How to Teach Lord of the Flies

William Golding's dystopian novel Lord of the Flies deals with difficult topics, such as the dark side of human nature, loss of innocence, and constant tension as characters vie for power. As students follow the story of a group of British schoolboys stuck on a remote island, they will analyze the struggle between the need to maintain civilization and the human desire for power.

This book is largely an allegorical work, meaning students must think about its meaning on multiple levels. While students are reading, it is important that they think not only about what the characters represent in the novel itself, but also what they symbolize in terms of humanity and society as a whole.

As students read Lord of the Flies, they may question what it means to be a human being and begin to think about the separation between society and primal wilderness. Though this book deals with several heavy themes, it remains a manageable work that will provoke thoughtful discussions about human nature and mankind overall.

Summary

In the midst of a wartime evacuation, a group of British schoolboys becomes stranded on an isolated island on which their plane crashes. After a boy named Ralph summons the other survivors, he is elected as their "chief," though Jack, a leader of the boys' choir when they were in England, refuses to submit to his leadership. Soon, Ralph and Jack split the boys into two physical and philosophical "camps," each fighting for control of the island and the other group. The boys fear a mysterious monster called "the beast,"" a mysterious entity that they believe is also on the island and resort to savage, primitive methods to appease this nonexistent “beast.” As their loose system of rules begins to unravel, the island becomes increasingly dangerous, and boys must fight to survive.

Lord of the Flies

Lord of the Flies

Paperback

Free from the rules of society, young British boys marooned on an idyllic island struggle with a dilemma: Should they create a working civilization or give in to their savage instincts? The choice is made more difficult because of rivalries, dreams, dangers, and desperation.

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Content Warning

This novel contains several violent scenes and descriptions, including the savage killing of two young boys by the other characters. The novel also depicts the ritualistic slaughter of a sow, during which its head is removed and placed on a stake.

Objectives for Teaching Lord of the Flies

  • Explain how this novel functions as an allegory.
  • Analyze the psychological behaviors depicted in this novel, including mob mentality and groupthink.
  • Discuss the role human nature plays in the novel.
  • Understand the symbolic nature of the character, "the Lord of the Flies."
  • Explain how the novel functions as a loss-of-innocence story.
  • Clarify the symbolism of the different boys and of various objects on the island.

Key Elements and Techniques

  • Allegory
  • Foreshadowing
  • Irony
  • Metaphor
  • Microcosm
  • Personification
  • Symbolism

Themes and Motifs

  • Power — The novel explores the struggle for power and control that ensues after the boys form a new society.
  • Human Nature — The constant tension between civilization and power provides insights into the darker side of human nature.
  • Innocence and Experience — Through their struggle to survive, the boys experience a loss of innocence, especially given the violence acts they commit towards each other.
  • Freedom vs. Survival — Which seems more important to the groups: rescue or autonomy?

Key Facts

  • Length: 208 pages
  • Publication Date: 1954
  • Recommended Grade Band: 9-10

Awards

  • 100 Best English Literature Novels from 1923-2005
  • Nobel Prize for Literature (William Golding) in 1983

Movies

Lord of the Flies has been adapted into a movie twice, once in 1963 by Peter Brook and once in 1990 by Harry Hook. The most recent film adaptation is available on DVD, and it is rated R for graphic violence, disturbing images, some language, and brief nudity. The 1963 black and white version is the more critically acclaimed of the two; the National Board or Review named it one of the Top Ten Films of the Year. Teachers should be advised that both films have dark themes and violent depictions.

Watch the trailers: Lord of the Flies (1990) Lord of the Flies (1963)

Your students will love:

  • The dystopian narrative that is reminiscent of contemporary young adult literature.
  • The dramatic, exciting plot.
  • Themes like power and human nature that are still important today.

Students may have problems with:

  • Understanding the allegorical meaning of the novel.
  • The negative interpretation of human nature.
  • Golding's style.

Available from Prestwick House:

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Lord of the Flies
Complete Teacher's Kit
Response Journal

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