'Lord of the Flies' Characters: Descriptions and Significance

An allegorical exploration of man’s inhumanity to man

William Golding's Lord of the Flies is an allegorical novel about a group of schoolboys stranded on a deserted island without any adult supervision. Free from the restraints of society, the boys form their own civilization, which quickly descends into chaos and violence. Through this tale, Golding explores fundamental questions about human nature. In fact, each character can be interpreted as an essential element of the allegory.

Ralph

Confident, calm, and physically capable, Ralph is the novel's protagonist. He runs around the island effortlessly and is able to blow the conch at will. This combination of good looks and physical competence makes him the natural leader of the group, and he assumes this role without hesitation.

Ralph is a sensible character. As soon as the boys arrive on the island, he takes off his school uniform, recognizing that it is unsuitable for the hot, tropical weather. He is also pragmatic, showing no hesitation over this symbolic loss of their former lifestyle. In this way, he differs greatly from some of the other boys, who cling to scraps of their former lives. (Recall Littl’un Percival, who regularly chants his home address as if a policeman will somehow overhear him and bring him home.)

In the novel's allegorical structure, Ralph represents civilization and order. His immediate instinct is to organize the boys by setting up a system of government. He is careful to wait for democratic approval before assuming the role of Chief, and his orders are sensible and practical: build shelters, start a signal fire, and set up a system to ensure the fire doesn’t go out.

Ralph isn’t perfect, however. He is susceptible to the lure of violence just like the other boys, as evidenced by his role in Simon’s death. In the end, he survives not because of his orderly authority but rather through his ultimate embrace of his animal instinct as he runs through the jungle.

Piggy

Piggy, the second character we meet in the novel, is a chubby, ungainly boy with a history of being bullied. Piggy is not very physically capable, but he is well-read and intelligent, and he frequently offers excellent suggestions and ideas. He wears glasses

Piggy immediately allies himself with Ralph and remains his steadfast ally throughout their grueling adventure. However, Piggy’s loyalty stems more from his awareness that he is powerless on his own than from true friendship. It is only through Ralph that Piggy has any authority or agency, and as Ralph’s grip on the other boys diminishes, Piggy's does too.

As an allegorical figure, Piggy represents the civilizing forces of knowledge and science. It’s notable that Piggy emerges shortly after Ralph on the beach, as science and knowledge require a civilizing force before they can come into fruition. Piggy's value is represented by his glasses, which the boys utilize as a scientific instrument to create fire. When Piggy loses possession and control of the glasses, he becomes less capable physically (suggesting the limits of knowledge's influence), and the glasses become a magical totem instead of a scientific tool.

Jack

Jack is Ralph’s rival for authority on the island. Described as unattractive and aggressive, Jack believes he should be the Chief, and he resents Ralph’s easy authority and popularity. He is quickly presented as Ralph and Piggy’s enemy, and he begins undermining their authority from the moment they attain it.

Of all the boys, Jack is the least bothered by the experience of being stranded on a deserted island. He seems fairly happy to be free to do as he likes, and he hates the way Ralph attempts to limit this newfound freedom with rules. Jack seeks to regain his ultimate freedom throughout the novel, first by merely breaking Ralph's rules, and then by establishing an alternative society that indulges in the physical pleasures of barbarism.

While he initially seems to represent fascism and authority-worship, Jack actually represents anarchy. He rejects any limitations on his personal desires, including the desire to inflict harm on and eventually kill others. He is the opposite of Ralph, and from the very beginning of the novel, it is clear they cannot co-exist in a single society.

Simon

Simon is shy and timid, but has a strong moral compass and sense of self. He behaves according to his inner sense of right and wrong, even as the other boys become increasingly violent and chaotic. In fact, Simon is the only boy who does not engage in any sort of violence.

Simon represents spirituality and can be interpreted as a Christ-like figure. He has a prophetic hallucination in which he speaks to the Lord of the Flies; afterwards, he discovers that the feared Beast does not exist. He rushes to share this information with the other boys, who panic at the sound of Simon's frenzy and kill him.

Roger

Roger is Jack’s second-in-command, and he is arguably more cruel and savage than Jack. While Jack enjoys power and the title of Chief, Roger disdains authority and has a singleminded desire to hurt and destroy. He represents true savagery. At first, he is held back from his worst desires by just one memory of civilization: the fear of punishment. When he realizes that no punishment will come, he transforms into an elemental force of evil. Roger is the boy who ultimately kills Piggy, symbolically destroying sense and wisdom in favor or raw violence.

Sam and Eric (Samneric)

Sam and Eric are a pair of twins, referred to collectively by the name Samneric. Samneric are steadfast followers of Ralph until the very end of the novel, when they are captured and forcibly inducted into Jack’s tribe. The twins, who cling to the old ways of civilization, are representative of the majority of humankind. They represent the faceless populations that make up large societies, particularly in the eyes of governments. Samneric do not have much agency in the story, and they are dominated by forces around them. Their transition to Jack’s tribe represents the final fall of civilization.