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Lord of the Flies | Study Guide

William Golding

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Lord of the Flies | Discussion Questions 1 - 10


How does Ralph's treatment of Piggy change over the course of Lord of the Flies?

When Ralph and Piggy first meet, the former does not want to be bothered with the latter. Ralph never asks Piggy his name, laughs when he learns his nickname, mocks him about his asthma, and is uninterested in hearing about his aunt or his parents. He tells Piggy to shut up, and reveals his nickname to the other boys despite Piggy's request not to. However, from the very beginning Ralph respects Piggy's ideas, including the first one about blowing the conch. As the story continues, Ralph grows to respect Piggy more and more and turns to him for ideas and wisdom. He longs to have Piggy's ability to think and reason. As the book ends, Ralph's last thought is of "the fall through the air of the true, wise friend called Piggy."

Why does Piggy ask to join the expedition in Chapter 1 of Lord of the Flies?

Piggy wants to join the expedition because throughout his life he has been an outsider, and he wants acceptance. Even in his home life, the loss of his parents forces Piggy to live with his aunt. His derisive nickname—Piggy—was given to him by other boys at school, dehumanizing him and making him feel like an outsider there. Piggy is treated as an outsider because of his physical limitations brought on by his asthma and weight issues. If Piggy joined the boys in the expedition he would be looked upon as one of the leaders of the group. His physical limitations, while still apparent, would be less of an issue. He would be respected and his ideas would be acted upon.

How does Jack's appearance and behavior in Chapter 1 of Lord of the Flies foreshadow the evil he will cause?

Jack and all the choir are dressed in black choir robes when they first appear. He disciplines the choir and acts sharply toward them, barking out orders about how they are to behave. When Simon faints, he shows no compassion or concern. Jack does not greet the others upon first meeting them. Instead he asks short, direct questions of Ralph. He instantly sizes Piggy up and tells him to shut up because he is talking too much. The description of his entrance, his lack of concern for others and ridicule of Piggy, his domineering behavior, and his evident desire to be the leader all give a clear picture of a domineering, bullying figure who is unlikely to be constrained by moral or social standards, foreshadowing the evil that he will cause.

In Lord of the Flies, in what ways is Ralph an effective or ineffective leader?

Not surprisingly, because he is only a child Ralph is not a very effective leader. He has some sensible ideas—principally his call to build shelters and maintain the signal fire—but he lacks the real authority to enforce implementation of these ideas. While he has the allegiance of some of the boys, they are not very strong figures. His chief allies are the outcast Piggy, the loner and dreamer Simon, the conformist Samneric, and the littluns. Even his treatment of these allies (Piggy in particular) shows a callousness that a good leader would not exhibit—he betrays Piggy's confidence about his nickname, pulls his leg, and treats him with some contempt. Ralph is also not capable of meeting the challenges he faces as a leader. He downplays the boys' fear of the beast, thereby creating a vacuum of leadership that Jack can move into. He doggedly insists on the justice or rationality of his own position in the confrontation over the signal fire going out, but he cannot come up with an argument that will actually persuade Jack to accept his point of view. He also does not really understand the appeal to the others of Jack's actions and attitudes.

Why does Piggy hesitate to vote for Ralph as chief in Chapter 1 of Lord of the Flies?

Piggy's hesitancy in voting for Ralph is partly judicious delay and partly an emotional a form of protest. Piggy does not simply follow the crowd. He is someone who thinks about and considers his actions before moving forward. He does not see any clear signs of leadership in Ralph. According to the narrator, the others vote for Ralph because of his size and appearance and because holding the conch gives him an air of authority. Piggy is reluctant to elect such a person, especially because calling for others and using the conch to do so were his ideas. In addition, Piggy is angry and hurt that Ralph shared his nickname with the others after he asked Ralph not to. Piggy expected more of Ralph, who lets him down the first opportunity he gets in order to get a laugh from the crowd, and Piggy understandably finds untrustworthy a person who would treat him that way.

In Chapter 1 of Lord of the Flies, what is the significance of the boys stripping off their clothes upon landing on the island?

Clothes are part of the adult world and civilization. By removing their clothes, the boys are moving away from the adult world and are free to act as they please. For many of them, that means a turn toward a savage side. Piggy is the most reluctant to remove his clothes and only takes off his windbreaker. Piggy's clothes never come off completely and remain in decent shape throughout the novel. This represents Piggy's unending attachment to the adult, civilized world. On the other hand, Ralph quickly takes off his clothes and jumps into the water. Ultimately he puts his clothes back on, but unlike Piggy he periodically gives in to his savage side. The choirboys remove their uniforms upon joining up with Ralph and the others. The removal of choir robes takes them away not only from civilization but also from the spiritual and moral principles of religion, as the choir boys likely sang in the school's chapel. They never put their clothes back on. This symbolizes their turn toward savagery that becomes all consuming. That they were originally wearing uniforms is significant in that it shows they belonged to a hierarchical organization. While they shed civilization and morality in taking off these uniforms, they never lose their mentality of leader and followers, and they easily succumb to Jack's authoritarian rule.

In Lord of the Flies, how do the responses of Ralph and Jack to the first mention of the beast foreshadow their styles of leadership?

When the littlun first mentions the beast, Ralph and Jack react in characteristic ways that highlight Ralph's efforts to build consensus and maintain order, as opposed to Jack's assumption of command and attitude of superiority. The scene also highlights the different responses to their leadership styles. Ralph hears the littlun out and attempts to reason with him. In addition, he tries to gain agreement for his words, looking "for confirmation round the ring of faces." Ralph's leadership style fails because he lacks the full authority and, as a child, lacks the skill to manage a crowd. As a result, the boys do not listen to him, and he is left yelling in an attempt to get them to agree with him. His approach does not work. While Jack agrees with Ralph, he gives a different response and offers it in a different tone. Jack seizes the conch and speaks forcefully. He does not completely rule out the beast and says they would hunt and kill it. Jack gains agreement by acknowledging the others' fears and offering protection. In both allowing the possibility of the beasts' existence—which confirms a widespread belief—and in forcefully promising to deal with the problem, he offers needed reassurance.

What does the conch shell symbolize in Lord of the Flies?

The conch symbolizes civilization and democracy, social order, and the rights of all to take part in group decisions. The first rule the boys decide on is that one can only speak when holding the conch. Everyone else must be quiet and listen. Ralph notes that this is similar to "Hands up ... at school." The conch, therefore, acts as a reminder and tie-back to their lives and to the social order in which they lived. The conch also offers a chance for everyone to speak and to be heard. As in a democracy, everyone has the opportunity to participate and voice his thoughts. No one is all powerful or has the right to dominate the others. Ralph and his group continue to see the value of the conch until the end; Jack quickly tires of it and determines that he is the one with the greatest right to speak. The conch shell also has a deeper emotional meaning. It symbolizes things that are hard for them to describe: power, authority, and legitimacy. Ralph's holding the conch is one of the unspoken reasons that the boys initially vote him to be leader. They are responding to the symbols of adult society—the conch is like the symbols of political office. The boys sense that the conch magnifies human authority. When Ralph speaks after blowing the conch, he notices that his own voice sounds "like a whisper." With the conch, though, he can summon boys from far away.

How does the first fire on the island foreshadow the destructive forces that overwhelm the boys in Lord of the Flies?

Despite the fire being started for productive ends, it causes destruction from its first lighting. The destruction and death caused by this initial blaze—and its flaring out of control—foreshadow the destructive force of the heedlessness and irrationality that come to dominate the boys on the island. The first fire lighting occurs after the boys rush up the mountain and gather up an excessive amount of firewood. In their excitement, they lose their sense and start a fire that burns out of control. This fire takes the life of the little boy with the birthmark. Their irresponsibility in setting the fire foreshadows their descent into savage violence over the course of their stay on the island. Their inability to face up to the death of the littlun foreshadows their lack of remorse or conscience later. The fire remains Ralph's primary concern throughout the text. His focus on the fire, to the detriment of nearly everything else, greatly frustrates Jack and the hunters. This leads to the boys splitting into two groups.

What is revealed by the different views of Piggy and Jack to the idea of using Piggy's glasses to start a fire in Lord of the Flies?

Piggy longs to be heard, be taken seriously, and have a leadership role. However, when it comes to the issue of his glasses being used to make a fire, Piggy is resistant and demands that they be returned. If he had come up with the idea, he would have earned the boys' respect and admiration. They would have seen his intelligence and reason used for something practical. Because his glasses are taken from him, thus robbing him of any initiative or substantive role in starting the fire, he is angry. Jack has the idea to use Piggy's glasses. In doing so, he offers a practical solution to the boys' problems and shows himself to be a problem solver. Additionally, Jack's instruction to others to take Piggy's glasses foreshadows his later role as chief, when his followers respond to his commands.

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