Works of William Golding: Character Analyses

Character Analyses

Ralph: An attractive boy and a natural leader, the sort of intelligent, well-adjusted, athletic boy who easily might become the idol of his schoolmates. We meet him in the first chapter as he leads the way out of the jungle while Piggy lumbers after him. That he is fair-haired suggests that he is a child of fortune, one who is blessed by nature with grace, strength, and luck. There is recklessness to his manner. He seems happy at the prospect of living on a deserted island, away from the influence of adults. The setting fosters dreams of heroic adventure in which he is the protagonist. He will overcome all of the difficulties present in his surroundings, lead a joyously exciting jungle life, then optimistically await a glamorous rescue by his naval-officer father. Unfortunately, his dreams are frustrated when nature and his fellow youths refuse to cooperate with his romantic vision. And, as his dream becomes more difficult of attainment, he loses confidence and calmness and begins to indulge himself in escape fantasies and dreams of the past. Gradually, he forfeits the respect of the other boys. A contrasting characteristic to his tendency to dream is his common sense. He is quick to assess the situation of the boys in realistic terms. He sees what must be done for their survival and rescue and sets about arranging parliamentary meetings, building a signal fire, and constructing huts. He appraises the advice of Piggy according to its practicality. He fights against the superstition and terror of the boys as being detrimental to the organized progress of their society. Ralph is by no means a perfect character. He is often mean to those weaker than himself, particularly the faithful Piggy. Occasionally he performs rash and foolish actions. He even joins in the murder of Simon. He shares in the universal guilt of man. But he does show a clearsightedness that none of the others possess in the same way. It is his common-sense view that prevails at the end of the novel when he graduates from his experience on the island with a more mature knowledge of himself and the world around him. He recognizes the universal presence of evil as a condition of life. He is capable of appreciating the tragedy of the loss of innocence that is the common heritage of man.

More than any other character, Ralph represents the outlook of the author-and the outlook that he expects his reader to share. He is not as intellectual as Piggy and he is not as religious as Simon, but he dreams the dreams of freedom and adventure that enliven the progress of western society. He is the most complete, most human, and most heroic of the characters in the novel, and the one with whom readers most readily identify.

Jack Merridew: "He was tall, thin, and bony, and his hair was red beneat the black cap. His face was crumpled and freckled, and ugly without silliness." A cruel and ugly bully, he early develops a taste for violence. He is a leader of the choir at first, and then of the hunters. His leadership resides in his ability to threaten and frighten those under him. He is always ready for a fight. His victory over Piggy represents the triumph of violence over intellect, as he smashes one of the lenses of the fat boy's glasses. The knife that he carries is a symbol of the death and destruction that accompany his every act. He does have some attractive qualities-bravery and resourcefulness. But these are easily obscured by his wrath, envy, pride, hatred, and lust for blood. He is constantly attempting to weaken Ralph's hold on the boys. He suggests opposite measures, he shouts abusively, he threatens, he is constantly demanding to be made chief. In all, he is a complete stranger to polite behavior. In his constant rivalry with Ralph, and in his constant preoccupation with killing, whether it be pigs or fellow human beings, he is a diabolical force, plunging the boys into a chaos of brute activities. His egotistical outbursts and his temper tantrums suggest that he is immature in his social development. But as hunter and killer he is extremely precocious. The readiness with which he throws himself into the existence of a savage, as he pauses to sniff the air for scent, or falls to his knees to inspect the pig droppings, or runs naked and painted through the forest, suggests the flimsiness of the restraints and patterns of civilization in a personality in which the destructive passions flow strongly.

If the novel is read as religious allegory, Jack emerges as an envoy of the Devil, enticing the other boys to sin. If the novel is read as a representation of Freudian principles, Jack represents the primitive urges of the id. In the symbolic representation of the processes of life and death, Jack suggests, both in the black cloaks which he and his followers wear and in his association with darkness, the power of death. In his first appearance, coming out of the "darkness of the forest" to face Ralph, whom he cannot see because his back is to the sun, Jack represents the Satanic and deathly force coming to confront the divine and life giving man of light. The blood that he wallows in is a further representation of deathliness. When, after his first kill, "Jack transferred the knife to his left hand and smudged blood over his forehead as he pushed down the plastered hair," he unconsciously imitates the ritual of the tribal initiation of the hunter, whose face is covered with the blood of his first kill. Finally, if the novel is read as the story of human civilization, Jack represents the influences of unreason and confusion and violence as they operate counter to the progress of human virtues and social institutions.

Piggy: This intellectual is an outsider. He manages for a time to have some influence on the group through Ralph, who recognizes his brilliance and puts into effect several of his suggestions. But, generally, the boys are quick to ridicule him for his fatness, asthma, and lack of physical skill. An orphan brought up under the care of an aunt, he has developed into a sissy. He cannot do anything for himself, whether it be to gather fruit, blow the conch shell, or build huts. He always tries to hide when the other boys are involved in manual labor. At home, presumably, his favorite pastime would be sitting in a chair, reading. His frequent appeals to the adult world, and his attempt to model his behavior on that of teachers and other grown-ups evokes the contempt of the boys. Further, he makes the mistake of pressing too hard for acceptance. In his first appearance in Chapter 1, he attempts so diligently to win the favor or Ralph that he only alienates Ralph at the same time that he gives him personal information about himself that Ralph can then use to hurt him. His life on the island is a series of unhappy embarrassments, including being taunted by the boys, being beaten, and having his glasses broken and stolen. Finally, at the instigation of Jack, he is killed by Roger.

He represents an attitude of mind that is conservative and civilized. His eyeglasses, which are constantly steamed, and that he absolutely needs to see anything, separate him from the world of activity and adventure in which he cannot participate as freely as the other boys, and confine him to the realm of his own mind. Possibly because he is the bookish member of the group, he tends to be more scientific than the rest, and also more skeptical. His knowledge of science is shown in his plan to build sundials. His skepticism keeps him from participating in the superstitions of the other boys. He knows that the world of adults and books would not abide the legend of the "beastie."

Piggy is necessarily more civilized than anyone else because, with his meagre physical equipment, only in the most civilized of societies could he survive. Ironically, with his build, his nickname "Piggy," and his squealing, he resembles the sacrificial pig. When he dies, his "arms and legs twitched a bit, like a pig's after it has been killed." His superior intellect is of little use to him in the later stages of the novel. In the increasingly more degenerate society of the boys, the intellectual is lowered to the status of the beast. Then he is sacrificed and symbolically eaten.

Simon: An artistically and religiously sensitive boy who looks, without blinking, into the evil realities that plague the island. In spite of his delicate frame and frequent fainting spells, he is willing to work and is brave in the face of physical danger. At the same time, he seems to be something of a mystic, stealing off into the depths of the jungle for moments of solitude and meditation. Perhaps it is his belief in spiritual reality that diminishes his fear of death and his attachment to the things of the world. He works at building the huts, and is happy to gather fruit for the littluns without any selfish motives. He enters the dark forest without any fear of strange "beasts." He does not share the fears of the other boys because he feels that the spirit world does not hold any terrors.

He is right in saying that the only "beasts" are the ones that people create. He is perhaps wrong in underestimating this evil, even though it is a subjective one. He discovers, in his conversation with the Lord of the Flies, that even he himself contains a destructive evil. And he discovers at the cost of his life the full power of the evil that throbs in the hearts of the boys. After solving the mystery of the "beast" by discovering the dead parachutist on the mountain, he is rewarded by being beaten and stabbed to death by the horde of maniacal boys.

It is in terms of the religious meaning of the story that Simon is most important. He represents the idea that, even in the most unattached and spiritual personality, an evil presence makes itself known. On the social level, he represents a creative force that is cut off from the rest of society because of the predominance of violent impulses in that society.

On the historical level, Simon represents the gradual alienation of the creative artist, in this century, as he is forced further and further into a position of isolation until he climbs so high in his ivory tower that he can commune only with the spirits.

Roger: A furtive, quiet boy, who evolves into a torturer and terrorist, eager to throw rocks, or roll boulders, or prod his fellow man with spears. He represents a different kind of destructiveness than that of Jack. Where Jack acts in fury, Roger performs his treacheries with cool detachment. He appears to know full well the evil of his actions, but not really to care. He actually enjoys being called upon to play the role of torturer. It is such perversity that makes him much more evil in the mind of the reader. Whereas Simon joined Jack and Ralph on their ascent of the mountain because of his spiritual confidence. Roger willingly joins Jack and Ralph in search of the "beast," because he is so conversant with the realm of evil that he fears nothing. His own diabolism is his security from evil mishap.

In terms of the historical and social allegory, Roger is the professional exterminator of human beings that usually is found in the entourage of a tyrant. On the religious level, Roger represents the complete death of conscience; he is the epitome of evil. In the Freudian myth he represents, even more explicitly than does Jack, the force of the id. In connection with the imagery of life and death, he suggests and absolute lust for death.

Samneric: Sam and Eric, identical twins, are extremely civilized, possibly because since birth they have been a small, two-man society. They are shy and pleasant. It is the twins who spot the corpse of the parachutist on the top of the mountain and run in panic to report a beast. They are not especially brave, but they remain faithful to Ralph long after the others. In their cheery comradeship they represent the best of the English schoolboy tradition. That Jack and Roger are able, at the end, to make them serve as hunters and to betray Ralph is an indication of the power of evil on the island that even they must share in it. They resemble the relatively innocent and humane members of civilized society who are forced to submit to the powers of mechanization, and sacrifice their personalities to become part of a process of destruction.

Maurice: Although good-natured and smiling, he is easily swayed by the evil influence of Roger and Jack. He possesses qualities of pleasantness and affability, and would be a happy member of a civilized community. But on the island he is forced to bend before the will of the hunters.

Henry: A leader among the littluns. Golding seems to be pointing out that even in the smallest and least significant units of society there are the same combinations of leaders and followers with all of the attendant duties and rights. It is Henry whom Roger follows in Chapter 4, in order to throw stones in his direction.

Percival: A small, sickly, and fearful littlun. He reports that he saw the beast, and that the beast came out of the sea.

Johnny: A healthy and naturally belligerent littlun.

British Officer: The only character from the adult world is proud, pretentious, and blind to the faults of his society-just as the boys are blind to theirs. Though he represents the authority that the boys have shown they needed on the island, he also symbolizes the weakness, destructiveness, and hypocrisy of the society from which he comes.

Essay Questions And Answers For Review

I. The Ideas Of Golding

1. What is the theme of Lord of the Flies?

Answer: Theme, as a critical term, refers both to the truth about human life, which an author wants to emphasize in a piece of fiction, and to the idea that controls the climactic action in a story. In Lord of the Flies the theme is that evil is present as a destructive influence in man, operating counter to the forces of reason and civilization. This idea is not only revealed in several scenes where the boys perform destructive acts. It is present as the reason why things happen the way they do in the central portion of the novel, where the forces of Jack triumph over the forces of Ralph. It is present in the brutal destruction of the sow, in the ritual sacrifice of Simon, and in the wanton murder of Piggy. It is the truth about human life that one is forced to accept as an explanation of the destruction of the society of the boys.

2. According to Golding, what are the limitations of the boys?

Answer: Not only are the boys frustrated in their attempt to establish an island society because of their evil natures. They also lack the traditional restraints of society that can sometimes control evil; for example, a coherent religious code, or an effective legal code. They are also too immature to harmonize their various differing members into a functional whole. They lack the self-control, perserverance, and cooperativeness necessary to the development of any social organism, whether it be a basketball team or the United Nations.

3. What is Golding's opinion of modern society?

Answer: The parallels between the society of the boys and modern civilized society, such as the competitiveness, destructiveness, and violence existing in both, suggest that the problems that plague the boys are those that are present in more sophisticated communities. There is the same proneness to evil, the same fear of the unknown, the same use of technology for inhuman purposes. At the same time, there is the same potential for civilized advancement, provided that human reason is allowed to flourish in company with, but not stifled by, a strong moral sense.

4. What is the author's attitude to history?

Answer: History is a record of ironic recurrences of human error. The same errors that were made by primitive man are made by the boys, and are made by civilized societies, even to the point where human sacrifices are still being offered to appease the gods of terror and fear. Golding seems to be pointing out that the blood lust of the primitive hunter is prevalent in modern man, as witness his warships, bombers, and rockets.

5. What does Golding say about human destiny?

Answer: At first glance, the future seems gray. Society is disintegrating. Anarchy and violence thrive at the expense of reason. At the end of Lord of the Flies, however, there is some hope for the future in the new knowledge that Ralph has acquired. He understands the conflict of good and evil, ideal and real, that exists in man. And, unlike Simon and Piggy, he is resourceful enough to elude death and to carry this knowledge back to civilization, there to have some influence of his fellow man. He will be a wise leader when he is a man. He will be a man of reason, but also a man aware of the darkness lurking in the most innocent person. And he will have some positive effect on civilization.

6. What is the ethical view expressed in Lord of the Flies?

Answer: Ethics, in this novel, are complex. The good man is not necessarily one who intends to perform good actions. He is certainly not one who accepts the mores of a society, because the mores on the island include murder and torture. Rather, he is the person who works for his fellow man, who answers the dictates of reason, who accepts a personal responsibility for the evil in the world, and is able to function as a harmonious human being. Simon is perhaps the most holy person in the novel, but he does not function effectively in society. Ralph, the leader who best coordinates his activities, is the most ethical character.

7. What is Golding's concept of a hero?

Answer: Conventional heroic types like the dashing naval captain are satirized. The hero is the leader who works for the creation and advancement of society, who recognizes and challenges the evil existing in himself, and who is capable of enduring in a complex and often savage environment.

8. What is the significance of the title?

The title, Lord of the Flies, is a reminder for the reader of who it is that the boys are submitting to as they become more savage and superstitious. The expression is a translation of Beelzebub, the name of a devil, which suggests that the boys are becoming more evil as they establish the Lord of the Flies on a stick, and begin to worship the mysterious forces of the jungle. Further, the title suggests that the boys are like flies, mere instinctive beings swarming to the kill.

9. What is the meaning of Simon's encounter with the Lord of the Flies?

Answer: Simon, who represents the highest aspirations of the human spirit towards beauty and holiness, participates in a symbolic dialogue with the Lord of the Flies, who represents the lowest part of man, the source of violence, hatred, fear, murder. The meeting represents the recognition of these forces in all men, even the saintly. The episode refutes benevolent and optimistic theories of man and the universe.

10. What is the meaning of fire?

Answer: In the novel, fire represents a hope for the future. Fire has distinguished man from the beasts for as long as he has been building fires for cooking and warmth. Here, the fire denotes a peculiarly human action, the use of a signal to win the aid of fellow men. As long as the signal fire is lit, the boys are confident of their place in the community of civilized people. Fire is a contrast to the symbol of darkness that represents the barbarism within the boys.

11. Explain the meaning of the hunt.

Answer: The hunt is a formalization of the destructive passions that exist in the boys. It gives these passions an outlet. This, however, is dangerous because the more these passions are indulged, the more violent they become.

12. What is the significance of the corpse and the parachute on the mountain?

Answer: The corpse and parachute are evidence of the subjective nature of human fear. Distorted by the imaginations of the boys, these harmless objects become so frightening that the signal fire is allowed to go out. They are an illustration that man has nothing to fear but himself.

13. What is the relation of the individual to the state according to Golding?

Answer: Each individual should contribute to the total harmonious operation of society.

14. What is man's relation to nature?

Answer: Nature "red in tooth and claw" represents a threat to man, unless, by the use of reason, he understands and controls its powers.

15. Comment on the importance of self-discovery in the novel.

Answer: It is only insofar as a character knows himself that he can do anything to improve conditions in the novel. All of the attempts to civilize the island, to erect huts, to organize a parliament, to sustain a signal fire, fail because of not allowing for the limitations of the boys. It is only at the end of the novel, when Ralph recognizes the loss of his own innocence, that knowledge paves the way for progress.

16. To what extent is man free according to Golding?

Answer: Freedom is always qualified by forces inside and outside of man. Society imposes restrictions on the freedom of man and these may be the helpful rules that Ralph establishes, or they may be the rites of a savage tribe that Samneric are forced to conform to. But even more strongly, the dark side of man controls his desires and actions and limits his powers of choice. It is only as man recognizes the threat to his liberty, without and within, that he can begin to define his rights as a free being and proceed to control his destiny. Freedom is dependent upon self-knowledge.

II. The Form Of Lord Of The Flies

1. Discuss Golding's handling of point of view.

Answer: In this novel Golding uses the omniscient author point of view, permitting his to enter any mind. However, he often presents his material with cool objectivity. He does not let his reader involve himself completely with his own, or his characters' feelings. His tone in cool and analytical. Even in the most violent scenes, he will detachedly observe butterflies at the same time that he presents the central action. He seems to be encouraging his reader to decide on the issues with calmness and reason, the same qualities that the author himself exhibits as he narrates the story.

2. Analyze the use of symbolism in the novel.

Answer: The author gives to almost every detail in the story a meaning of its own and a representational meaning in terms of the theme of the development of evil on the island. The boys themselves are representative of different ways of life-the intellectual, the adventurer, the bully, the torturer-so as to give the impression of diversity that is found in an actual society. The places represent human potentials; for example, the jungle the darkness of the human spirit, the sea the destructiveness of man, the platform reason, the mountain hope. Objects like the boulder and Jack,s knife represent powers of violence inside the boys. The conch shell stands for order and stability. Incidents, for example the several hunting rituals, symbolize the increasing powers of evil.

3. Is Golding in any sense a realistic writer?

Answer: He seems less interested in the reality of external events than in spiritual and moral reality. Although he writes concretely, the experiences are not likely to ever actually occur. He is realistic in the presentation of the psychology of violence. His projections of the impulses to hunt and destroy, as they exist in modern man, are based on accurate interpretation.

4. What is the structure of Lord of the Flies?

Answer: The general organization of the novel is chronological order, with a concentration on the successive by the boys to organize their lives on the island and the successive attempts failures. The novel moves from hope to frustration to hope to frustration-with each new hope dimmer and each frustration greater as the society disintegrates into a state of anarchy.

5. What is the advantage of using boys as characters?

Answer: The boys, with their outward innocence and inner corruption, represent, quite readily, the theme of the intrusion of evil in man. Much of the irony in the novel derives from the discrepancy between pleasant appearances and horrible realities. Even the relatively civilized boys, Piggy and Ralph, join in the slaughter of their friend Simon.

6. What are the methods of characterization?

Answer: Golding uses the conventional methods of revealing character, presenting the thoughts, speech, and description of a person, describing characteristic action, and reporting the observations of others; all of these are used with great economy. The boys are created with a few deft strokes, rather than by a multiplicity of details, with the result that all of the boys, except perhaps Simon and Ralph, are simple characterizations. This makes them serve better as representative types in the symbolic narrative. Even with Simon and Ralph, Golding gives greatest emphasis to one characteristic of Simon-his spiritualism-and two characteristics of Ralph-his dreaminess and his common sense-to make each of them also symbolize a way of life.

7. Do the characters of the boys develop?

Answer: The personalities of the boys do change. In general, there is the gradual flowering of evil that warps their characters. In some boys there is a change for the better. Piggy at the end is more dignified. Simon is filled with an adult wisdom. Ralph is serious and sombre.

8. Comment on style and tone.

Answer: Golding writes with great virtuosity. At times he describes the details of the jungle so concretely and vividly that the reader is convinced of the reality of the experience. Other times he lyrically presents the imaginative experience of the boys, as in Chapter 4 where he depicts the illusions that beset the boys, or in Chapter 8 where he brings Simon face-to-face with the Lord of the Flies. His tone ranges from a romantically enthusiastic response to the beauty of the jungle, to a satiric juxtaposition of incongruous elements like the childish chatter and vicious expressions of hatred by the boys.

9. How does the author sustain interest?

Answer: It is the physical, emotional, and moral conflicts of boy against boy, and boy against nature that arouse and sustain interest.

10. What is the advantage of using an island setting?

Answer: The island is a completely isolated world, where the possibility of instituting a new society can be tested. The island, too, will take whatever geography the author wants to impose. Here, Golding molds the island to his symbolic purposes, giving it a beach, platform, jungle, mountain, and rocky extremity, each of which can be used to represent human potentials and aspirations.

Copyright 1963-1990 by Simon & Schuster, Inc.

Golding, William, Works of William Golding: Character Analyses., Monarch Notes, 01-01-1963.

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