The Aspect of Ignorance in Golding's Lord of the Flies

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 1998

20 Pages, Grade: 1,0 (A)


Table of Contents

1 Introduction
1.1 The Author’s Life and Work
1.2 Robinsonades in General
1.3 Lord of the Flies and the Aspect of Ignorance

2 Body
2.1 A Short Outline of the Plot
2.2 Symbols
2.3 The Characters
2.3.1 The Way of Their Characterisation
2.3.2 Single Characters Piggy Simon Ralph Jack and the Hunters Samneric
2.4 Lord of the Flies and Coral Island: a Comparison
2.5 Lord of the Flies – an Adventure Story?
2.5.1 The Children’s and the Adults’ Ignorance
2.5.2 Children as the Cast

3 Conclusion
3.1 Final Assessment
3.2 Deficiencies of the Discussion and a Prospect

4 Works Cited

1 Introduction

1.1 The Author’s Life and Work

Born in 1911 in St. Columb Minor, Cornwall, William Gerald Golding spent his childhood in an area of historical wealth. In all his life, he would never leave South England for a longer period of time. Golding attended the Marlborough Grammar School in Wiltshire, where his father was teaching. For his son, Alec Golding embodied rationality and knowledge. Even as a child William Golding did a lot of reading. Some of his favourites were Tarzan of the Apes (E. R. Burroughs), Coral Island (R. M. Ballantyne) and adventure stories by Jules Verne. These books portray man as basically good and fighting the evils brought upon by society. At the age of twelve, Golding decided to become a writer. He made early, ambitious attempts at writing. So he planned a twelve-volume work on trade unions of which not more than the first sentence ever was completed. Initially, his studies at college weren’t promising, either. As his parents had intended him to make a career as a microscopist, he began reading sciences at the Brasenose College in Oxford in 1930. But soon he felt that these rational subjects were not what he desired for and that “a career as a writer was inevitable” (Contemporary Writers 1). Hence he changed to literature and graduated from Oxford as a Bachelor of Arts. Neither did his Poems, published in 1934, nor the four years he spent acting and writing in London bring him satisfaction and success. After getting married in 1939, he took up teaching at a boys’ school in order to earn enough money for a living. Yet, again, he didn’t feel satisfied, but considered teaching a chore.

In 1940 he joined the Royal Navy and took part in antisubmarine and antiaircraft operations. As a naval officer he was involved in D-Day. This six years of military service changed Golding’s concept of man’s nature. The atrocities of war he had witnessed contradicted his belief in man’s perfectibility and in man’s basic innocence. In his essay ‘Fable’ he states that “anyone who moved through these years without understanding that man produces evil as a bee produces honey, must have been blind or sick in the head”, a sentence which has been cited by all his critics (e.g. McCarron 1-2) and which has branded Golding a pessimist. Accepting this term first, Golding had a hard time getting rid of it again.

After the World War he resumed teaching in Salisbury while he kept on writing. Having taught himself Greek, he started to read the classics because, to his mind, “this is where the meat is” (Turck 21). Apart from the essential questions discussed there, his work was also influenced by his other recreational activities, which included sailing, archaeology, and music. Lord of the Flies was his fifth novel, but the first to be published (1954), still having been submitted over twenty times. The story about a group of shipwrecked boys reverting to savages on a desert island was brought out during the Cold War, a time when people were still shocked at the first use of atomic bombs and were afraid of another war as many weapons of mass destruction were being developed and produced. So the novel did not take up the social problems of the time being in an obvious way. Slowly, Lord of the Flies became popular, then entered schools and universities, before it finally outstripped Salinger’s best-seller The Catcher in the Rye. Up to now, it has been translated into almost thirty languages and was made a film twice (1963, 1990). Despite of the novel’s incessant popularity, many critics consider Golding a minor author. For the following fifteen years, Golding published a number of books, including his only play, The Brass Butterfly (1958). In 1961 he stayed in Virginia (USA) as a writer-in-residence and visiting lecturer. Fifteen years later, he travelled to Egypt, a journey that brought forth and inspired another fifteen years of intense writing. Most of his works deal with the question of man’s essential nature. Golding always found new scenes and forms to detect the defects of the human nature. In The Spire (1963) Golding chose a medieval setting to show how pride and egoism can lead to despair and death. In The Brass Butterfly he shows us a third century Roman emperor, who forbids an inventor to go on with his work, because he is afraid of man misusing his own inventions. While the controversy over his talent, or the lack of it, continued, Golding was awarded the Nobel Prize of Literature in 1983. Ten years later, he died in Cornwall on June 19th.

1.2 Robinsonades in General

If people were dropped on a distant island, what kind of experiences would they have? Numerous novels have tried to answer this question. Such novels are called Robinsonades, after Daniel Defoe’s Life and Strange Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (1719). Crusoe, owner of several plantations, shipwrecks but can escape death by living on an island, where he keeps a journal in order to remain sane and converses with God. He soon becomes a skilled craftsman. When he discovers cannibals, he debates with himself his right to interfere with the customs of another race, but finally decides to do so, and succeeds in their conversion to Christianity. At last, Crusoe is rescued. Arriving home, he finds he has become rich in the meanwhile. So his hard labour and his trust in God have been awarded adequately. As to the number of people, savages, food or the lack of it, the experiences on the island may vary in the Robinsonades. Common to all of them are the exclusion from civilisation and the struggle with some sort of difficulties, mostly a fight with savages or tempests. Often missionary work is involved.

In Robert Michael Ballantyne’s Coral Island (1857), Ralph, Jack, and Peterkin, three young Britons, are wrecked on an island. There, as Ralph narrates, they go through several adventures such as rescuing natives from cannibals. Never are they troubled by quarrels among themselves, nor by existential fears or any doubts. Being ‘Britons’ –a term they use in a self-congratulatory way- and Christians, they always behave well and civilised, pray regularly, and even convert part of the cannibals to Christianity. On the whole, they are totally convinced of their doing right. The rest of the tribe is converted by the three boys’ rescuer, an English missionary. Coral Island, written “at the height of Victorian smugness, ignorance, and prosperity”, as Golding puts it (Turck 10), clearly shows the Victorian self-assessment: Britons, having experienced a Christian upbringing, are safe from sin and free from evil.

Not only by mentioning Coral Island explicitly does Golding include Lord of the Flies in the tradition of the Robinsonades. This paper will show parallels of Lord of the Flies to other Robinsonades and especially to Coral Island. In chapter 2.4 I will come back to Golding’s use of parallels and contrast.

1.3 Lord of the Flies and the Aspect of Ignorance

About one hundred years after Ballantyne had written his Robinsonade, Golding brought out a modern version of Coral Island, for he could not approve of Ballantyne’s positive image of man, at least not after World War II. I claim that Golding in Lord of the Flies does not simply condemn the evil side in man, but rather appeals to him to be aware of his inherent badness and, as a consequence, also of the necessity of civilisation, which in Golding’s opinion is the means to control this inherent badness. An approach that takes the text for its base of interpretation shall prove that Golding expresses in Lord of the Flies what he as well said explicitly and what is accounted for by his experiences: “I believe that man suffers from an appalling ignorance of his own nature.” (Leibold 161).

The formal analysis of the novel, carried out in the body of this discussion, will examine and detect the aspect of ignorance in the novel. I am going to show in chapter 2.3.2 to what extent each character is ignorant and describe the peculiarities of each character’s blindness. It will become clear that symbols play an important role for the characterisations. Parallels and contrast to Coral Island and other Robinsonades are devices Golding chose to intensify his message; they will be discussed in chapter 2.4. Likewise, Golding’s choice of the point of view is deliberate and expressive. Chapter 2.5 will look at the way Golding uses the novel as an appeal. In this second step I shall demonstrate why we may infer man’s ignorance from the boys’ ignorance.

2 Body

2.1 A Short Outline of the Plot

Owing to an aircrash, a group of British school boys, aged between six and twelve, find themselves on a tropical island. They probably have been evacuated, because a war rages. Two boys are the first to appear: one, tall, strong, fair, is called Ralph, the other, fat and asthmatic, admits to being called Piggy. Exploring the island, they find a conch which Ralph sounds. Other boys appear. Among them are a choir, led by Jack Merridew, and the twins Sam and Eric. Standing in the oppressive heat, one choir boy called Simon faints. The boys decide to elect Ralph their leader and to hold assemblies whenever the conch is blown. They agree on some more rules concerning food, the building of shelters, and their toilet. Afterwards, Simon, Jack, and Ralph explore the island and find that there are no other people. Having failed to kill a piglet, Jack decides to learn to hunt and to provide food. At the second assembly, a small boy claims to have seen a snakelike thing, a beast. He is never seen again after the boys, by using Piggy’s glasses, have lit a fire, which soon they lose control of. They want the fire to be a signal for passing ships, hence start it on the top of a mountain, and will take turns guarding it. While most of the boys are playing and swimming during the following days, Jack is hunting and Ralph tries to build shelters. They can’t agree which job is more important. All by himself, Simon retires into the wood from time to time. Having painted their faces, Jack and his hunters finally succeed in killing a pig. Two of them should have been guarding the fire at that time instead. As a ship passes, there is no signal! Even though Ralph is very angry with Jack, he joins the feast the boys are having. At their next assembly Ralph appeals to the boys to obey the rules again and wants to discuss the identity of the beast. They do not come to any reasonable conclusion and leave the little ones and some of the older boys frightened. Whereas Ralph and the jealous Jack quarrel more and more, Piggy and Simon like Ralph.

When at night a dead parachutist drops on the island and gets caught on the rocks, he is not seen by anyone, not even by the twins who actually should be on duty by the fire, but are sleeping. Taking the flapping fabric of the parachute as the beast in the early morning light, they flee to the shelters and wake up Ralph, who calls an assembly. The older ones leave to look for the beast, most of the time led by Jack, and return convinced of its existence, because they didn’t dare to go close enough to find out the truth. Jack cannot stand not being chief any longer, therefore leaves, inviting the others to join him. No one does so at first, but more and more boys are attracted by Jack’s hunting after a while. They kill another pig, leaving its head on a stick, which has been sharpened at both ends for this purpose, for the beast, before they have a feast again. Except for Simon all of them, even Ralph, Piggy, and the twins, who didn’t hunt, participate. Simon goes to find out about the true nature of the beast. After an imaginary talk with the pig’s head, that becomes the Lord of the Flies for him, he knows that there is no external beast. Simon goes and loosens the lines of the parachute, so that the dead man is carried out to the sea by the wind. Arriving at that feast, he finds the others dancing wildly in order to cope with their fear. Before he can appease them, he is killed by the boys’ hunting sticks, because in their excitement they took him for the beast.

The hunters occupy a mountain, which they call Castle Rock, as it makes “a wizard fort” (Golding 160). Jack is their Chief. To defend themselves they can make stones roll down. At night, they steal Piggy’s glasses to light a fire. When Ralph, Piggy, and the twins come to Castle Rock to demand the glasses back, the twins are captured and Piggy is killed by a boulder one of the hunters, Roger, has loosened. Ralph flees and hides in the woods. On the next day, the hunters search Ralph in order to kill him, at last starting a huge fire which soon spreads across the whole island. Running for his life, Ralph bumps into a naval officer, who has been attracted by the smoke and rescues the boys before the island is burnt down.


Excerpt out of 20 pages


The Aspect of Ignorance in Golding's Lord of the Flies
University of Leipzig  (Institute for Anglistics)
Literature from a Child's Perspective
1,0 (A)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
625 KB
Aspect, Ignorance, Golding, Lord, Flies, Literature, Child, Perspective
Quote paper
Gesa Giesing (Author), 1998, The Aspect of Ignorance in Golding's Lord of the Flies, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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