Lord of the Flies: What Does the Title Mean?

Instructor: Judith Dunkerly-Bean

Judith has taught university literacy and teacher education courses and holds a Ph.D. in Curriculum & Instruction.

When William Golding wrote ~'Lord of the Flies~', he meant it to be an allegory. In this lesson we will explore the dark influences and symbolic meaning of the title of one of his most famous works.

What's in a Name?

To paraphrase the famous quote by Shakespeare, a rose by any other name would still smell as sweet. But what of the title of one of William Golding's most famous works, Lord of the Flies? There is a foreboding darkness lurking there that makes one uneasy, almost squeamish. Who is the Lord of the Flies? What might he want? We know it can't be anything good-- this isn't the Fairy Prince or Lord of the Butterflies. Nope, William Golding is literally playing with fire with this one. For, you see, The Lord of the Flies directly translates to Beelzebub, or, as you might know him: Satan.

The Prince of Darkness

At this point, you may be wondering why on earth William Golding would title his novel after one so sinister? What could be the point? To answer that question we will need to think about the reason that William Golding wrote the book. Having lived through the horrors and devastation wreaked by humanity against itself in WWII, Golding was absolutely convinced that the true nature of man was evil. He thought that the only thing that prevented complete and utter chaos was the governing aspects of society and civilization without which we would all rapidly descend into barbarism. Now, being a decent guy, Golding wanted to warn all of us about these dangers, so he decided to write the book, Lord of the Flies, as an allegorical tale, or one that is filled with symbols and themes.

In the book, he describes the transformation of a bunch of young English choir boys, whose airplane crashes onto a deserted island. Without any adults (representing civilization) they quickly devolve into cruel, blood-thirsty heathens, turning the island paradise into a figurative hell. Once their tenuous grasp on civilization starts to unravel, the boys begin to fear 'the beast'.

There isn't actually a beast at all. Rather, it is the darkness in their own souls that they must fear. However, this doesn't stop them from making sacrifices to the beast. In one of the goriest scenes in the book, one of the boys, Jack, and his group of hunters, brutally kill a sow, decapitate her and impale her head on a spike. As time passes, this gory offering becomes ' the lord of the flies' a symbol of the Beast. Freakier still, when Simon, a sweet, almost mystical boy, encounters the severed head in the glade, it speaks to him:

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