Lord of the Flies Theme
Writing, Grammar, Literature, ACT Prep
Education: M.Ed.,Stanford University
Katie is an enthusiastic teacher who strives to make connections between literature and student’s every day lives.
At this point, you may be thinking, what the heck does Lord of the Flies have to do with me? I’ve never been stranded on a deserted desert island, I’ve never known what it’s like to be in a situation where there is no rules or laws or consequences. But believe it or not, the boys on the island deal with a lot of issues and problems that you deal with in your everyday life. Things like loyalty, friendship, bravery, fear. Let’s take a look at some of those issues and then let’s learn a quick six step process of theme development, and figure out what exactly it is, Golding is trying to tell us about evil and human nature.
Before we can develop any theme for a piece of literature, we’ve got to first talk about what issues are, and what themes are. One thing you need to know about issues, is they are one word problems or points of debate that are universal. In other words, you might deal with them in your everyday life, but the characters also deal with that problem in the book.
Once you’ve got your list of issues figured out, you can pick a specific issue and then develop a theme on it. Because a theme is, what the author thinks or believes or tries to express about that particular issue in a novel.
For instance, the issues in Lord of the Flies. Here are some of them; loyalty, rules, laws, friendships, evil, temptation and fear. For instance, loyalty. The characters deal with this issue when we talk about Jack and Ralph. Should Jack be loyal to Ralph, because Ralph’s elected the leader in the book? And what does loyalty look like? Should we respect Piggy for being loyal to Ralph the entire time, even though he’s indignant and doesn’t end up alive at the end of the book?
Rules and laws; we see all the characters deal with that. What makes them follow rules or laws ,or why don’t they follow rules or laws? What’s William Golding trying to tell us about rules and laws and their role in societies and civilizations?
With friendship, again we just go back to Ralph and Jack. They start out as friends, so we talk about what we can think about. What makes a good friend? What should good friends do? Is Jack a good friend or is he not because he betrays Ralph in the end and splits off from him. Is Ralph a good friend based on what he does?
Evil; clearly all the characters deal with evil and where that exists. They deal with deciding if the evil exists inside of them, if it’s an outside force, how they deal with it, how they react to it. Think about the boys on the island eventually have to come to grips with the fact that, they murdered one of their own, when they killed Simon. So Golding is really trying to explore where this evil comes from, and how people react to it.
Temptation; again with Jack, we see the clear and complete temptation to give up everything that’s good for the group and to really serve his own pleasure. So Golding wants to deal with through the actions of Jack, what it means to be tempted, how we react to temptation and what that means.
Finally, fear. We see the boys react in a lot of different ways on the island to fear. They’re afraid of the beast that sits up and lays down on the top of the hill until Simon figures out that it’s just a dead parachuter. We look at how they react to the fear of the beasties and the snake things that appear in the middle of the night in the forest. What is William Golding trying to tell us about fear and what people should be afraid of?
Now that you’ve identified the issues in Lord of the Flies, let’s work on developing a theme. Go to my bonus materials and print out the theme development sheet. And this will help you keep track of the steps in the process, which will eventually leave you with a really solid out line for a theme development essay.
Our first step in theme development, you guys already have that done. You identify the issues. Remember back to the screen, we identified our issues the characters deal with, that we also deal with in our everyday life. What you’re going to do is, you’re going to pick one of these issues on which to focus your theme development. There’s going to be plenty of themes in any given novel, but when you’re asked to do a themed development you want to pick, make sure that you focus in on just one specific issue, in order to make sure that the essay that you write, will be nice and succinct and focused.
We’re going to select one. And in this case, I’m going to select evil, as the issue I’m dealing with.
Step two in the process is going to be to develop a simple theme. You simply need to answer the question; what does William Golding believe about evil? Or what is he trying to say about evil? My response to that is William Golding believes that humans have evil inside them. This is simple. It’s not necessarily sophisticated or detailed, and that’s okay at this point in the process. You’ve just identified the basic belief that he’s expressing. One thing I want you to note about this statement, is that it begins with the words “William Golding believes” and that’s really essential to any theme statement. Because remember, this is not about a belief that you necessarily can get behind, you’re really analysing the book to reveal what the author is trying to say. So you always want to start any theme statement with the words, 'William Golding believes, asserts, reveals, communicates,' etcetera.
Step three, we’re going to probe that simple theme. So we recognize that maybe it was a little bit basic and we want to take it to the next level. The way that we’re going to do that is by asking some probing questions, or some questions that really get at what were trying to say. I might ask these questions of that simple theme; what makes the evil come out? If we go back to the book and we really think about, what makes the evil come out in the boys? There is a lot of different things. The fear that they have, maybe of things unknown makes the evil come out, the fact that there’s no consequences or rules or laws, that they have to follow, makes the evil come out. The fact that they sometimes act selfish or really want what they want, makes that evil come out. So all of those things could be a response to that question.
I might also ask, what does it mean to be evil? What’s the definition of evil? If I think back to the boys in the book, it seems that we can really boil down their evil reactions to when they’re acting very selfish, when they’re serving only themselves. So now I’m going to take those answers that I've just come up with and brainstormed in my head, and integrate them into a more sophisticated theme statement and that’s step four in the process.
What I’ve developed here is a much more specific theme statement, still starting with the words, “William Golding believes”. But now, I’ve made it a lot more specific. William Golding believes that when humans are left without rules and laws, their natural selfishness comes out. So now I’m a lot more focused and when I go to develop an essay based on this theme, I’ll be able to pull really specific examples to support that.
Step five in the process, now that we’ve got a sophisticated theme, we’ve got to identify our subtopics. And the subtopics are just a way of breaking down that sophisticated theme statement into smaller ideas, so that we can deal with them and improve them in an essay. What really helps us here is those brainstormed ideas we came up with, when we were probing that simple theme. So you really want to just break it down.
In this case I went back to William Golding expresses his belief that rules and laws are the only things that influence humans to behave. I’ve attacked just that chunk of my sophisticated theme, once I prove this then I can move on to prove the other parts of the theme. And that will make my essay on this theme much more convincing.
Step six is then to locate specific examples from the novel, that support that claim in my subtopic. Now what I’ve got to think about, is what examples from the novel support what I’m trying to say. For this particular subtopic, I might go back to the fact that the boys discovered that there were no consequences for breaking the rules. Soon as they did that, chaos ensued and eventually two boys ended up dead.
So when I start to think about where I would go in the novel, to find those specific examples for support, I think about Simon’s murder scene, where the boys are biting him and ripping him and tearing him to death. I think about the scene where Rodger pulls the lever of the stick and crushes the boulder down on top of Piggy. Those are all things that show the boys really didn’t feel like there were consequences for very severe actions and definitely supports the subtopic which supports my theme.
Let’s go ahead and recap the process, so that you can walk through it on your own. Remember, we’re going to start by identifying the issues, and that’s where we pick out problems that the characters deal with that you also deal with in everyday life. Then we move to developing a simple theme and that’s where you answer the question; what is the author trying to say to me about this specific issues that I’ve chosen? After that, some probing questions that really help you to dig into your simple theme, and make it a little bit more detailed. Then you move on to the sophisticated theme where you use those brainstormed answers to have a more developed idea, more specific idea that’s going to govern your paper. Then you break that down. Identify subtopics that you will need to prove, in order to make this theme true. And then finally the most important part is finding those specific examples from the book that really support the claim that you’re making in your sophisticated theme.
Part of what makes Lord of the Flies such a powerful and magical book, is its ability to speak throughout different time periods. William Golding does this by dealing with issues with human nature. In this episode, we took a look at those issues like fear and loyalty, bravery. And then we took a look at the theme development process to see how that can reveal the message that Golding is trying to send, and help you formulate an essay.
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