Study Guide

Lord of the Flies Identity

By William Golding

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Chapter 1

"I don't care what they call me," he said confidentially, "so long as they don't call me what they used to call me in school."

Ralph was faintly interested.

"What was that?"

The fat boy glanced over his shoulder, then leaned toward Ralph.

He whispered.

"They used to call me Piggy!" (1.65-70)

Before the boys reveal their names, they are identified by their appearances. Ralph is "the fair boy" and Piggy the "fat" one. But Piggy's name itself refers to his weight, which means even back in the civilized world appearance determined identity. We might feel better knowing everyone's real name, but is there really a difference between being called "the fat boy" and "Piggy"? Aren't they really the same thing?

Chapter 4

Jack planned his new face. He made one cheek and one eye-socket white, then he rubbed red over the other half of his face and slashed a black bar of charcoal across from right ear to left jaw […]. "Samneric. Get me a coconut. An empty one."

He knelt, holding the shell of water […]. He looked in astonishment, no longer at himself but at an awesome stranger. He spilt the water and leapt to his feet, laughing excitedly. Beside the pool his sinewy body held up a mask that drew their eyes and appalled them. (4.31-33)

Jack is as excited about his new identity as we are about getting a great new haircut. Sure, maybe he's just excited because it's a cultural taboo. Then again, maybe he's excited because he knows it's going to give him power over the others.

Chapter 8

He giggled and flecked them while the boys laughed at his reeking palms. Then Jack grabbed Maurice and rubbed the stuff [blood] over his cheeks. (8.195)

After the boys kill the mother pig, they smear their faces with her blood. First things first: ew, gross. But it's also smart. The blood becomes a mask that distances the boys from the event. If they don't feel like themselves, their actions don't seem as horrifying to them.

Chapter 10

The chief was sitting there, naked to the waist, his face blocked out in white and red. The tribe lay in a semicircle before him. (10.119)

Now that they're naked and painted, they're not Jack and the choir; they're "the chief" and "the tribe." The paint has literally changed who they are.

Chapter 11

"Then we must go as we are," said Ralph, "and they won't be any better." Eric made a detaining gesture.

"But they'll be painted! You know how it is."

The others nodded. They understood only too well the liberation into savagery that the concealing paint brought. (11.63-66)

Check out Golding's almost paradoxical use of "liberation" and "concealing." The paint does both: it liberates the boys by concealing their identities. If you know you won't be recognized, you're a lot more likely to be a total jerk. (Just ask anonymous Internet trolls.)

You can see who I am!" [Ralph] shouted. "Stop being silly!"

He put the conch to his lips and began to blow. Savages appeared, painted out of recognition, edging round the ledge toward the neck. They carried spears and disposed themselves to defend the entrance. (11.106-107)

This "You can see who I am!" is Ralph's major weapon. He asserts his identity hoping that it'll let him reason with the boys—but it doesn't mean anything, since the boys are beyond things like "identity" now.

Someone was throwing stones: Roger was dropping them, his one hand still on the lever. Below him, Ralph was a shock of hair and Piggy a bag of fat. (11.198)

From Roger's vantage point (literally and figuratively), Ralph and Piggy have no humanity. He reduces them to "hair" and "fat," because if they have no identities then he's not really a cold-blooded murderer.

Chapter 12

The boys, their bodies streaked with colored clay, sharp sticks in their hands, were standing on the beach making no noise at all. (12.219)

When the naval officer shows up, the "painted savages" turn back into "little boys" covered with clay and holding sharp sticks. Ralph is no longer afraid of them in the presence of this representative of civilization and the adult world—even though the boys could conceivably overpower the adult and send him the way of Simon and Piggy.

Quote Ralph listened […]. He had even glimpsed one of them, striped brown, black, and red, and had judged that it was Bill. But really, thought Ralph, this was not Bill. This was a savage whose image refused to blend with that ancient picture of a boy in shorts and shirt. (12.2)

Ralph is doing what we aren't allowed to do: he's convinced himself that these little terrors aren't the same boys he knew before. If they were, he'd have to face the fact that they all—including himself—are evil and savage. It's a lot easier for him to say "this [is] not Bill." Is he right? Or are the "savage" and "Bill" one and the same?

"Percival Wemys Madison, The Vicarage, Harcourt St. Anthony, Hants, telephone, telephone, tele-" (5)

As if this information was rooted far down in the springs of sorrow, the littlun wept. His face puckered, the tears leapt from his eyes, his mouth opened till they could see a square black hole. At first he was a silent effigy of sorrow; but then the lamentation rose out of him, loud and sustained as the conch.

Poor Percy. His identity is wrapped up in his address and name—but both of those are meaningless on the island. He's already forgotten his telephone number; by the end, he can't even remember his full name.

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