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Lord of the Flies - LeadershipLord of the Flies - Leadership


Lord of the Flies (1954)


Written by the Englishman, William Golding (1911-93), pictured right.

His naval service in the Second World War convinced him that people are naturally evil, the book’s main message.


Fun facts

  • The literal meaning of Beelzebub (the devil) is the Lord of the Flies. 
  • Made into a film in 1963.
  • Golding won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1983.


Key characters

A group of boys including Jack, Ralph, Piggy, Roger and Simon


The story

A large number of evacuated English boys, aged 7 to 12, are stranded on a tropical island after their plane is shot down during a war.

Amongst them are Ralph, Simon and Piggy who support responsibility and morality.Lord of the Flies - Leadership

Jack and Roger are evil and ambitious egomaniacs.

Ralph and Piggy (pictured right in the film) discover a special conch shell, which Ralph blows to call all the boys onto the beach.

Ralph is elected their leader and appoints Jack to lead the group hunting for food.

Roger is given responsibility for keeping the signal fire alight. But they become so obsessed with killing pigs that the fire goes out, missing a passing ship and leading to a row between:

  • Ralph (supported by Piggy and Simon) and
  • Jack.

Jack and his group (including Roger) are cruel bullies. They taunt and hurt the little children (known as “littluns”).

The children are also troubled by nightmares and the frightening idea that a beast hides in the sea and comes out at night. This fear increases when two boys think they see the beast, when actually it is the silhouette of a dead fighter pilot’s parachute.

Ralph and Jack are now bitter rivals and more and more boys are joining Jack’s less civilized group, which violently kills and decapitates a pig.

Only Simon knows that the dead pig's head (the Lord of the Flies) represents the evil within the boys. 

Then Simon  discovers the dead parachutist and realizes that this is the beast and rushes off to tell the others.Lord of the Flies - Leadership

In the rain Jack’s group mistake him for the beast, brutally kill him and (the next day) steal Piggy’s glasses to light a fire.

Ralph and his few supporters demand them back. But they are attacked and Piggy is killed by Roger and his glasses and the conch shell are smashed.

Ralph, now alone, just manages to escape and hides in the forest, hunted by the others who want to kill him.

Weeping because of the evil in people’s hearts, Ralph is rescued by a British naval ship which sees the fire.


Lessons for leadership


1. Dictatorship can be destructive

Dictator Jack, is evil, killing Simon  and Piggy and destroying the:

  • democratic leader, Ralph. 
  • the conch shell, the symbol of democracy (because it is blown to call the boys to their meetings).

Jack wins over the boys’ support, because they see his evil savagery as more fun.


2. People can be evil (but don’t give up hope)

The murderous tyranny of Jack and his followers triumphs over goodness, democracy and intelligence (personified by Simon, Ralph and Piggy).

Evil (which Simon says is in everyone) crushes Ralph’s attempt to lead through compassion and consent. .

The book shows that mankind constantly lives on a knife edge between civilization and savagery.

 Lord of the Flies - Leadership

3. Treasure the truth

Jack (pictured right in the film) fools people by saying he wants to “do the right thing” and does the opposite.

The myth of the beast also shows how easily people can believe the unbelievable, encouraged by evil and manipulative leaders like Jack.

The Christ-like Simon sacrifices his life telling the boys the truth about the beast.


4. Know yourselfLord of the Flies - Leadership

The boys’ belief in the beast stops them:

  • doing something about it.
  • exercising their own will.

They disastrously fail to:

  • accept the truth about themselves.
  • listen to Simon (about his discovery that the beast doesn't exist and is the dead parachutist).
  • accept responsibility for killing Simon and Piggy.

 Lord of the Flies - Leadership

5. Fear is fatal

Fear of the imaginary beast leads to Simon’s savage murder.

Piggy (pictured right in the film) believes that science has the answer to fear and superstition.


6. Goodness doesn’t guarantee greatness

Ralph is a good person, but he fails as a leader because he is:

  • insecure. Lord of the Flies - Leadership
  • slow (to deal with Jack and act upon Piggy’s good advice).

Despite the unpopularity it brings him, Piggy is constantly reminding the others of:

  • their responsibilities.
  • the evil of Jack’s group.


7. Concentrate on what’s important

Unlike Jack, Piggy realizes the importance of the:

  • signal fire
  • civilized values (of honesty, humanity, order and democracy).

 Lord of the Flies - Leadership

8. Don’t stop learning

Piggy’s wisdom comes from academic knowledge.

Simon relies on intuition and Ralph learns from experience, particularly people’s potential for evil.

Piggy’s glasses are a symbol of

  • practical knowledge (they are used to light a fire). 
  • wisdom to see good and evil (illustrated by the glasses’ theft and destruction).

Ralph’s leadership is destroyed when he loses the will to fight for Piggy’s principles after Piggy dies.


9. Unity is vital

The boys are strongest when they are united under Ralph’s leadership, but his rivalry with Jack weakens them irreparably.

 Lord of the Flies - Leadership

10. Put thought into positive action

Simon (pictured right in the film) :

  • finds a quiet place in the jungle for reflection.
  • immediately puts this thought into action (like telling the others about the true identity of the beast).

Ralph isn’t so reflective and his leadership suffers because of it.

“If only one had time to think!”, he laments.


Key quotes on ethics 

Ralph wept for the end of innocence, the darkness of man’s heart.

Maybe it’s only us, Simon (on people’s innate evil)


Key quote on bureaucracy

Bollocks to the rules, Jack


Two literature websites to recommend 

1. sparknotes.com

2. litcharts.com



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