When he and the others arrive on the island, Ralph quickly becomes the chief of the group, not by any harsh, overt, or physical action, but by being elected. Ralph is described as having "the directness of genuine leadership". Ralph's first big decision is that they have "got to decide if this is an island". After Ralph, Jack, and Simon discover that they are truly "on an uninhabited island", Ralph suggests that a fire be lit because "if a ship comes near the island they may not notice us". However, towards the end of the book he forgets the initial reason for maintaining the fire. This is representative of the debilitating effects corruption has on even the most benevolent of men. Ralph may seem to mean well, but often his obsession with being popular overcomes him and he resorts to bullying Piggy to regain his power. Therefore, Ralph can be understood to symbolize mankind's optimistic ambition to self-govern despite its historical record of failure and abuse of power. Still, in the midst of all the island's chaos, Ralph has a tendency to be polite, selfless and logical in the tensest of moments; for example, when the children are obliged to investigate Castle Rock, Ralph takes the lead despite being afraid of "the beast". Ralph is sometimes perceived as partially being a literary tool to aid the audience's realisation of inner evil throughout the duration of the novel; "Ralph wept for the end of innocence".
Just as mankind has demonstrated its limitations in effective self-governing, Ralph embodies good intentions in the implementation of reason, but ultimately fails to execute these plans soundly. Ralph's refusal to resort to violence throughout the novel is counterpoised by Jack's inherent love of violence.
Piggy has poor eyesight, asthma, and is overweight. He is the most physically vulnerable of all the boys. He appears to be of working-class background, as evidenced by his non-standard Cockney speech, but he is the most intellectual of the boys, frequently appealing to reason. By frequently quoting his aunt, he provides the only female voice.
Piggy has been described as "the only adult-type figure on the island". His intellect benefits the group only through Ralph; he acts as Ralph's adviser. He cannot be the leader himself because he lacks leadership qualities and has no rapport with the other boys. Piggy relies on the power of social convention. He believes that holding the conch gives him the right to be heard. He believes that upholding social conventions produces results.
Piggy asserts that "Life ... is scientific". Ever the pragmatist, Piggy complains, "What good're you doing talking like that?" when Ralph brings up the highly charged issue of Simon's death at their hands. Piggy tries to keep life scientific despite the incident, "searching for a formula" to explain the death. He asserts that the assault on Simon was an accident, and justifiable because Simon asked for it by inexplicably crawling out of the forest into the ring.
Piggy is so intent on preserving some remnant of civilization on the island that, after Jack's tribe attacks Ralph's group, he assumes they "wanted the conch", when, in fact, they have come for Piggy's glasses in order to make fire. Even up to the moment of his death, Piggy's perspective does not shift in response to the reality of their situation. Because his eminently intellectual approach to life is modelled on the attitudes and rules of the authoritative adult world, he thinks everyone should share his values and attitudes as a matter of course. When Ralph and Piggy confront Jack's tribe about the stolen spectacles, Piggy asks "Which is better—to have rules and agree, or to hunt and kill? ... law and rescue, or hunting and breaking things up?" as if there is no doubt that the boys would choose his preference.
When first blown, it calls the children to an assembly, where Ralph is elected leader. They agree that only the boy holding the conch may speak at meetings to forestall arguments and chaos, and that it should be passed around to those who wish to voice their opinion. The conch symbolises effective democracy and, like Ralph, civility and order within the group. When Piggy is killed, the conch is smashed into pieces, signalling the end of order and the onset of chaos. Originally the conch is portrayed as being very vibrant and colourful, but as the novel progresses, its colours begin to fade, the same way society begins to fade on the island.
Jack epitomises the worst aspects of human nature when unrepressed or un-tempered by society. Like Ralph, Jack is a natural leader. Unlike Ralph, Jack appeals to more primal desires in the children and relies on his status as leader of the choirboys to justify his authority. Although his way of behaving is neither disruptive nor violent at the beginning of the book, he does, at that time, express an unquenchable desire to hunt and kill a pig and spends hours in solitude traversing the island.
Beginning with his self nomination as hunter, Jack eventually degenerates into the beast he is consumed with slaying. The first time Jack has an opportunity to kill a pig, he cannot, "because of the enormity of the knife descending and cutting into living flesh; because of the unbearable blood". After this hesitation, for which he is most ashamed, Jack's blood lust grows more and more irrational, to the point where he abandons the fire (and causes the boys to miss a potential rescue) in order to hunt. During Jack's metamorphosis, he begins to paint his face with clay and earth, masking his humanity from the pigs and inspiring terrible awe amongst the boys.
Jack's transition puts him on a collision course with Ralph's elected authority. As Jack leaves and takes the majority of the boys with him, lured by the promises of meat, play, and freedom, there has arisen a clear dividing line between the two. Jack represents the irrational nature of the boys, while Ralph represents rationality. Under Jack's rule, the baseness of human nature is unleashed, and he initiates a period of inter-tribal violence, punishing other children, inciting the frenzy that leads to the murder of Simon, and torturing the twins until they submit to his authority.
The tale ends with Jack leading many of the boys in a frenzied attempt to kill Ralph. At this time, the last remaining vestiges of civilization are gone, and Ralph's demise is only prevented by the abrupt and unexpected arrival of a naval officer, who is disappointed by the savage nature of the British boys.
Roger, at first, is a simple "bigun" who is having fun during his stay on the island. Along with Maurice, he destroys the sand castles made by three small children. While Maurice feels guilt for kicking sand into a child's eye, Roger begins to emerge as a sadist as he throws stones at one of the boys. The book states that Roger threw the stones to miss and felt the presence of civilization and society preventing him from harming the children. Later, once he feels that all aspects of conventional society are gone, he is left alone to his animal urges. During a pig hunt, Roger shoves a sharpened stick up the animal's rectum while it is still alive. He kills Piggy with a boulder that was no longer aimed to miss and becomes the executioner and torturer of Jack's tribe. He also tortures Sam and Eric into joining Jack's tribe. In the final hunt for Ralph at the end of the novel, Roger is armed with "a stick sharpened at both ends," indicating his intentions of killing Ralph and offering his head as a sacrifice to the "beast". He represents the person who enjoys hurting others and is only restrained when the rules of society exist.
Simon is a character who represents peace and tranquillity and positivity. He is often seen wandering off by himself in a dreamy state and is prone to fits of fainting and hallucination, likely epileptic in nature. He is in tune with the island and often experiences extraordinary sensations when listening to its sounds. He loves the nature of the island. He is positive about the future. He has an extreme aversion to the pig's head, the "Lord of the Flies", which derides and taunts Simon in a hallucination. After this experience, Simon emerges from the forest to tell the others that the "beast" that fell from the sky is actually a deceased parachutist caught on the mountain. He is brutally killed by the boys, who ironically mistake him for the beast and kill him in their "dance" in which they "ripped and tore at the beast". It is implied that Ralph, Piggy, Sam, and Eric partake in the killing. The final words that the "Lord of the Flies" had said to Simon vaguely predicted that his death was about to occur in this manner. Earlier in the novel Simon himself also predicts his own death when he tells Ralph that Ralph will "get back all right", implying that, of the two of them, only Ralph will be saved. Simon's death represents the loss of truth, innocence, and common sense. Simon is most commonly interpreted as a Christ figure because of his ability to see through misconception, unlike the rest of the boys, and the events he experiences in the book that parallel those of Jesus' life.
Arriving moments before Ralph's seemingly impending death, the Royal Navy officer is surprised and disappointed to learn that the boys' society has collapsed into chaos. He states that he would have expected "a better show" from British children. The sudden looming appearance of an adult authority figure instantly reduces the savagery of the hunt to a children's game. Upon the officer asking who is in charge, Ralph answers loudly, "I am", and Jack, who was previously characterised as a powerful leader, is reduced to "A little boy who wore the remains of an extraordinary black cap on his red hair and who carried the remains of a pair of spectacles at his waist". In the last sentence, the officer, embarrassed by the distress of the children, turns to look at the cruiser from which his party has landed—a symbol of his own adult war.
The Beast represents the latent savagery within all human beings. It is first mentioned by a "littlun," and the notion is immediately dismissed by Ralph. The Beast is thought to be within the water and described by the littluns as such. Soon after the rumours of the Beast begin to flourish, the corpse of a fighter pilot, ejected from his aircraft, falls to the island. His parachute becomes entangled in the jungle foliage in such a way that sporadic gusts of wind cause the chute to billow and the body to move as if still alive. Sam and Eric discover the parachutist in the dark and believe that it is the beast. Ralph, Jack, and Roger search for the Beast and encounter it on the mountain. The reality of the Beast is now firmly established in the boys' minds. Simon discovers the parachutist and realizes that the beast is really only the corpse of a man. Jack's tribe feeds the Beast with the sow's head on a stick. This act symbolizes Jack's willingness to succumb to the temptation of animalism.
Simon is the first child on the island to realize that the Beast is created by the boys' fear. He decides that "the news must reach the others as soon as possible". Meanwhile, the boys have been feasting and begin to do their tribal pig-hunting dance. When "the beast stumble[s] in to the horseshoe", the frenzied, terrified boys "leapt on to the beast, screamed, struck, bit, tore". While this is going on, the pilot's dead body finally falls out of the tree and down the mountain into the sea. It becomes clear that the boys have mistaken Simon for the beast and murdered, with Golding describing "Simon's dead body move[ing] out towards the open sea", and on the morning after when Ralph tells Piggy, "That was Simon .... That was murder".
The Lord of the Flies
The eponymous Lord of the Flies exists physically as a pig's head that has been cut off by Jack, put on a stick sharpened at both ends, stuck in the ground, and left as an offering to the "beast". Created out of fear, the Lord of the Flies is the remnant of a mother sow who, though at one time loving and innocent, has now become a manically smiling, bleeding image of horror. It represents both an intelligent, supernatural malevolence with the power to evoke "the beast" within all, as well as the power of evil in the heart of mankind. Near the end of the book, while Ralph is being hunted down, he strikes the now skeletal pig's head twice in one moment of blind anger, causing it to crack and fall on the ground with a grin "now six feet across". The name "Lord of the Flies" is a literal translation of Beelzebub.