Study Guide

The Lord of the Flies by William Golding in Structuralism

The Lord of the Flies by William Golding

What does a normal group of kids do when they find themselves stranded on a desert island? Build rafts? Ferment coconuts? Look for The Others? In the case of William Golding's novel The Lord of the Flies, they form a mini-society, led by the intrepid but slightly power-hungry Ralph. At first the boys work together to fight for survival, but hey—they're far from authority, don't have any rules to keep them in check, and don't even have Mom around to tuck them in—things are bound to go downhill. Some of the boys begin running wild, picking fights, attacking each other and destroying the fragile, pre-teen peace that reigned at the beginning of the story. Someone here really needs a time-out.

So what would we structuralists say about these boys gone wild in a faraway island? Well, we might look at how The Lord of the Flies functions as an "allegory," a narrative with a hidden political or moral meaning—i.e., these crazy kids in their dysfunctional island society represent the problems of regular, grown-up society too. Think Animal Farm, but little boys instead of barnyard animals. We could also look at character. Ever heard of archetypes? A literary archetype is a general type of a character who recurs over and over in literature. The "hero" figure is an archetype. The "villain" figure is another archetype. Structuralists are way into archetypes because they show up so often and in so many kinds of literature. What would a structuralist have to say about that? But of course—archetypes must represent an element of the deep structure of literature.

So, in the case of The Lord of the Flies, the novel reflects many of those classic archetypes. Ralph, the novel's protagonist, represents the hero archetype. The troublemaker Jack, Ralph's red-headed enemy, fits the archetype of the villain. There are other, less obvious archetypes in the novel, too. Piggy, a friend of Ralph's and the butt of a lot of the boys' jokes, represents the "scapegoat" archetype: he is a character who is made to bear the blame or punishment for a group's sins, or to suffer in their place.

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