A flock of English boys of various upbringings find themselves stranded on what appears to be an idyllic, deserted island after an evacuation gone wrong. A war has broken out and a nuclear bomb has been dropped. The children, being brought together in the now shot-down evacuation plane, are from various upbringings; Ralph, who is from a middle-class home, Piggy, who is a fat orphan who wears glasses, he is also the most intelligent of them but lack any social skills, Simon, the youngest of the older boys, Sam and Eric, who are twins and acts like one, the choir from the cathedral school, led by Jack Merridew, and a bunch of younger kids about 6 or 7 years old who later become known by the general title of “littluns”. The older boys are around 10 to13 years old.
The kids think the island is a paradise like the one the kids in the book Coral Island are stranded on. At the first of the many assemblies held on the island, which is called by Ralph with a conch, the boys elect Ralph as their leader, clearly to the dislike of Jack, his ‘rival’ in the game of voting. Jack later decides to take his choir with him to hunt wild pigs. His first attempt to kill a pig fails, but he promises himself he will do it better “next time”. At a later assembly it is decided that ‘whoever holds the conch gets to speak’. A little boy with a birthmark on his face claims he has seen a beast on the island. The older boys quickly dismiss the idea of a beast as a vivid nightmare, but the littluns are not comforted with this logical explanation. Jack stresses that they need skilled hunters to catch the wild pigs on the island. Ralph suggests they must make a fire to attract any passing boats if they are to have any hope of being rescued. The boys hurry off to the nearby mountain, inspired by this hint of intelligence. But when it is time to light the fire, they must admit that they didn’t think about how they should light it. Jack takes Piggy’s specks and Ralph fumbles to light the fire with it. The fire gets out of hand however, and some of the nearby forest is ignited. Piggy criticises the other boys’ carelessness and Jack tells him to ‘shut his face’. Piggy notices that the little boy with the birthmark is missing. He was probably killed in the fire. The boys decide that the choir shall be responsible for keeping a small fire going, taking shifts two at the time.
A few days later Ralph and Simon is working on the third hut on the beach, the other boys having lost interest during the building of the second. Ralph complains about the boys’ lack of interest in building shelters for the rain to Jack, but Jack once again stresses that hunting pigs are more important. Piggy keeps to himself, avoiding manual labour at all cost. Simon walks off into the forest during the argument, and, after he has picked some berries for some of the littluns that they couldn’t reach, finds an open spot in the forest where he meditates.
Roger and Maurice knock over some sandcastles built by the littluns on their way to the water. Roger stays behind and watches one of them named Henry, who is the closest the littluns come to a leader, ordering some jellyfish around with a stick. Roger starts to throw rocks at him but misses intentionally. Still affected by the outside civilization. He is interrupted by Jack, who calls him over to show him how he intends to paint his face for hunting pigs. Jack imagines this “mask” separates him from the outside world. Later, Jack and his hunters manage to hunt down a pig and kill it. Proud of this achievement they walk back to the camp only to be yelled at by Ralph for not watching the fire. It turns out a boat passed while the fire was out. Jack again quarrels with Ralph, arguing that hunting is more important than being rescued. When Piggy joins the argument, Jack punches him and breaks one lens of his glasses. The fire is relit and the pig roasted. Piggy asks for some meat and is given a slab by Simon. Jack gets upset because he intended to ascertain his power by letting Piggy beg. The hunters perform a re-enactment of the hunt, with Maurice playing the role of the pig.
Some time later, Ralph decides that it is time they. He calls an assembly with the conch, having recited the speech he is about to make for himself, afraid that this assembly will turn into a game like the others. At the assembly, Ralph complains that no work is getting done. He tries to make the others understand that keeping the fire alive is the most important thing they can do, but he stumbles for words. The hunters laugh at the idea that they “ought to die before [they] let the fire out”. Ralph tries to settle the matter of the beast, but one of the little boys once again claims to have seen the beast, this time spotting that the beast came from the water. The beast he saw was in fact only Simon, but he doesn’t know that. Simon suggests that the beast is in fact only themselves, but the others mock this idea. The assembly is broken up after Jack claims Ralph isn’t a good chief because he can’t sing or hunt.
While Samneric, which the twins are now known as, are watching the fire, a man from a shot-down plane in a parachute lands next to them. He was already dead during his descent. The twins run to the beach and talks about the ‘beast from air’. Jack and his hunters set out to hunt it together with Ralph. During the hunt they come to a rocky place on the island where they have never been before. Jack recognizes that it would make a great fort, with boulders to roll down a slope to ward of intruders. During the hunt, a new re-enactment of a pig hunt is performed with Robert as the pig, this time Ralph actively participates. During the dance around Robert, the boys become absorbed in the frenzy and Robert is physically hurt. They later run back to the beach when they see the dead body they think is the beast.
Back on the beach, Ralph points out that Jack’s hunters are nothing more than “boys armed with sticks”. Hurt by this, Jack calls an assembly with the conch. Jack criticises Ralph, calling him a coward and asks who wants Jack as chief instead. Loyal to Ralph, the boys don’t answer and Jack runs away with tears in his eyes. With Jack gone, Piggy dares to air his ideas. He points out that since the beast watches over the mountain, the fire could be on the beach instead. Inspired by this brilliant idea, the boys hurry of to gather firewood. But when the fire is lit, Ralph notices that most of the older boys are gone, lured away by Jack. Left on the beach are the littluns, Ralph, Piggy, Samneric and Simon.
Jack and his tribe come across the mother pig and Jack, who now has a painted face constantly, kills her. The head is impaled on a stick sharpened on both ends, which is jammed in a crack in the ground. Jack says that the head is a gift for the beast. Later, having realised that they don’t have any means of roasting the pig, they raid Ralph’s camp and steal a flaming log. They invite them to a feast, but Ralph insists the fire is more important, but has to be reminded why by Piggy. Simon, who watched the impaling of the pigs head, stays behind and examines it. He notices the flies flying around it; it is the Lord of the Flies. The head talks to him and mocks him. The Lord of the Flies says that the beast is part of them all, even Simon, and says that the other boys, including Ralph and Piggy, will kill him if he mentions it. Simon faints and wakes up the day after. While he is making his way to the others he sees the parachute on the top of the mountain and realises that the beast is really a dead pilot. Meanwhile, Ralph and the others have joined Jack’s feast, and another dance portraying a hunt is carried out. Lacking someone to play the part of the pig the centre of the circle is empty. At this point Simon appears in the woods and is recognised to be the beast by the littluns. He finds himself in the middle of the circle and is beaten to death. Even Piggy and Ralph partakes. Simon’s dead body is washed out to sea while the dead pilot’s parachute is caught by the wind. He looms over the boys for a second before he drifts out into the sea.
Back in the old base on the beach, Ralph and Piggy talks about Simon’s death. Piggy dismisses it as an accident and say they weren’t even part of it, but Ralph isn’t comforted. The twins also claim they weren’t part of the murder. At the same time, Jack and his followers is guarding the fort he found earlier. Roger is watching a lever shoved under a big rock. Jack beats up a boy just to show what happens if someone disobeys him. The fire from the feast the previous day has died out and they decide to raid Ralph’s camp. That night, Ralph and Piggy are woken up by the intruders. They steal Piggy’s glasses and runs away, leaving him almost blind. Ralph calls an assembly and suggests they might be able to demand the specs back since they aren’t savages and rescue isn’t a game. Piggy says he will talk to Jack while holding the conch. Ralph, Samneric and Piggy starts to walk. Piggy, looking straight down in order to make out where he is going, carries the conch with him. At the fort, they are spotted by Roger who orders them to halt. Ralph calls Jack a thief for stealing Piggy’s glasses. Jack orders his followers to tie up the twins, which they do. Ralph and Jack starts to fight but Piggy interrupts them. Piggy, speaking up against Jack for the first time, holds up the conch and asks if it is better to have “law and rescue, or hunting and breaking things up”. Roger suddenly sends a boulder down the slope. Ralph sees it and darts away, but Piggy who can’t see is hit. The conch breaks and Piggy is sent flying off into the sea. Hesitating for a while, Jack leaps up and says that’s what rebels will get. He hurls a spear at Ralph, which hits him in the ribs. Ralph runs away and hides in the forest.
Ralph waits till night and then approaches the fort spotting that Samneric are keeping watch. They tell him about Jacks plan to hunt down Ralph the next day and says that Roger has sharpened a stick in both ends. Ralph doesn’t understand what this means. He walks into the forest and come across the head on the stick. Enraged, he lashes out at it and it is split in two. He stays there, afraid to fall asleep. He wishes they were still just obedient schoolboys. The next day he hears a chant from the fort: “Kill the beast…” The boys have formed an unbroken line across the island and plan to flush him out by setting the island on fire. Ralph frantically runs away from them and manages to dart through the line when Roger finds his hiding place. He runs towards the beach and almost run into a Naval Officer standing there who was attracted by the fire. He believes it must have been like Coral Island, but is shocked to hear that two kids have been killed. He can’t understand why the English boys couldn’t “put up a better show”. Ralph starts to cry for Piggy’s death and the Naval Officer turns away embarrassed. The island is now completely burnt by the fire.
In contrast to the other books William Golding has clearly been inspired by, like Coral Island by R. M. Ballantyne, the civilizations the boys form at the beginning of the book quickly falls apart and the boys revert to savagery while originally being civilized English boys. At the beginning of the book they are in fact proud that “[They] are not savages, [they] are English”. The beginning of the book starts out quite optimistically with a leader being elected and shelters and a fire being built being; signs off the beginning of a society. But already at this point it is evident that not all is as it should be. The fire at the beginning and the disappearance of the little boy with the birthmarks are signs that the island isn’t quite the paradise the boys think it is. And the juicy berries that the boys eat turn out to give them diarrhoea, clearly something is different from the islands they read about when they were younger. The shape of the island foreshadows what will happen; it is shaped like a boat, which is commonly recognized as a symbol of civilization, but an optical illusion makes it appear to move slowly forwards for a while, which is what their civilization does as well.
The quarrels between Jack and Ralph throughout the book show us that they are both strong leader, but they can only have one and Jack is hurt that it isn’t him. Piggy is also a leader, being the most intelligent among them, but he is afraid to speak up to Jack. Jack, who is more concerned with hunting than being rescued, instead becomes the leader of the hunters which previously where his choir. He takes pleasure in controlling them and tries to keep them away from Ralph’s governing by stating that hunting is most important. Ralph, who doesn’t really want to be a leader, realises that in order to be rescued they must cooperate, he therefore stand up for Jack and stresses that keeping the fire going should be their first priority. It is obvious to think that Jack and Ralph represent two different sides of man; the ’civilized’ and the ‘savage’. This becomes all the more evident when Jack paints his face and hunts around in the forest. Ralph, on the other hand, recognises their own filth and longs for a haircut. Ralph is in fact the only boy we learn thinks about his previous life in the ‘outside world’ apart from the littlun Percival Wemys Madison who remembers his full name throughout the entire book, but he too forgets it in the end. Ralph still remembers, but his memory becomes more and more distant throughout the book. His memory could in fact be said to be a symbol of the state of the island. At the beginning he remembers everything that has happened before, the ponies he used to feed and the books in his shelf, which he remembers vividly. He also talks ‘fine’ English in the beginning, coming from a middle-class home. But when the first troubles emerge on the island, his memory starts to slip. He searches for words when he speaks. Later, he even has to be remembered what the fire is for by Piggy. He even forgets about the fire, which is strange since it is the most important thing according to him
There are many other things that could symbolise the state of the society on the island, none the least the state of the island itself. At the beginning, before the crash, it is pure and untouched by man, then, when the passenger tube crashes on the island, it gets a small scare. Then the first fire is the first sign of decay in the boys’ society, the fire being a result of their carelessness. The Ralph notices the filth around the island, not just the filthy clothes and unwashed hair of the boys themselves, but excrements lying around all over the beach and forest, caused by the berries. Finally the whole forest is left scorched by the fire, symbolizing the final crumbles of the civilization which would have ended with Ralph’s death had it not been for the Naval Cruiser which spotted the fire. Piggy’s glasses and his eyesight also reflect the state of their society, but they also reflect the situation of Piggy himself. The glasses are in perfect condition at the beginning and so is their society, but Piggy cleans them constantly to be able to see clearly, just like how Ralph tries to control the boys. And Piggy sometimes shows signs of being blind to what is happening. Piggy’s constant cleaning of his glasses could symbolize Ralph’s attempts to keep the society together. Piggy sees clearly with the glasses at the beginning and he also sees that the other boys are “acting like a bunch of kids”, the only one who does. Then, one of the lenses is broken by Jack. Jack has also started to break up the society at this point by keeping his hunters separate from the others. With only one lens Piggy can only see with “one eye”. It is at this point Piggy starts to become less criticising. He doesn’t understand that Jack will eventually completely break up the society with his actions. Then, when his glasses are stolen and he can’t see more than a feet in front of him, he has already lost focus on what is happening in their society. He convinces himself that Simon’s death was only an accident and that he himself had no part in it. When the glasses are stolen their society has almost completely collapsed. With Piggy, Ralph and Samneric being the only ones who still think about being rescued, and Ralph even has to be reminded about it a few times. Also, Piggy constantly wipes his glasses. This could symbolize Ralph’s continuous attempts to maintain order. The conch, which symbolizes the civilized assemblies, is recognised by all except Jack, who dismisses Ralph’s attempts to maintain order. Later, Jack’s followers turn their backs to the conch, symbolising how they turn away from civilization. Finally, the conch is also broken. At which point the boys don’t follow any rules from the outside civilization, only those of Jack’s.
It is obvious that the author wants to show us what can (and probably will) happen if we aren’t restricted by outside civilization. “The Beast” is in all of us. Piggy is the first to realise this, but he quickly dismisses the idea because he doesn’t believe it. Simon also realises it but the others mock him for it. Simon, who is the kindest of the boys on the island, could be a symbol for what is righteous and good. The pig’s head, the Lord of the Flies, symbolizes evil. When the two meet each other it is a confrontation between good and evil. The Lord of the Flies convinces Simon that evil is in all of them and Simon becomes disillusioned and faints. Evil has conquered.