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Lord of the Flies mixes lyric descriptions of nature with vivid action scenes and extended passages of dialogue to create a style that grows increasingly foreboding over the course of the novel, mirroring the boys’ descent into violence and chaos. The book opens with a description of the island in the aftermath of the plane crash that maroons the boys: “all round him the long scar smashed into the jungle was a bath of heat…a bird, a vision of red and yellow, flashed upward with a witch-like cry.” Golding uses metaphor and generic words like “boy,” “bird,” and “jungle” to create a sense of dislocation in the reader – where are we? Who is the boy? What is the scar and what caused it? These stylistic choices align the reader with the boys, who might be asking similar questions at this point in the narrative. The comparisons of a plane crash to a scar, and a bird to a witch, create an ominous sense that despite the beauty of the natural setting, the island is threatening as well, and the boys’ experience on the island will scar them.

At the same time, Golding holds his characters, and his reader, at arm’s length, presenting events in a fairly detached, straightforward style, enhancing the characters’ role as symbols as well as individuals, and preventing the reader from identifying with any one character too closely. When one of the littluns has a nightmare, “the wail rose, remote and unearthly, and turned to an inarticulate gibbering.” By removing the humanity and intelligibility from the boy’s cries, Golding creates a distance from the boy’s suffering. Golding uses more intimate, evocative language to make the island itself a personification of the evil in the boys, as when the trees “rubbed each other with an evil speaking,” or in this passage: “revolving masses of gas piled up the static until the air was ready to explode... Even the air that pushed in from the sea was hot and held no refreshment. Colors drained from water and trees and pink surfaces of rock, and the white and brown clouds brooded. Nothing prospered but the flies…” Here, even an invisible element like the air is filled with menace and danger.

In contrast to his lush descriptions of nature, Golding’s characters speak in terse, vernacular prose, which both grounds the book in its time and place, and reflects the breakdown of communication over the course of the book. In the beginning of the novel, the boys employ a good deal of slang, referring to the island as “wizard” and “wacco,” British slang words from the 1950s for great or cool. Piggy speaks in ungrammatical slang, as when he says, “Nobody don’t know we’re here.” Piggy’s speech identifies him as lower class than the other boys, as does the fact that he has no parents, and was raised by an aunt who owns a sweet shop. His class status further separates him from his peers. Ralph and Jack are more articulate, but Ralph finds himself at a loss for words in times of intense emotion, and resorts to physical displays: “Ralph, faced by the task of translating this into an explanation, stood on his head and fell over.” As the boys lose their civilization, their speech becomes less coherent and organized, and by the end they’ve devolved to a form of pre-speech, ululating, screaming, shouting, moaning, and, finally, crying, having all but lost the ability to communicate.

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Lord of the Flies Centenary Edition

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