts Jack in charge of the choir. Jack says they will be the hunters.

Ralph says they need to inspect the island to determine with certainty that it is an island and that it's deserted. He names himself, Jack, and Simon to do the exploring. The three boys are happy to go and be explorers. Piggy wants to come, but both Ralph and Jack tell him he can't.

When they make it to the top of the mountain, they can see that it is indeed an island. Ralph believes the island is uninhabited, and Jack says they could hunt for food until adults come for them.

As the three boys head back to where the rest of the boys are waiting, they come across a pig. Jack, who has a knife, is ready to kill the pig but pauses. When asked why he didn't kill the pig, he responds, "I was choosing a place. Next time—!"

Analysis

The area where the action opens and where much of it takes places throughout in Lord of the Flies is referred to as the scar. It is the area where the downed plane "smashed into the jungle." A scar appears where an injury has occurred and is the final part of the healing process. In addition, a scar stands out due to its different appearance. In Lord of the Flies, the scar does not heal but festers. The land has been destroyed by humans, but human destructiveness does not stop there. The boys ultimately turn upon one another in a quest to dominate, and the constraints of civilization loosen.

The novel is set during wartime and reflects the author's experiences during World War II, which saw the death of some 60 million people. The behavior of the boys on the island will ultimately come to mirror what is going on in the world at large. Adults have caused the war, and getting back to them and society is no guarantee of safety. The island could have been a paradise, a return to Eden before humanity destroyed it. Instead, the injury does not heal; the scar does not disappear, and the depravity of humankind is unleashed. This darker outcome reflects Golding's belief that it is human nature to be savage and unforgiving—that evil lurks inside every person.

The conch shell symbolizes civilization and order. Piggy recognizes its value right away and suggests it be used to gather the other boys. Of all the boys, he is most tied to society. From the very beginning his only interest is being rescued. The thought of being on an island with no adults is truly worrisome to him. While the littluns—the younger children—feel great fear at being left without their parents, Piggy's concern is related to his unchildlike nature. His asthma and other physical limitations combined with his intellectual nature prevent him from being comfortable in a society without rules and order. On the island Piggy is an outsider. His only chance of happiness is to reside in a world where intellectualism and rationality are respected.

With the election of a leader and the establishment of rules, the boys attempt to create a semblance of society. However, just as the society they come from is flawed, so is their own, even at the outset. Ralph is elected leader. While Ralph will go on to mature and grow more than any other character, at this point he has no real qualifications. Why is he elected? "There was his size, and attractive appearance," the narrator explains. On the other hand, Jack has the desire to lead, and has some experience as a result of leading the choir, and Piggy has the intelligence. Yet the selection falls on Ralph. Of course, the voters are merely children and perhaps can be excused for their emotionally based decision, but the scene presents an early example of the irrationality of collective behavior that pervades the book. Important issues are decided based on superficial reasons. This strategy is a recipe for trouble. Jack's frustration at being overlooked adds the element of disappointed ambition and envy to the mix.

One theme of the novel is civilization verses savagery, and it is represented in Chapter 1 through Piggy, who represents longing for the adult world, and Jack, who represents savagery. He enters the story wearing all black. He shouts at the choir and barks orders at them, and his face is described as ugly. The two characters are in conflict from their first meeting, as Jack's uniform and authoritative voice intimidate Piggy. The two of them are part of the older boys who are beginning to grow into their adult selves. However, they are at a vulnerable stage. They can be swayed based on their surroundings. Jack succumbs to his savage nature, while Piggy retains a strong sense of civilization. When Jack decides that the choir will be hunters, he tells the members to take off their choir robes, which they had been wearing on the flight. This disrobing suggests a shedding of civilization and carries a hint of spiritual decline. Choirboys sing at church services. By disrobing, Jack and his mates remove the outward vestige of religious practice, uncovering the physical level of humanity.

The mocking of Piggy reflects the intolerance of society—even among schoolchildren—toward those who are seen as outsiders or different. Even Ralph, who is serious about the need to organize and think through the situation, mocks the pudgy boy, and his revelation of the painful nickname to the rest of the boys is a betrayal of the confidence Piggy had entrusted to him.

The chapter also introduces Roger, who is described as having an air of intensity and secrecy, and Simon, whose initial action is to faint. He is quiet and passive—Ralph and Jack talk over his head and effectively ignore him on the exploring expedition. These factors reflect Simon's position as the more spiritual, less social boy.

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Questions for Chapter 1

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