William Golding was a man of knowledge, skill, and determination. Despite numerous rejections, he undertook the hard task of putting to words the struggle between our urge to be primal versus our need to adhere to the norms of the society. Here we bring you some of the most notable quotes from his classic novel "Lord of the Flies" and explain their meanings.
Man of his Word(s)!
William Golding’s influential writing has won him the prestigious Nobel Prize for Literature and the coveted Booker Prize for literature in 1983 and 1980, respectively.
When Golding first penned the novel and set out to have his words reach the masses, many publishers turned him down, deeming his work unworthy. But he pushed on, and eventually gave us a classic in the form of the Lord of the Flies, which has covered the complex subject of the inner need to fulfill our primal urges versus the behavioral civility that society has inculcated into us. He shows us how, without societal control and boundaries, the true primal self emerges from within, even in the formative years of childhood. He has portrayed how evil comes from within and is not an individual entity that is detached from ourselves, and how when it manifests, even a child loses his innocence and fights for power and causes destruction.
Ralph- The protagonist and the allegorical presence of order and civilization in humans.
Jack- The antagonist and the allegorical presence of the innate evil and urge to fulfill primal needs.
Piggy- The intellect in the group who uses logic to justify situations.
Simon- The only sign of pure goodness in humans, while none existed around him.
Roger- The sadist and allegory for the savagery within humans.
The Conch Shell- The symbol of democracy and civility amongst the children.
The Beast- Central character that transformed the children and also showed Simon the truth.
Here are some of the important quotes from Lord of the Flies and what they signify.
Quotes Showing Civilization and Order
“Roger gathered a handful of stones and began to throw them. Yet there was a space around Henry, perhaps six yards in diameter, into which he dare not throw. Here,invisible yet strong, was the taboo of the old life. Round the squatting child was the protection of parents and school and policemen and the law.”
― Narrator. (on Roger)
Meaning: Although Roger had the inner urge to hurt the ‘littlun’, as the young boys in the group were called, he was held back by the morals and norms that society had instilled in them, and it felt as if some form of structure still existed, and that the social institutions like law, the cops, parents, and the school were still invisibly guarding Henry from the savage nature that resided within Roger. In other words, it shows us that although on the fence, order still existed somewhere within the children.
“Ralph and Jack looked at each other while society paused about them. The shameful knowledge grew in them and they did not know how to begin confession.”
― Narrator (on Ralph and Jack)
Meaning: While the rest of the children were eager to witness their leaders perform the duty of lighting the fire, Ralph and Jack were too ashamed to admit that neither of them knew how to go about it. This shows us the innocence that was still within them when they had first set foot, or rather ended up on this island, and that they still showed the qualities they had held in civilization and were truly unaware of what they were capable of. Basically, their primal instincts were still unexplored.
“We’ve got to have rules and obey them. After all, we’re not savages.”
Meaning: In the initial stages, the boys had tried to apply what they had learned in a civilized society in this new realm, in order to survive and find a way to return home. So, they came up with a plan to assign specific tasks of hunting, building shelter, and guarding the control fire amongst themselves. And this was voiced by Piggy who was the brains of he group. He pointed out the need for structure, so that they didn’t lose sight of what they had to do in order to cope with their situation.
Quotes Showing Intelligence
“We can use this to call the others. Have a meeting.” ― Piggy
Meaning: Piggy refers to the conch shell that he and Ralph found on the shore. He is smart and knows how to use the things around him to his advantage in order to deal with a situation that he has not experienced before.
“The thing is – fear can’t hurt you more than a dream.”
Meaning: Ralph said this to the boys in the assembly when they are discussing the possibility of a beast residing in the island―a fear voiced by the littluns, and whether this fear was rational. He shows a side of him that can distinguish fear from eminent danger when he tells the boys that fear is just like their nightmares―it enters into their mind and goes away without really harming anyone. He uses logic to guide and protect the members of his group.
“Which is better-to have rules and agree, or to hunt and kill?”
Meaning: When Ralph and Piggy go to Jack’s tribe in order to retrieve the latter’s glasses, Jack and his savage bunch resort to their uncouth ways in response. But trying to reason with them, Piggy tries to summon their conscience by asking them if unity and order was important, or if ruling and being brutal and murderous held more worth. He uses logic to try to handle an already-escalating situation. This also shows us that he still held on to some of the morals he was taught before landing on the island.
Quotes Showing Thirst for Power
“His mind was crowded with memories; memories of the knowledge that had come to them when they closed in on the struggling pig, knowledge that they had outwitted a living thing, imposed their will upon it, taken away its life like a long satisfying drink.”
― Narrator (on Jack)
Meaning: This quote shows us how having power over another living being gave Jack a sense of accomplishment. For him, it is a defining moment in his life, which eventually thrusts him into a world of savagery. Here, meeting one’s primal urges conquered the needs of the general public.
“Startled, Ralph realized that the boys were falling still and silent, feeling the beginnings of awe at the power set free below them. The knowledge and awe made him savage.”
― Narrator (on Ralph)
Meaning: When they lit their first fire that subsequently turned into a disaster, the boys still felt a sense of freedom and power amidst the disruption. The feeling of pleasure that they experienced towards owning such potential is what gave birth to the first signs of their savagery and primal instincts.
Quotes on Savagery
“The forest near them burst into uproar. Demoniac figures with faces of white and red and green rushed out howling, so that the littluns fled screaming.”
― Narrator (on Jack’s tribe)
Meaning: This occurs when Ralph ventures into the area where Jack’s tribe had settled in order to reason with him, only to be faced by this appalling sight. This shows us how the destructive nature of primitivism had engulfed the young boys and had converted them from innocent young boys to crazed and savage animals.
“He began to dance and his laughter became a bloodthirsty snarling.”
― Narrator (on Jack)
Meaning: Jack was only a young boy who, driven by his thirst for thrills and hunting, slowly but surely turned into a savage who was now partaking in savage dance rituals, face painting, and hunting.
“Ralph, under the threat of the sky, found themselves eager to take a place in this demented but partly secure society.”
― Narrator (on Ralph)
Meaning: When all the boys gathered for the feast, they partook in Jack’s barbarous rituals, and Ralph couldn’t help but feel like he wanted to be a part of this too. Conflicting with his ideals, he felt that though the things they were doing would be looked down upon in a normal society, the boys themselves were a part of an exclusive society of their own that gave them a sense of belonging and excitement, even if it was highly unconventional.
Quotes on Inner Evil
“He tried to convey the compulsion to track down and kill that was swallowing him up.”
― Narrator (on Jack)
Meaning: Jack was the first to demonstrate how the primitive needs of man and the evil they are capable of came from the inside, and how it takes over the person’s being. His need to hunt, kill, harm, and have a sense of power over another being was so strong that he found it hard to fight it.
“The desire to squeeze and hunt was overmastering.”
― Narrator (on Ralph)
Meaning: Watching Jack, Ralph realized that he too had the urge to harm and kill a beast, just to feel the exhilaration. This instinctive quality is something that is within us, and that is what Golding tries to convey.
“There was a slight, furtive boy whom no one knew, who kept to himself with an inner intensity of avoidance and secrecy.”
― Narrator (on Roger)
Meaning: This was a reference made to Roger who finds pleasure in hurting others, and whose inner sadism was fueled further by Jack’s growing attraction to primitivism and support of dangerous and violent acts. His evil nature was initially kept at bay by the civility that society had imposed on him. But with the growing recklessness around him, he too succumbed to his primal urges.
Quotes on The Beast
“What I mean is… maybe it’s only us.” ― Simon
Meaning: Simon was the only one who had figured out that the beast that everyone feared and thought to exist, was not a separate entity, but it could be something that resided within all of them. The beast was a personified version of their own inner demons, and the internal conflicts they faced had manifested itself as a “beast”.
“There isn’t anyone to help you. Only me. And I’m the Beast. . . . Fancy thinking the Beast was something you could hunt and kill! . . . You knew, didn’t you? I’m part of you? Close, close, close! I’m the reason why it’s no go? Why things are the way they are?”
― The Beast/Lord of the Flies (Pig head)
Meaning: When Simon found the pig’s head stuck on the spear and dripping with blood, he experienced a hallucination where the pig head, which he named the “Lord of the Flies” (because of the numerous flies swarming around the head) spoke to him, telling him that there never really was an external beast and confirmed his belief that the demon really did lay within the individual. He also tells Simon that he would have some “fun” with him, which was a foreshadowing of his subsequent death.
“Kill the beast! Cut his throat! Spill his blood!”
― The boys (thinking Simon was the Beast)
Meaning: The boys had become so obsessed with the idea of the beast that they had convinced themselves that it existed. When Simon returned from his realization to inform the boys of the truth, they mistook him for the beast and killed him. The beast had taken over their lives, and eventually this fixation on an evil form was nothing but the projection of their inner self. Thus, the “beast-hunters” now became the beasts.
Quotes on the Loss of Innocence
“This was murder.”
Meaning: After realizing what they had done to Simon, Ralph voiced what no one dared say, let alone admit. What had started out as a group of innocent lost boys, turned into a bloodthirsty, disturbed group of barbarians.
“The breaking of the conch and the deaths of Piggy and Simon lay over the island like a vapor. These painted savages would go further and further.”
― Narrator (on Deaths of Piggy and Simon)
Meaning: The conch, which was once a symbol of democracy and order amongst the boys, was now shattered. This symbolically showed the breaking of civilization and the onslaught of savagery. To add to that, the brutal killings of Simon and Piggy showed us that the boys were no longer excited and innocent beings, instead they had turned into murderous, frenzied creatures.
“Ralph wept for the end of innocence, the darkness of man’s heart, and the fall through the air of the true, wise friend called Piggy.”
― Narrator (on Ralph)
Meaning: The final scene involves Jack trying to hunt Ralph down, and while the latter avoids him, Jack lights the forest on fire in order to wipe his opponent out. Ralph escapes and lands on the beach, where he is faced by a naval officer who had come to investigate the forest fire that had started. When the officer questions them about their conditions and the incidents that took place on the island, he is shocked by the revelation and reprimands them. Ralph finally breaks down when he realizes what they had become, leading to the sobbing of the rest of the group too. The boys have lost their friends, ideals, and innocence in their quest for adventure and power.