Lord of the Flies Book Summary - Lord of the Flies Book explained in key points
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Lord of the Flies summary

William Golding

A Dystopian Classic on the Dark Side of Human Nature and Survival

4.6 (58 ratings)
19 mins
Table of Contents

    Lord of the Flies
    summarized in 5 key ideas

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    Key idea 1 of 5

    Ralph and Jack: Civilization vs. savagery.

    Shortly after emerging from the wreckage of the plane, Ralph runs into the innocent and reasonable Piggy. While exploring the island, they discover a conch shell; Ralph blows into it, creating a deep and loud sound which alerts the other kids to their location. With everyone gathered around, it’s time for the stranded boys to take stock of their situation, and plan out their next move.

    Things start out well enough. After a democratic vote, Ralph is chosen as the leader of the group, winning out against the ambitious Jack. To keep order, they agree on a rule that someone can only speak while holding the conch shell. With leadership and order established, Ralph starts allocating jobs: Sending a group to check out the island, starting a fire, building shelter.

    However, it isn’t long until tensions emerge – particularly between Ralph and Jack. Firstly, Jack and his team of hunters fail in their duty to keep the fire lit. Secondly, there is disagreement over an alleged beast hiding somewhere on the island: Ralph is skeptical about its existence, while Jack insists that it is there, and he shall kill it.

    As Jack grows more savage and obsessed with killing the beast, more of the boys start following him. Some out of the promise of meat, others out of fear of the supposed beast. Those who don’t join him are tortured or killed by Jack and his crew – Piggy is crushed by a giant rock, which also destroys the conch shell.

    In the final dramatic moments of the book, Ralph remains the only boy not under the influence of Jack. He runs through the island, dodging spears, pursued by Jack and his crew. He would surely be killed like Piggy, but at the last minute he runs into a Naval patrol officer who had been attracted by the fire. This marks the end of Ralph’s struggles; and the end of the book.


    The main element we see here is the power struggle and influence of Ralph and Jack, which serves to highlight one of the main themes of Lord of the Flies: Civilization vs. savagery. To understand what’s going on through this part of the story, you need to look at the role of the simple conch shell.

    From the beginning, Ralph uses this to maintain order. It calls the group together in the first place, and they use it to stop everyone talking over each other. It is the perfect symbol of structure in society and the idea that if everyone agrees to do their part and follow the rules, then the system will work.

    At one point, as the group begins to argue from fear and paranoia, Ralph considers blowing the conch, but stops, saying: “If I blow the conch and they don’t come back… we’ll be like animals” Piggy, the voice of reason, replies: “But if you don’t blow, we’ll soon be animals anyway.” If we don’t at least try to maintain order, then savagery will win out.

    Which is what we see in the character of Jack. From the start he tries to undemocratically appoint himself leader, and is continuously obsessed with power and violence. As the group stops following Ralph and the rule of the conch, the boys descend further into depravity. This reaches its logical conclusion when Jack and his crew kill Piggy (the voice of reason) and destroy the conch (the symbol of order).

    So, what’s the message here? Just below the safety of our social order, lies a primal savagery that will break out if those rules aren’t protected.

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    What is Lord of the Flies about?

    Lord of the Flies (1954) is the allegorical story of a group of young boys stranded on a deserted island and left to fend for themselves and create a society. As the boys struggle with the complexities of leadership, cooperation, and survival, they are forced to face some fundamental questions about human nature and the fragility of civilization.

    Who should read Lord of the Flies?

    • Readers looking for fresh eyes on an old classic
    • Literature lovers who somehow never got around to this important book
    • Anyone looking for insight into the nature of society and the humans who build it

    About the Author

    William Golding was a Nobel Prize-winning British novelist, playwright, and poet. While best-known for Lord of the Flies, he also published 12 other novels, including The Inheritors and Rites of Passage. Golding was knighted in 1988 for his contribution to literature.

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