Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, and literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.

Biblical Parallels

Many critics have characterized Lord of the Flies as a retelling of episodes from the Bible. While that description may be an oversimplification, the novel does echo certain Christian images and themes. Golding does not make any explicit or direct connections to Christian symbolism in Lord of the Flies; instead, these biblical parallels function as a kind of subtle motif in the novel, adding thematic resonance to the main ideas of the story. The island itself, particularly Simon’s glade in the forest, recalls the Garden of Eden in its status as an originally pristine place that is corrupted by the introduction of evil. Similarly, we may see the Lord of the Flies as a representation of the devil, for it works to promote evil among humankind. Furthermore, many critics have drawn strong parallels between Simon and Jesus. Among the boys, Simon is the one who arrives at the moral truth of the novel, and the other boys kill him sacrificially as a consequence of having discovered this truth. Simon’s conversation with the Lord of the Flies also parallels the confrontation between Jesus and the devil during Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness, as told in the Christian Gospels.

Read more about allusions to biblical themes in Toni Morrison’s Beloved.

However, it is important to remember that the parallels between Simon and Christ are not complete, and that there are limits to reading Lord of the Flies purely as a Christian allegory. Save for Simon’s two uncanny predictions of the future, he lacks the supernatural connection to God that Jesus has in Christian tradition. Although Simon is wise in many ways, his death does not bring salvation to the island; rather, his death plunges the island deeper into savagery and moral guilt. Moreover, Simon dies before he is able to tell the boys the truth he has discovered. Jesus, in contrast, was killed while spreading his moral philosophy. In this way, Simon—and Lord of the Flies as a whole—echoes Christian ideas and themes without developing explicit, precise parallels with them. The novel’s biblical parallels enhance its moral themes but are not necessarily the primary key to interpreting the story.


Even before the violence starts in earnest, Lord of the Flies is full of bullying behavior, particularly toward the physically weaker boys. We see this immediately when Ralph taunts Piggy for having asthma and breaks his promise not to tell the other boys about the cruel nickname. When making the fire, Ralph and Jack grab Piggy’s glasses without asking. Two of the older children intentionally knock over the sandcastles the littluns make, getting sand in Percival’s eye, which inspires another of the littluns to throw sand at him. Another older boy considers throwing rocks at the littluns. The first time the boys play hunt, Robert, who takes on the role of the pig, ends up hurt in the frenzy, and the other boys gleefully ignore his pain. When the boys turn violent, many of their actions parallel the earlier bullying. The murder of Simon begins similarly to the mock-hunt that hurt Robert. Jack’s tribe viciously steals Piggy’s glasses and throws rocks at Ralph. The smaller, ever-present acts of bullying thus highlight that the seeds of the boys’ later brutality have always been there, bolstering the theme of the evil of humanity.

Adventure Novel Tropes

Throughout Lord of the Flies, the boys reference popular nineteenth-century and twentieth-century adventure novels. These novels, most notably R. M. Ballantyne’s The Coral Island (1858), portray British boys stranded on dangerous islands who survive through British values and resourcefulness. These novels contrast with how the boys in Lord of the Flies respond to a similar plight, calling into question the supposed superiority and civilized nature of British culture. Early on, the evocation of these novels seems optimistic, as if suggesting the boys may be on the kind of adventure they have read about. The boys gleefully compare their situation to Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. Many of their initial survival ideas, like map-making on bark or using coconuts to carry water, come directly from these adventure stories. However, the boys make poor adventurers, struggling even to keep a fire lit. Later, when Ralph imagines his books at home, he notes that they make adventure seem “friendly,” a contrast to the violent pig hunt taking place. Unlike in the novels they read, the boys' Britishness has given them no more innate pluck to deal with the situation, and survival is not inherently a grand adventure.
The type of adventure novels referenced commonly use racist depictions of Polynesians as savage, bloodthirsty, and uncivilized antagonists. As the novel progresses, we see many tropes from these depictions appear in the form of spears, painted faces, ritual sacrifices, and the hunting of humans. However, instead of a tribe of “others,” here the savages are Jack and the hunters. By placing these British boys in the role of the savage, the novel dismisses the idea that British culture is less prone to violence and chaos than any other. While in adventure novels, the protagonists often teach the native inhabitants they encounter British values, defeating their violence with reason, Ralph and Piggy’s attempts to “civilize” these British savages by talking to Jack or using the conch shell ultimately fail, resulting in Piggy’s violent death. British values have no power to civilize Jack’s tribe. The complete reversal of expectation in this trope adds a bitter irony to the British naval officer’s reference to The Coral Island at the very end. The boys did, in fact, play at Coral Island, but not in the role expected for them.