Allusion in Lord of the Flies

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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Audrey Farley

Audrey is a doctoral student in English at University of Maryland.

William Golding's novel ''Lord of the Flies'' is about a group of British boys who become depraved after being stranded on an island and separated from civilization. The novel makes allusions to many literary works, five of which we'll be looking at in this lesson.

What Is an Allusion?

An allusion is a reference to another piece of literature or art. An allusion may be direct or indirect. William Golding's Lord of the Flies contains many allusions to Biblical stories, Shakespeare, and other popular fiction. The novel portrays a group of young boys who resort to barbarism when they're stranded on an island. The allusions function to allegorize the narrative by assigning universal meaning to the characters and events.

The Garden of Eden

The novel's setting indirectly alludes to the Garden of Eden. Although the narrator does not directly reference the Garden of Eden, the reader is encouraged to recall this biblical setting. The boys sense a haunting presence on the island, which they refer to this presence as 'the beast.' This is an allusion to Satan. Also, Jack identifies a 'snake-thing' on the island, which is an even more overt reference to the snake in the Garden of Eden.

Shakespeare & Other Literary Allusions

The novel's title 'Lord of the Flies' alludes to the Bible, since the New Testament mentions a lord of the flies, but it also alludes to Shakespeare. When the protagonist in 'King Lear' dies, another character, Gloucester, reflects, 'As flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods. They kill us for their sport.' Here, he suggests that the gods take the lives of mortals as thoughtlessly as young boys take the lives of flies. The allusion to Shakespeare enhances the tragic tone of the story.

Golding's narrative alludes to several other literary texts as well. In one scene, the boys recall the titles of stories that portray survival on a deserted island. They do this in order to brainstorm survival skills. The boys mention three well-known survival narratives: Coral Island, Treasure Island, and Swallows and Amazons. Lord of the Flies bears the most similar relation to the first of these.

In Coral island, the main characters are boys named Ralph, Jack, and Peterkin. Two of Golding's characters are named Ralph and Jack. However, whereas Coral Island portrays the story of British boys who stay civilized when they're stranded on a deserted island, Lord of the Flies portrays the story of British boys who resort to their baser instincts without civilization to keep them in check.

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