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This research deals with the main themes in the novel Lord of the Flies written by the British novelist William Golding. It shows how the theme plays an important role in every literary work, it reflect the central idea of the writer or author. This research shows how Golding displays his characters to present different themes and ideas in order to show his readers the experience and performance of each characters to give more understanding about the conflict and emotion of them.
Vol.6(6), pp. 98-102, June, 2015
DOI: 10.5897/IJEL2015.0788
Article Number: 011E73A53478
ISSN 2141-2626
Copyright © 2015
Author(s) retain the copyright of this article
International Journal of English and Literature
The main themes in Lord of the Flies
Alaa Lateef Alnajm
University of Kufa, Iraq-Alnjaf-Alghadee Q, Iraq.
Received 20 April, 2015; Accepted Accepted 21 May, 2015
This research deals with the main themes in the novel Lord of the Flies written by the British novelist
William Golding. It shows how the theme plays an important role in every literary work; it reflects the
central idea of the writer or author. This research shows how Golding displays his characters to present
different themes and ideas in order to show his readers the experience and performance of each
character to give more understanding about the conflict and emotion of them.
Key words: Themes, function of theme, example of theme, and the main themes in Lord of the Flies.
The meaning of theme
A theme is the main idea or ideas explored by a literary
work. A work of literature may have more than one theme.
Shakespeare's Hamlet, for example, studies the themes
of death, revenge, and action. King Lear's themes include
justice, reconciliation, madness, and betrayal. When an
author begins with an issue or theme in mind, themes will
also develop or emerge as he/she writes. It may not be
until the editing stage that one even begins to realize
what one's themes are. Having recognized them, the
themes will facilitate the write to determine what to cut
from the story or novel and what to shed light on.
In a work of literature there are two types of themes
that appear: major and minor. A major theme is an idea
that a writer repeats in his work, making it the most
important idea in a literary work. On the other hand, a
minor theme refers to an idea that appears in a work
briefly and gives way to another minor theme. For
instance, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice has a major
theme of matrimony around which the whole narrative
revolves. It also deals with minor themes of love,
friendship, mannerism, affectation and so on. It is
important to distinguish a theme of a literary work from its
subject. Subject is a topic which acts as a base for a
literary work while a theme is an idea expressed on the
subject. For example, a writer may choose a subject of
betrayal for his story and the theme of a story may be
writer’s personal opinion that betrayal is an execration for
humanity. Usually, it is up to the readers to discover the
theme of a literary work by analyzing characters, plot,
and other literary elements.
There are some ways in which a writer displays themes
in a literary work. A writer may express a theme through
the feelings of his main character about the subject he
has chosen to write about. Similarly, themes are exposed
through thoughts and conversations of different charac-
ters. Moreover, the experiences of the main character in
Authors agree that this article remain permanently open access under the terms of the Creative Commons
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the course of a literary work give us an idea about its
theme. The actions and events taking place in a narrative
are consequential in determining its theme.
Here, we have some common themes used in famous
literary works:
1. Love and Friendship: Love and friendship is a
frequently occurring theme in literature. It generates
emotional twists and turns in a narrative and can have a
variety of endings: happy, sad, or bitter sweet. Examples
of notorious literary works utilizing this theme are:
1. Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
2. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
3. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
4. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
2. The theme of war has been presented in literature
since ancient times. The literary works using this theme
may either glorify or criticize the idea of war. Most recent
literary works depict war as a curse for humanity due to
the suffering it causes. Some renowned examples are:
1. Iliad and Odyssey by Homer
2. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
3. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
4. A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
5. Arms and the Man by Bernard Shaw
6. A Band of Brothers: Stories from Vietnam by Walter
3. Crime and Mystery: are themes used in detective
novels. Such narratives also contain sub-themes such as
“crimes cannot be hidden”, “evil is always punished”, etc.
Some well-known examples are:
1.The Murders in the Rue Morgue by Edgar Allan Poe
2. Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
3. Bleak House by Charles Dickens
4. Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
5. Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
4. Revenge is another recurrent theme traced in many
popular literary works. A character comes across certain
circumstances that make him aware of his need for
revenge. The outcome of his or her action is often bitter
but sometimes they may end up being satisfied.
Examples are:
1. Hamlet and Macbeth by William Shakespeare
2. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas
3. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larsson
Alnajm 99
4. A Time to Kill by John Grisham
Function of theme
Theme is an aspect of a story that binds together various
essential elements of narrative. It is a truth that exhibits
universality and stands true for people of all cultures.
Theme gives readers better understanding of the main
character’s conflicts, experiences, discoveries, and
emotions as they are derived from them. Through
themes, a writer tries to give his readers an insight into
how the world works or how he or she views human life
Lord of the Flies (William Golding, 1967), a direct
production of the author's experience of the World War II,
offers a group of themes which are the second product of
the writer's paramount concern for the future of
civilization, annihilated almost by the brutality of the
Second World War. The main themes of the novel may
be categorized as follows: (1) the theme of evil (2) the
theme of childhood (3) the theme of human civilization in
the 20th century and (4) the biblical theme or the theme of
sin and expiation.
The theme of evil
Golding believes that the evil nature of man is curbed
only when he is under discipline. Thus Jack's inherent
evil nature is repressed by the disciplined school life and
he hesitates for a moment to kill the pig that had been
trapped and has managed to run away. At the beginning
of the novel Jack's cruelty and his going against nature
are stated. Jack's narrow mindedness, his material greed,
his eagerness for power are revealed as the basic
qualities that led to murder and destruction. He
concentrates on hunting and breaking away from the
order created by Ralph to gratify his pleasure. Golding
does not intent to picture Jack as basically evil, as he
states that Jack is a boy of anger, violence, and action
and wants to be a leader.
Golding has made this exposition of cruelty in his novel
probably to make his readers aware of what he deemed
the real nature of the human mind. He may be believed
that World War II did not present us with issues such as
fighting, nationalism, politics, and freedom; it corrupted
the nature of human beings. Perhaps Golding also
believed that the earth is mangled by men and can be
saved only if men become aware of his nature and
changes it. According to the view point of Golding, the
most alarming quality of evil is that it can attract most of
100 Int. J. English Lit.
the people towards it, because most people are attracted
to the joys of life and are loath rational thinking. Golding
also relates evil with fear which often causes risky
activities (Kermode, 1962: 201).
Another important aspect of evil shown in the novel is
that it does not exist outside; only Simon can feel the
truth of evil when he says that the beast might be within
us. The other boys are afraid of the beast. It is displayed
to Simon alone that evil in the form of beast is just an
illusion. Golding feels that evil does not emerge out of
some political or other systems; therefore, removal of a
particular system does not ensure removal of evil. He
argues against those who think that it is the political or
other systems that create evil. Evil comes from the
depths of man himself.
Golding is almost obsessed with the existence of evil in
the nature of human being and emphasizes on the
recognition of this nature on the basis of which one may
take steps to exterminate it. He is not concerned with
human nature in a particular time or with a particular type
of people, though occasional references are taken from
contemporary (mid-twentieth century) world and the boys
in the novel are all British schoolboys. Golding, however,
avoids making any specific quality of British boys and the
boys might as well belong to any modern civilized
The Theme of Childhood (Potential Savagery of
Lord of the Flies is a novel about the activities of some
schoolboys who ranged between six and twelve and who
had been dropped by an aeroplane on an uninhabited
island. The subject matter of the novel shows similarities
with the adventurous stories written in the 19th century.
Those stories are romantic tales which stress on the
discovery of the unknown land by the boys who are away
from the Christian notion of original sin. But Lord of the
Flies is a reconstruction of Ballantyne's Coral Island in
which three Britishschool boys find out an uninhabited
island which becomes a paradise for them.
Golding does not share the romantic ideas that portray
children the status of innocent angels. According to him,
children possess both good qualities and bad ones as do
grown-ups. And in both cases only a few possess good
qualities like love, fellow feeling, sympathy, and pit. In this
novel, Simon alone is called innocent. He is full of love,
pity and sympathy for others. He brings ripe fruit for the
littluns, offers his own share of meat to Piggy to whom it
was denied and thinks that the supposed beast might be
some ill man who could not even chase the boys that
went so near him. But the other boys, even Ralph and
Piggy who are noted for rationality and intelligence, do
not possess the characteristic qualities of Simon.
The novel Lord of the Flies does not however present
the views unexamined. Rather, it is the result of the
author's microscopic observation of the changes in the
thoughts of the boys and their ways of life. Even the
skilled changes in their behavior do not decamp his eyes.
The investigation by the author of the complex
phenomenon called child becomes interesting because
he makes this investigation fair and objective, and
detects the psychological complexity through symbols.
For instance, when Ralph threw his school uniform and
felt comfortable in the tropical atmosphere, the gesture
expressed his delight of freedom, as he was sure that
there would be no strict discipline on the island (Bernard,
1965: 481).
Golding's hold on child psychology is further disclosed
in the way he depicts the flickers of goodness in evil
characters and vice versa. He curiously observes that
Jack, the personification of evil, hesitates to kill a pig
during their first discovery of the island, because he is still
unwilling to meet bloodshed. Piggy who is noted for his
intelligence and commonsense becomes deceptive when
he explains that Simon's death is just accident. Unlike the
believers in golden childhood theory, Golding admires the
role of discipline and order in developing a child's moral
sense. And once the children have undergone a
disciplined life, they take time to forget all about the moral
codes they were taught. Thus, Roger fails to satisfy his
agonized pleasure by throwing stones at Henry.
The author is a realist, and he finds that both the
grown-up and the children contained evil qualities as well
as good, but evil is always prominent. As some critics
have rightly observed, the island gives the children
freedom to find out themselves and it is given as a testing
ground for the inherent goodness or evil. When the
children in the novel are set free from the restriction and
control of the adult world, their natural impulses surface
and reveal their lust for power and savagery. This
revelation of brutality is found in human nature. Surely,
love and sympathy are displayed ـــــــــ one may remember
Simon's love and pity, but these are insufficient. The
death of Simon alone indicates the depravity in the nature
of human being as does the death of Piggy who related
to rules and order almost fanatically.
The behavior of the boys as explained is natural. To
say that these descriptions are simple is not correct. The
reaction of the boys would be the same anywhere, be it a
romantic novel or realistic. Golding's acute observation of
the children's way of life enabled him to put side by side
both the spontaneous joys of life and the intolerance and
hostility towards others. Thus Golding adds an extra
dimension to a common, life-like incident enabling it to
interpret his point of view about the power hungry nature
of human being. In this way the theme of the potential
savagery of children in Golding's novel reveals a clarity of
sign and intention that offers it a new dimension of
interest and oblige the readers to accept the psychological
reality as true to life (Golding 17, 24).
The Theme of Human Civilization
The view point of Golding about the innate evil in human
beings is known; he is often regarded as a pessimist
having a negative way of looking at life, though he
repeatedly refuses that he is not a pessimist. His view of
human civilization that appears largely in the background
of the children's world on the island, apparently offers no
flicker of hope. The different aspects of the adult's world
as reflected in Lord of the Flies may be discussed in the
following way: first, there was the atomic war that
presupposed the school children dropped on an
uninhabited island; secondly, occasional references to
bomb, firing and so on, that point at the cruelty of the
grown-up people; thirdly, the fluffy suggestions of the
boy's unhappy family life and lastly, the presentation of
chauvinism as the remains of colonial feelings mirrored in
the naval officer's speech at the end (Santwana, 2010:
To start with the atomic war that serves as the setting
of the novel, it is horrifying. It is the atomic war in Europe
that had not yet taken place in reality, but is apprehended
to break out at any moment. Some schoolboys projected
in the novel were apparently rescued in that nuclear war
and they were dropped on an uninhabited island. This
frightening vision at once differentiates Golding's novel
from Coral Island and other books of adventure. When
the grown-up world of is set aflame putting a question
mark on the future of mankind, any kind of adventure or
exploration is rendered absurd. The implied irony is that
when the adults are engaged in warfare and destroy
cities and towns, how can one expect the children to
establish a paradise on the island?
The boys had already learnt about wars, machine guns,
bombs, and so on, from the adults before they are
dropped on the island. Wars and other negative aspects
such as deception related to wars smashed the old facts
and values, and thus innocence has already been gone.
Memories of these evils remain with all the children .
Ironically, the boys on the deserted island would be
rescued by a naval officer who represents British
chauvinism. The arrival of the officer denotes that Piggy's
anticipation may be wrong, that the world of grown-ups is
not yet extinct despite the atomic war and several plane
crashes. But it is also evident that the world is not
promoted to some better place. The naval officer is still
proud of the British ways of life. He is unaware that the
evil is already inside the boys, that evil remains in the
mind of human beings irrespective of nationality, that the
wars were simply the outward eruptions of that evil
(MacCaffrey 1967: 23).
Thus Lord of the Flies can be seen a critique of modern
civilization. Golding's view of civilization and the innate
evil in heart of human being might be understood as a
token of his pessimism. But a flicker of optimism is
revealed through Ralph who is concerned with the
Alnajm 101
fundamental values of life. Ralph sensed that things are
disintegrating and sanity is breaking up, and he tried in
vain to put things in order. In fact, Golding believes that
the world needs to be rebuilt. And the foundation of this
rebuilding has to be a blending of system and human
The theme of sin and expiation
Lord of the Flies, allegorically, depicts the eternal theme
of the conflict between evil and goodness, a conflict in
which evil is the winner in the first round and then, the
table is suddenly turned and the goodness that still
remains is saved; sin is also expiated. The children in the
novel symbolize good or bad qualities, though they are at
the same time capable of growth. From the beginning
good and evil are demarcated. Simon is still full of human
qualities in addition to intellectual and spiritual qualities.
He brought good fruits for the littluns, supported Piggy
and undertook difficult job for the benefit of other; again,
he used logic to prove that Piggy had also contributed to
making the fire by lending his glasses. His intuition told
him that Ralph would survive and his spiritual quality is
evident in his understanding that there is no beast
outside and that evil lies in the mind of human beings.
Simon is contrasted with Jack, Roger and Maurice who
symbolize jealousy, eagerness for power and cruelty.
The wailing of Ralph for the end of innocence shows
the theme of sin and expiation. He had earlier accepted
the liability of being a party to Simon's killing. He told
Piggy that the figure that was killed might not be the
beast they had witnessed on the mountain top, for the
figure was much smaller. He also heard something
uttered by the dying figure that seemed to tell something
about a dead body on the mountain top but his voice was
lost under the war cry of the hunters. The voice of
goodness and of spiritual reality had been drowned by
the mad cry of tumult, harshness and superstition when
Jesus was crucified. Later on the people had to expiate
for their sin inherent in them in order to be saved.
Simon can be read also as the figure of Christ a in the
novel. It is him who obtained the real knowledge ــــ he
found out that the supposed beast on the mountain top
was nothing but the dead body of an airman tied to a
parachute, and he also released the body, yet he did not
get opportunity to communicate the knowledge to others.
He was mercilessly killed by the hunters who were in
frenzy and who were freed from logic and understanding.
Critics almost accept the point that Simon's death is
sacrifice and he is most likely a reference the Christ
figure (Boyd, 1988: 17).
In addition to Simon's sacrifice and the expiation of
Ralph for his sin, there also seems to be other Christian
elements in the novel, the most important of which are
the image of the Garden of Eden and the fantasy of the
102 Int. J. English Lit.
Lord of the Flies' scene. The island has all the features of
the Garden of Eden. Golding in his novel implies that
when a human being is surrounding by various kinds of
comfort and luxury and without government and parental
rules, it will lead to destruction and corruption. For that
reason the boys on the island have begun to foil
everything; they have even killed their friends. Not only
this, they have chased the pig and cut its head and put it
on a spear. The sow's head on the stick, which is called
lord of the flies, directly refers to Beelzebub who was also
called Lord of the Flies.
The head of the pig was actually offered to the
supposed beast (in fact, a dead air-man tied to a
parachute) by Jack and the dripping head magnetized
lots of flies around it and became literally a lord of flies.
The fictitious conversation between Simon, the Christ
figure, and the lord of the flies referring to Beelzebub
allegorically presents the struggle between goodness and
evil. First of all, the Lord of the Flies entices Simon asking
him to join the Jack's party and have fun. When Simon is
not tempted, the Lord of the Flies intimidates him telling
him that he would be killed by Jack and his party. For the
Christian temptation and threatening are the two main
ways used by forces of evil to defect good towards them;
Satan inveigled Eve and her husband in the Garden of
Eden and brought the downfall of human beings. Christ
also met the devil in the desert. The scene that describes
Simon's meeting with the Lord of the Flies is like the
scene in the Bible where Christ meets the devil in the
desert. The saintly persons cannot be deceived; they are,
therefore, threatened and even eventually murdered by
the evil forces. Nevertheless, though all these references
states the Christian theme, Golding's approach to the
problems of his age is clearly distinct from other Christian
works (Kinkead, 1967: 25).
The religious dimension of the works of Goldingـــــــ his
preoccupation with the Biblical theme of the collapse of
human being ــــــــ has been noted by almost all the critics.
For instance, John S. Whitley says that "Lord of the Flies
is governed by the idea that the man is a fallen creature"
(Whitley, 1970: 7). It cannot be rejected that Golding's
major preoccupation was the fall of man, and at the same
time, he expresses his concern for the possible way out
of this fallen condition through the development of human
feelings. That is why he did not like to be described as a
pessimist. He would rather like to be called a realist.
The novel Lord of the Flies is an allegorical novel which
talks about the conflict between the impulse toward
civilization and impulse toward savagery that rages within
each human being. It also concerns the breakdown of
civilization as resulting from nothing more complex than
the inherent evil of man. Lord of the Flies is a novel to
embody the meaning of rationalism and intellect, for
example, Piggy in spite of his weak attitude and his weak
eyes always try to convince his friend that he can achieve
something for them by following their minds. Sometimes,
we can see William Golding as a religious novelist in his
writing as for example, in Lord of the Flies, Simon
represents goodness and saintliness. This displays that
Golding writes his first novel Lord of the Flies to deal with
several prominent and important side of our life and the
religious dimension.
Conflict of Interests
The author has not declared any conflict of interests.
Boyd SJ (1988).The Novels of William Golding. Sussex. The Harvester
Bernard DF (1965). The Novelist as a Displaced Person. England.
College English.
Golding W (1967). A Critical Study. London. Faber &Faber.
Kermode F (1962). The Novels of William Golding. London. Roultledge
Paul & Kegan.
Kinkead-Weeks, Ian G (1967). A Critical Study. London. Faber &Faber.
MacCaffrey IG (1967). Paradise Lost as Myth. Cambridge. Harvard
University Press.
Santwana H (2010). William Golding's Lord of the Flies. India. Atlantic
Whitley JS (1970). Golding: Lord of the Flies. London .Edward Arnold
Publishers Ltd.
(web) 8/2/2014.
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Cette étude porte sur deux œuvres de la littérature britannique de la seconde moitié du 20ème siècle, à savoir Lord of the Flies (1954), un roman de l’Anglais, William Golding, et une pièce théâtrale, A Slight Ache (1961), de son contemporain et compatriote, Harold Pinter. Prenant appui sur le nihilisme de Nietzsche et sur la théorie poststructuraliste de la mort du sujet rationnel, elle cherche à analyser comment Golding et Pinter, deux écrivains postmodernes, mettent en évidence le vide de l’identité humaine qui s’est révélé suite à l’écroulement du fondement culturel de l’Occident. L’analyse conclut que les deux écrivains usent de stratégies, au premier abord, différentes, mais, au fond, fort comparables pour rendre compte de cette 109 European Scientific Journal November 2017 edition Vol.13, No.32 ISSN: 1857 – 7881 (Print) e - ISSN 1857- 7431 vacuité identitaire. Celle-ci est d’abord exprimée par le vide de l’espace fictionnel, l’état de solitude des personnages et l’absence bien justifiée de repères identitaires réels sur lesquels pourraient s’appuyer les sociétés qu’ils tentent de construire. L’effondrement prévisible de ces sociétés révèle la face singulière de l’homme qui en est la cause, et inaugure le royaume du néant mis en évidence, dans les deux œuvres, par l’image de l’obscurité et du chaos.
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Two works of the mid-twentieth-century British literature form the corpus of this study, namely Lord of the Flies (1954) by the English William Golding and A Slight Ache (1961) by his contemporary and compatriot Harold Pinter. Based on the issue of nihilism as defined by Nietzsche and on the poststructuralist theory of the death of the subject, it aims to analyze how the two postmodern writers, Golding and Pinter, stress the emptiness of the human identity resulting from the collapse of the Western culture. The analysis shows that, in order to reveal this identity vacuity, the two authors make use of strategies at first sight different, but that prove to be basically similar. This identity emptiness is beforehand expressed by the emptiness of the fiction space, the isolation of characters and the justified absence of traditional points of reference that could constitute the base of the societies they attempt to form. The predictable collapse of these societies discloses the strange face of the individual behind it, and unveils the kingdom of nothingness foregrounded, in both works, by the image of darkness and chaos.
Thesis (Ph. D.)--Radcliffe College, 1954.
The Novelist as a Displaced Person
  • D F Bernard
Bernard DF (1965). The Novelist as a Displaced Person. England. College English.
The Novels of William Golding
  • F Kermode
Kermode F (1962). The Novels of William Golding. London. Roultledge Paul & Kegan.
William Golding's Lord of the Flies. India
  • H Santwana
Santwana H (2010). William Golding's Lord of the Flies. India. Atlantic Publishers.
Golding: Lord of the Flies
  • J S Whitley
Whitley JS (1970). Golding: Lord of the Flies. London.Edward Arnold Publishers Ltd.
A Critical Study. London. Faber &Faber Paradise Lost as Myth. Cambridge
  • Ian G Kinkead-Weeks
Kinkead-Weeks, Ian G (1967). A Critical Study. London. Faber &Faber. MacCaffrey IG (1967). Paradise Lost as Myth. Cambridge. Harvard University Press.