Study Guide

Lord of the Flies Rules and Order

By William Golding

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Rules and Order

Chapter 1

"Shut up," said Ralph absently. He lifted the conch. "Seems to me we ought to have a chief to decide things."

"A chief! A chief!"

"I ought to be chief," said Jack with simple arrogance, "because I'm chapter chorister and head boy. I can sing C sharp." (1.228-30)

It's dumb of Jack to think he should be leader because he can sing C sharp, but is it any dumber that Ralph gets elected because he's cute and has the conch? Maybe Golding is saying that all rules and order are kind of made up—but that doesn't mean they're not important.

He [Ralph] jumped down from the terrace. The sand was thick over his black shoes and the heat hit him. He became conscious of the weight of clothes, kicked his shoes off fiercely and ripped off each stocking with its elastic garter in a single movement. Then he leapt back on the terrace, pulled of his shirt, and stood there among the skull-like coconuts with green shadows from the palms and forest sliding over his skin. He undid the snake-clasp of his belt, lugged off his shorts and pants, and stood there naked, looking at the dazzling beach and the water. (1.53)

You know those signs that say "No shirt, no shoes, no service"? Not on this island. Clothes-wearing is one of society's most basic rules, so naturally the first thing Ralph does is take them off.

Piggy moved among the crowd, asking names and frowning to remember them. The children gave him the same simple obedience that they had given to the man with the megaphones. (1.179)

Question: is it "natural" for children to want to obey rules, any rule, or is this obedience just something that their upbringing has beaten into them?

“Where’s the man with the megaphone?”

The fair boy shook his head.

“This is an island. At least I think it’s an island. That’s a reef out in the sea. Perhaps there aren’t any grownups anywhere.” (1.9-11)

The boys understand that the ruling order of society that they are used to has disappeared.


Ralph had stopped smiling and was pointing into the lagoon. Something creamy lay among the ferny weeds.

“A stone.”

“No. A shell.” (1.141-143)

It is Ralph, not Piggy, who both finds and identifies the shell. Piggy goes on to explain the conch’s sound to Ralph, but Ralph is the one who makes the initial discovery and takes possession. This is important, as the conch later enables Ralph (and not Piggy) to become chief.

Chapter 2

"We've got to have rules and obey them. After all, we're not savages. We're English, and the English are best at everything." (2.192)

Weird. On the one hand, Golding does seem to believe that rules and order are necessary. On the other hand, we can't help being a little suspicious of, well, everything Jack says. Is this ironic? (We're pretty sure the "English are the best at everything" bit is, at least.)

Ralph sat on a fallen trunk, his left side to the sun. On his right were most of the choir; on his left the larger boys who had not known each other before the evacuation; before him small children squatted in the grass. (2.2)

Even after a plane crash, the kids sort themselves out in groups. It's just like a high school cafeteria.

Chapter 4

There was a space round Henry, perhaps six yards in diameter, into which [Roger] dare not throw. Here, invisible yet strong, was the taboo of the old life. (4.14)

The boys still feel the pull of their previous, ordered, civilized life in England. At least for now.

Chapter 5

The world, that understandable and lawful world, was slipping away. (5.227)

"Lawful" sounds good, but check out how it seems to just mean "understandable." It's not that the civilized world has all the answers (it obviously doesn't), but at least there's a system of actions and consequences. A lot of driving rules might be arbitrary, but that doesn't mean you can do whatever you want.


"All this I meant to say. Now I've said it. You voted me for chief. Now you do what I say."

They quieted, slowly, and at last were seated again. Ralph dropped down and spoke in his ordinary voice. (5.58-59)

All Ralph has to do is remind the boys that they decided to obey a certain set of rules, and they chill out. For now. It's scary to think about, but that's pretty much the only thing keeping our government in place, too: a (vast) majority of people think it should be there.

Chapter 6

"I'm chief. We've got to make certain [that there is no beast]. Can't you see the mountain? There's no signal showing. There may be a ship out there. Are you all off your rockers?" (6.238)

Poor Ralph. He's learning that just saying "I'm chief" isn't enough; you have to have people to enforce your system of laws and order—like a police force, or Roger.

Chapter 8

"…I mean…what makes things break up like they do?

Piggy rubbed his glasses slowly and thought […].

"I dunno, Ralph. I expect it's him."


"Jack." A taboo was evolving round that word too.

Ralph nodded solemnly.

"Yes," he said, "I suppose it must be." (8.259-2.65)

Ralph and Piggy see Jack as the reason that all their rules and order collapse. In other words, it's the dark, bestial side of us that just can't resist trying to rebel. (They don't seem to realize that there's a teeny bit of Jack in them, too.)

[Ralph] was vexed to find how little he thought like a grownup and sighed again. The island was getting worse and worse. (8.243)

When Ralph notes order breaking down, he is quick to blame the island as getting worse and worse, not the boys.


Piggy was […] so full of pride in his contribution to the good of society […] that he helped to fetch wood. (8.118)

Many of Piggy’s actions are motivated by his desire to be accepted by the rest of the boys.


“[Ralph is] like Piggy. He says things like Piggy. He isn't a proper chief.” (8. 50)

To Jack, intelligence is incompatible with strength, and the latter is necessary for chiefdom. Because Ralph uses logic and reasoning like Piggy does, according to Jack, he can’t be fit to be the boys’ leader.

Chapter 9

[The boys] found themselves eager to take a place in this demented but partly secure society. They were glad to touch the brown backs of the fence that hemmed in the terror and made it governable. (9.86)

The boys see the fence as some sort of tangible proof that they are still good, British boys. They find security in this, until you consider Simon’s claim that the beast is “only us.” If this is true, the boys just fenced in themselves (and therefore the beast) for the night.

Chapter 11

“I just take the conch to say this. I can’t see no more and I got to get my glasses back. Awful things has been done on this island. I voted for you for chief. He’s the only one who ever got anything done. So now you speak, Ralph, and tell us what. Or else –”

Piggy broke off, sniveling. Ralph took back the conch as he sat down.

“Just an ordinary fire. You’d think we could do that, wouldn’t you? Just a smoke signal so we can be rescued. Are we savages or what?” (11.19-21)

Ralph considers the boys savages for their inabilities – inabilities to keep order, to build a fire, to have meetings. He focuses on what they are not able to do because it is easier than looking at what they have proven themselves capable of.

The booing rose and died again as Piggy lifted the white, magic shell.

“Which is better –to be a pack of painted Indians like you are, or to be sensible like Ralph is?”

A great clamor rose among the savages. Piggy shouted again.

“Which is better –to have rules and agree, or to hunt and kill?”

Again the clamor and again – “Zup!”

Ralph shouted against the noise.

“Which is better, law and rescue, or hunting and breaking things up?”

Now Jack was yelling too and Ralph could no longer make himself heard. Jack had backed right against the tribe and they were a solid mass of menace that bristled with spears. (11.200-207)

The description of the shell as “white, magic” seems to be the way Piggy sees it. The passage that follows proves that the shell is in fact no such thing; it can’t even get the boys to quiet down and listen.


“You're a beast and a swine and a bloody, bloody thief!” (11.187)

Interesting! Ralph calls Jack both “a beast” and “a swine.” Lord of the Flies seems to argue that the boys are indeed both.

Sam and Eric

Samneric protested out of the heart of civilization, “Oh, I say! –honestly!” (11.175)

Sam and Eric remind us of the absurdity of the boys’ situation. It’s possible that they still see the island as a silly game gone a little overboard.

The rock struck Piggy a glancing blow from chin to knee; the conch exploded into a thousand white fragments and ceased to exist. Piggy, saying nothing, with no time for even a grunt, traveled through the air sideways from the rock, turning over as he went […]. Piggy fell forty feet and landed on his back across the square red rock in the sea. His head opened and stuff came out and turned red. Piggy’s arms and legs twitched a bit, like a pig’s after it has been killed. (11.209)

The conch explodes, marking the end of law and order on the island. As the law ceases to exist, so does Piggy.

Chapter 12

Her bows [were] hauled up and held by two ratings. In the stern-sheets another rating held a sub-machine gun. (12. 211)

With the arrival of the British Navy, the boys begin their return to the civilized world. Ironically, this “civilized” world is no less violent than the one the boys have been living in on the island.

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