The Lord of the Flies
William Golding

by

Karim Chandra

Character Analysis
Ralph

The son of a naval leader, Ralph is a natural leader. He is one of the oldest boys and has a charismatic personality. Amid the chaos of the crash-landing, Ralph emerges as a beacon of order and civilization. He discovers the conch shell, an item the boys respect and regard as symbolic of order and togetherness. At first, the boys believe in Ralph’s leadership abilities because he brought them together.

Throughout the novel, Ralph relentlessly tries to maintain order and harmony though he, at last, loses when most of his followers leave him for Jack’s leadership. Ralph obsesses over the signal fire because he believes it is the boys’ only hope of attracting ships and finally getting rescued. Ironically, Ralph’s signal fire goes out, but another fire that saves the boys is that which was lit to scare him away.

As mature as Ralph appears, he lapses into barbarism from time to time. On one occasion, Ralph taunts Piggy but regrets his actions afterward. Ralph — presumably an icon of peace — also has a role in Simon’s violent death. Near the end of the book, Ralph contemplates falling in line with Jack’s savage leadership before he realizes Jack’s followers want to kill him. He flees. Although Ralph demonstrates strong leadership potential, he ultimately fails to live up to it.

Piggy

Despite being overweight, awkward, and asthmatic, Piggy is the most intelligent boy on the island. Yet his physical deficiencies limit his ability to engage in manual labor. Piggy’s weaknesses often result in him getting mocked by the other boys, except for Ralph, who generally respects and values Piggy’s ideas. Whereas Ralph acts as a leader to the boys, Piggy serves as Ralph’s adviser, guiding Ralph in his administration of rules and order on the island. Piggy gains a limited amount of respect from the other boys when they realize his glasses are their only means of starting a signal fire. Piggy also cautions the group against acts of barbarism and savagery. Simply put, there is no hope for the group without Piggy’s counsel and wisdom.

However, despite Piggy’s efforts to help the boys, most dislike him and ultimately turn against him. In fact, Piggy’s own name alludes to the pigs that Jack and the hunters target in their bloodlust, foreshadowing Piggy’s demise. Prior to his death, Piggy tells the boys they must choose between brutality and order. Unfortunately, despite Piggy’s best efforts to instill civilization and discipline in the boys, their brute instincts triumph.

Jack Merridew

Jack is the novel’s antagonist. He is bony, thin, and tall, with red hair, freckles, and a crumpled face. He has angry eyes. In contrast to Ralph, Jack does not possess good looks or charismatic leadership. Yet, Jack feels entitled to leading the boys because of his position as head boy and chapter chorister in school. When Jack realizes his school titles are irrelevant on the island, he decides to follow his own brutal instincts and do as he pleases. 

Nonetheless, Jack possess the potential to lead like Ralph. He initially expresses interest in establishing order and rules on the island. However, when the process of doing so proves difficult, Jack quickly become a savage. He slaughters a pig and smears its blood across his body. As the boys’ tenuous civilization weakens, Jack becomes a monster. He uses violence, sinister rituals, and fear to gain subservience from the rest of the boys. According to Jack, leadership consists of weaponry and brute force, rather than democracy and rules. As such, he breaks Piggy's glasses and realizes that, without the intellectual advice of the asthmatic boy, Ralph would be easy to destroy. He thus sets out to do away with Piggy before going after Ralph.

Simon

Introverted and sickly, Simon is a boy whose obsession with nature shapes most of his actions. He ventures into the forest, seeking peace with the natural world. Simon also suffers from fainting spells, hallucinations, nosebleeds, and vomiting. Despite Simon’s weaknesses, his overwhelming compassion and innate goodness allow him to rise above the boys’ barbarism. Just as Piggy and Ralph embody culture and civilization, respectively, Simon epitomizes spirituality. It is Simon who recovers Piggy’s glasses after Jack punches him. It is Simon who cares for others. He sometimes shares his meals with Piggy and assists the littluns in picking out-of-reach fruits. Simon is an antithesis — or a foil character — to Jack.

Moreover, Simon possesses innate wisdom and insightfulness. Only he and Piggy understand the truth of the beast. Unfortunately, the other boys misconstrue Simon’s wisdom and maturity as oddness and even insanity. This lack of understanding peaks when the boys confuse Simon for the beast and kill him. Some may interpret Simon’s murder as martyrdom analogous to that of Jesus Christ. Furthermore, in the Christian tradition, the name “Simon” is often used to mean “he whom God has heard.”

Roger

As one of Jack’s most loyal followers, Roger guards Castle Rock and participates in hunts. Like Jack, Roger quickly descends into brutality. He is a sadist who enjoys torturing insects for pleasure. Roger is also sly and secretive. Jack and Roger both desire power over the boys, but for different reasons. Jack pursues power because he wants to control others. Roger, however, wants power because it will enable him to hurt others, and he enjoys their suffering. Even before anything goes seriously wrong, Roger demonstrates a disturbing interest in sadism. Not long after arriving on the island, he joins forces with Maurice to destroy the boys’ sandcastles for no reason. Yet Roger does not start off a barbaric killer; he evolves into that role as the story progresses. For example, at one point, Roger throws rocks in another boy’s direction without aiming to hit him. This behavioral inconsistency suggests Roger does not decisively engage in barbaric actions until he falls under Jack’s tutelage. Over time, Roger becomes more vicious and turns to murder. Roger drops the rock on Piggy’s head that leads to his death.

Samneric

Samneric is a name that combines “Sam” and “Eric,” the twins who spend most of their time around Ralph and Piggy. Since it is difficult to distinguish between the twins, the boys refer to them as one. Moreover, Samneric often speak as one: when one starts a sentence, the other finishes it. Their primary task is maintaining the signal fire. In fact, Samneric are so loyal to Ralph that they tend to the fire after the other boys abandon it to support Jack instead. Samneric attempt to sustain civilization and order by rejecting the savage temptations and threats from Jack’s hunters. Even after the hunters surround Samneric, they continue resisting. Samneric offer some hope that civilization won’t fall into savagery, although this hope fades by the novel’s end.

Although Samneric possess neither Piggy’s intelligence nor Ralph’s leadership, they are fundamentally decent people. Their notable weakness is that they lack the strength needed to succeed against the boys’ savagery. At the end of the novel, Samneric even ally themselves with Jack’s hunters against Ralph.

The Beast

The beast evolves throughout the story. Initially, the beast exists as figment of the boys’ imagination. Yet they become so fearful of the idea of a beast that they convince themselves it is real. Many of the boys believe the beast is a nefarious spirit living in the deepest parts of the woods. The beast takes on a physical form when Simon tells the others he found it, although what Simon really sees is the dead body of a pilot suspended in the trees. When the boys hear this news, they become too scared to investigate. As a result, no one knows exactly what the beast looks like. To appease the beast, the boys prepare an offering that consists of a wild pig’s head mounted on a stick. This offering becomes the Lord of the Flies, and Simon hallucinates it speaking to him. When Simon rushes to the group to reveal the beast’s identity — which he discovers after seeing the dead pilot up close — the boys beat him to death, thinking he is the beast. Ultimately, the real beast is neither a product of fear nor a physical being. It is the evil lurking in the boys’ once-innocent hearts.

Percival

Percival is one of the smallest boys in the group. To comfort himself on the island, he repeats his name and address to remember his home. As time passes, Percival grows more hysterical, relying on the others for comfort and support. However, they do not consistently give this to Percival, and the older boys even ignore him. The problem extends beyond Percival, too, because the biguns, in general, are reluctant to help the littluns. Percival cannot handle this negligence, so he crawls into a shelter and remains there for a few days. While hiding, Percival sings, talks, and cries in a manner that amuses the boys and wins him concern from those who give him some essential items to survive.

At the end of the novel, the naval officer who helps rescue the boys asks Percival his name and address. Ironically, despite Percival’s repetition of these details at the beginning of the book, he cannot remember them when they are needed. Percival’s progression from repetition to forgetfulness emphasizes the loss of innocence and humanity in the boys. Percival — along with the others — bear no resemblance to who they were before landing on the island. They are no longer humans with names and homes; they are savages.

The naval officer appears in the final scene of Lord of the Flies, when Ralph encounters him after fleeing from the fire Jack and his cronies started. The naval officer tells Ralph that his ship stopped to investigate the huge clouds of smoke surrounding the island. He does not believe that the boys are serious about killing Ralph. Instead, the naval officer suggests the boys are simply playing a game. His presence on the island diminishes the boys’ savagery.

The Naval Officer

Yet the boys’ actions mirror those of the adults, who are fighting a war in the world beyond the island. On a smaller — but no less vicious — scale, the boys replicate the warring society from which they had fled before Chapter 1. Although the naval officer is older and presumably wiser than the stranded boys, he participates in much of the same savagery. Even though the boys escape the island, the world they reenter is, perhaps, no better than the place they leave behind.

The Lord of the Flies

After cutting off a pig’s head, Jack’s hunters mount it onto a stick and place it in a clearing as an offering to the beast. As the head rots, flies swarm around it. This grotesque sight becomes the Lord of the Flies when Simon hallucinates it speaking to him. Although the Lord of the Flies isn’t a character like Ralph, Jack, or the other boys, it has a significant role in the story. It appears only after the boys embrace brutality, reflecting their rotting civilization and unity. Moreover, the Lord of the Flies is an allusion to Beelzebub, an evil being believed to be the reincarnation of Satan in the Judeo-Christian tradition. In this vein, the Lord of the Flies is a totemic representation of the boys’ amorality and savagery.

Littluns

“Littluns” is the name given to the young boys, who are each about six years old. The littluns do not assist much with building shelters, foraging for food, or hunting, so the older children manage them. They give their loyalty to whoever takes care of them — first Ralph, then Jack.

Maurice

Maurice, one of the biguns, becomes a loyal supporter of Jack’s mutiny. He participates in the hunters’ raid of Ralph’s camp, in which they steal Piggy’s glasses.

Robert

Robert is another bigun who, at one point, pretends to be a pig during the hunters’ sinister chanting and dancing. Unfortunately, Robert sustains injuries when the dance becomes violent.

Johnny

Johnny is among the smallest littluns in the island, and he has some hidden fry and anger which remains unnoticed until he is provoked.

Henry

In contract to Johnny, Henry is the largest littlun. During a mean-spirited prank conducted by Roger, Henry becomes the central object.

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