The Importance of Setting in William Golding's 'Lord of the Flies'

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2003

19 Pages, Grade: 2,0


Table of Contents:


1. The Importance of Setting in Golding’s Lord of the Flies
1.1. The Place
1.1.1. The Jungle
1.1.2. The Mountain
1.1.3. The Beach
1.1.4. Castle Rock
1.2. Time Period and Historical Milieu
1.3. Political, Religious and Social Realities in Lord of the Flies
1.3.1 Political Reality
1.3.2. Religious Reality
1.3.3. Social Realities

2. Symbols for the Society’s breakdown



In all the books I have suggested a shape in the universe that may, as it were, account for things. The greatest pleasure is not -say- sex or geometry. It is just understanding. And if you can get people to understand their own humanity-well, that’s the job of the writer.[1] William Golding

William Golding’s first novel Lord of the Flies[2] is one of the most-read works of contemporary fiction since the Second World War. The author’s most popular fiction was written in 1954 and has been interpreted politically, religiously, anthropologically and psychologically although the story as such is quite simple. However, what makes the book remarkable is how excessively Golding uses the setting in order to get across the fable’s moral. The setting of the robinsonade is highly allegorical. In the following paper this is going to be proved on hand the following definition: Setting is the entire environment for the action of a fictional work. Settings include the place, the time period as well as the historical milieu, and the political, social, and perhaps even spiritual realities (italics: mine).[3] In addition to that, also the presentation of nature and its symbolism are going to be examined as they play an important role throughout the book and are part of the setting.[4]

1. The Importance of Setting in Golding’s Lord of the Flies

1.1. The Place

Golding’s Lord of the Flies takes place on a tropical island of which the author never gave an exact location.[5] Probably it is somewhere in the Pacific or Indian Ocean. The location of the island is vague because for the reader it is only important to know that a group of English school boys between the ages of six and twelve are stranded on an island with no adult control anywhere about. They now have to build up their own society.[6] According to Monteith, the setting was more explicit in Golding’s first draft, but in order to make the novel more interesting and to emphasize its fabulist character, Golding’s editors shortened some passages.[7] Consequently, the setting in Lord of the Flies is less used to create a mood but to put the characters into a particular situation.[8] In addition to that, the fable’s setting has been chosen in the tradition of the island adventure story that stretches back to Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe (1719), Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island (1883), and Ballantyne’s Coral Island. According to the Internet, Golding parodied the central plot and theme of the latter:

In Coral Island, two British schoolboys, Ralph, Jack and an Australian boy, Peterkin, are marooned on a desert island. They encounter adventures with cannibals, pirates, wild animals etc. and come through the adventure bravely and successfully because they are British. Whilst Golding uses a similar idea and even uses the same names for the two main characters, his vision of how British schoolboys would have behaved in these circumstances is very different to that of Ballantyne.[9]

On page twenty- nine of the novel it is stated that “the island [is] roughly boat- shaped”. This is ironic in so far as the boys are trapped on an island that constantly reminds them of a chance for a rescue that does not come for a long time. The island as such is a good place. It provides fresh water, fruits from various plants and meat from wild pigs. By choosing this paradise-like setting Golding shows that it is not their surrounding but humans’ fault that leads later on to the breakdown of their civilization. In addition to that, the island could symbolize humans’ self-destruction as well as the destruction of the planet earth as the boys kill each other and set the island on fire.

1.1.1. The Jungle

The action of the fable takes place in some places of the island which carry symbolic meaning: the jungle, the mountain, the lagoon, and ‘Castle Rock’. The jungle is located at one side of the island and has a rocky mountain above it. In the dense jungle there are plenty of exotic plants, among them fruit trees. They are the boys’ most important food source before they manage to kill a pig. Various pig trails lead through the jungle, which the boys use as paths. Additionally, the plants of the jungle are a good material to build shelters; the wood of the trees is used to build the signal fire on the mountain top and down at the beach. Furthermore, the jungle serves Ralph as a place to hide from Jack and the hunters, in the novel’s last chapter.

Moreover, it is Simon’s place of rest and visions. He discovers his nature area in chapter three, Huts on the Beach. “It is one of the ironies of the book that this ‘holy’ place is the very spot where Jack and his hunters bring the head of the pig, impale it, and revere it. This pig’s head, rotting on its stick, is the Lord of the Flies, Beelzebub, Evil, the Dark.”[10] Simons encounter with the Lord of the Flies is the key passage in the book as the head utters the fable’s gist: evil is not a threat from outside, it is inside the humans. But already “[b]efore the obscene decapitated pig on the spike [Simon] comes to acknowledge the existence of his own evil.”[11] In Beast from Water he states: “What I mean is…may be it’s only us.”(p. 89).

But why does the encounter of Simon and the Lord of the Dung take place in the jungle? There are several reasons important to mention: man’s struggle in locating evil, which is often confusing and misleading (the boys look for ‘beasts from air’ and ‘from water’ instead of searching the beast in themselves) can be compared with the jungle in which it is also difficult to find one’s way or to locate food sources such as pigs or fruit trees. Moreover, the jungle can be seen as symbol for evil because of the Lord of the Flies’ location there, for its dark areas and unknown plants and animals. The boys get to know this new and mysterious world slowly and bit by bit and its force of attraction is as big as evil is to them.

1.1.2. The Mountain

In the first chapter Ralph, Jack and Simon climb the mountain and find out that they are stranded on an island. Later on it is decided to light a rescue fire on this highest spot of the island. For that reason, a platform nearby is chosen as fireplace. The children are supposed to keep the fire burning because a ship could pass by and see the fire’s smoke. The mountain- top therefore holds an important status for the boys’ possible rescue. It represents hope and responsibility, so to say the ‘Good’. But when a parachutist, who is mistaken for the Beast from Air lands on the mountain-top, in chapter six, the rescue fire is moved to the beach and the place’s meaning changes into its opposite. Until the novel’s end it is a location to be avoided because the ‘beast’ lives there, supposedly.

1.1.3. The Beach

The first encounter of the “islanders” takes place at the beach which is located opposite the mountain. At the lagoon nearby the beach, Ralph and Piggy call the boys’ first meeting after they have found conch. The platform at the beach serves the boys from this point in time onwards as assembly place. They gather here every time Ralph, who is democratically voted chief, blows the conch. In The Sound of the Shell the place is described as follows: “Here the beach was interrupted by a square motif of the landscape; a great platform of pink granite thrust up uncompromisingly through forest and terrace and sand and lagoon to make a raised jetty four feet high. […] reflections from the lagoon.” (p.12). The assembly place is protected by palm trees and provides tree trunks, which the boys use as seats during their meetings. (p.12). The beach in general is described as a delightful place: “Beyond the platform there was more enchantment. [the sea] had banked sand inside the lagoon so that there was a long, deep pool in the beach with a high ledge of pink granite at the further end.” (p.12). Ralph takes the chance to take a bath in the warm water immediately after he and Piggy have discovered the place (p.12).

The description of the platform is quite symbolic. The readers learn that there is not enough soil for the palm trees to grow high into the air. Their roots do not reach very far into the soil. This is also true for the children. They miss as well as the “young palm trees” (P.12) the good soil, that is, a social network that holds them. The islanders had not been fully formed by society when their plane crashed, and that is why the society they establish fails at the end of the novel.


[1] Leighton Hodson, Writers and Critics. William Golding ed. A. N. Jeffares, R.L.C. Lorimer. (New York: Capricorn Books, 1971) 18.

[2] William Golding, Lord of the Flies (NY: Penguin, 1954) (All page references within the text refer to this edition.)

[3] Cf.

[4] Cf. Howard S. Babb, The Novels of William Golding (Ohio: Ohio State University Press, 1970) 7.

[5] Cf.

[6] Cf. Norman Page [ed.]: William Golding. Novels 1954-67. A Casebook. (Houndmills, Basingstoke: MacMillan 1985) 67.

[7] Cf. John Carey, [ed.]: William Golding. The Man and his Books. A Tribute on his 75th Birthday (London, Boston: Faber and Faber, 1986) 58.

[8] Cf.


[10] Hodson 25.

[11] Virginia Tiger. William Golding. The Dark Fields of Discovery (London: Marion Boyars (Repr.), 1976) 43.

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The Importance of Setting in William Golding's 'Lord of the Flies'
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Maria Fernkorn (Author), 2003, The Importance of Setting in William Golding's 'Lord of the Flies', Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • guest on 3/23/2014

    Very good and descriptive!

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