Archetypes in Lord of the Flies

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: Allegory in Lord of the Flies

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:00 Archetypes In Popular Culture
  • 1:05 The Heroic Quest Archetype
  • 2:20 Ralph And Jack: The…
  • 4:20 Piggy: The Anima Or…
  • 5:05 Simon: The Martyr Or…
  • 5:55 Lesson Summary
Save Save Save

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Log in or Sign up

Speed Speed

Recommended Lessons and Courses for You

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Becky Dotzel

Becky has taught high school and college level courses; she has a bachelor's degree in English and a master's in secondary education.

In this lesson, we explore the origins and definition of a literary archetype, identify some common archetypes found within William Golding's novel ''Lord of the Flies'', and identify how the characters and situations he creates exemplify archetypal imagery.

Archetypes in Popular Culture

Have you ever seen Star Wars? Have you read Harry Potter or The Hunger Games? Chances are, you are familiar with at least one of these epic tales, but have you ever wondered why these stories are so popular? Realistically, none of us will ever receive an invitation to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, battle for our life within the Capital Dome, or fight a Storm Trooper with a light saber, but we find ourselves relating to, empathizing with, and loving the characters in these purely imaginary situations because of the archetypes they represent.

An archetype is an image, code of behavior, or narrative pattern that represents the universal human experience and is found in all forms of storytelling.

In Lord of the Flies, a group of young British boys are stranded on a deserted island after their plane crashes into the Pacific Ocean. With no rules and no adult supervision, they attempt to create a peaceful and orderly society. This ultimately fails because the dark side of human nature and the boys' own fears bring division and destruction to the world they establish. Let's explore five archetypes found in this novel.

The Heroic Quest Archetype

The heroic quest archetype is viewed by most literary scholars as the most important archetype because it is the narrative pattern upon which all great stories are built:

  1. First, the hero begins an uncertain and dangerous journey.
  2. Secondly, the hero requires friends and mentors who provide guidance and perspective and aid the hero throughout his journey.
  3. The third phase occurs as the hero inevitably faces challenges, doubts, and enemies.
  4. This leads to the fourth stage of the quest: a victory.
  5. Finally, the hero returns home as a new and often better version of him or herself.

Let's examine how Lord of the Flies aligns with the pattern of the heroic quest archetype:

  1. Journey: Ralph (the hero) initially begins his journey when the plane crashes into the island but it intensifies when he begins his quest to kill Beastie and is ultimately forced to face Jack and the hunters.
  2. Friends: Both Simon and Piggy serve in this capacity as they guide and support Ralph as he continues his journey.
  3. Challenge: Jack Merridew is the most important enemy, but Ralph is also challenged by his own doubts as a leader and his fear of the beast.
  4. Victory: This occurs when Ralph survives Jack's attempt to kill him.
  5. Return Home: The arrival of the British Naval Officer signals Ralph's return home with a new and undeniable understanding of humanity's capacity for evil.

Ralph and Jack: The Hero and Shadow

Ralph fulfills the role of the hero archetype, the protagonist who is marked by courage, strength, and honor and who will risk his own life for the good of all. In the first chapter of the novel, Golding portrays that 'there was a stillness about Ralph when he sat that marked him out.'

He is elected chief and proves to be a fair leader. His adamant insistence that the fire burn continuously and his steadfast focus on the possibility of rescue represent his capability. He creates rules to ensure everyone's safety and survival, strives to build shelters, and protects the weak (known as the littluns). He uses the conch in an attempt to establish a just and orderly society and grants anyone holding the conch the right to speak.

Like all heroes, he faces temptation and doubt. When the hunters begin a game that involves violently attacking Roger, Ralph joins in, fighting to 'get a handful of that brown, vulnerable flesh' because 'he desire to squeeze and hurt was overmastering.' For a moment, it appears that Ralph is becoming just like Jack and the hunters, but despite the temptations he faces, he returns to the group as a strong and capable leader. The hero archetype represents our own victories, challenges, fears, and temptations.

The shadow archetype represents the dark side of human nature and humanity's capability for evil, represented by Jack Merridew (and his growing army of hunters). Where Ralph attempts to establish order and stability, Jack breaks away and forms his own group, but his leadership is based on intimidation and the complete absence of rules. He becomes more and more bloodthirsty as the novel progresses.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account