Lord of the Flies - Language
A sliver of moon rose over the horizon.

Lord of the Flies - Language

This GCSE English Literature quiz takes a look at language in Lord of the Flies by William Golding. Language in Lord of the Flies draws on childhood understandings of the world, expectations of adventure, religious imagery and nineteenth- and twentieth-century ideas of the contrast between civilisation and “tribal” societies. Golding presents the island in some senses as a Garden of Eden destroyed by a seed of evil carried in the heart of each boy. The boys’ attempts at a more grown-up language of rules and regulations is shown to be based on their unfounded belief in adult wisdom. The contrast at the end of the novel between the naval officer’s brisk, British assurances and the childlike speech of the marooned boys so recently engaged in savagery is jarring.

Analysing language in a text

Unsurprisingly, texts are primarily understood through the language with which they are written and read.

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Any author will choose individual words, phrases and imagery with precision. You can begin to understand the symbolic meanings and associations held by words if you devote careful attention to the specific language choices the author has made. Authors use language skilfully to create imagery, such as metaphor, simile and personification, and other literary effects. Setting, characterisation and dialogue also depend on the author’s ability in using language.

You will be able to increase your understanding of the text enormously by paying very close attention to its language. Spend a little time lingering over the words and imagery, carefully considering the multiple possible meanings which exist beyond the surface meaning. Think about what each individual choice of words, or combinations of words, could suggest. While you’re reading, pay close attention to the language used and jot down any ideas that come to mind. The time and care you devote to the language will be repaid by your increased ability to analyse literature.

Answer the questions below to develop your understanding of the way language choices affect the reader’s interpretation of Lord of the Flies.

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  1. "Sitting, Ralph was aware of the heat for the first time that day. He pulled distastefully at his grey shirt and wondered whether he might undertake the adventure of washing it." Which two words are surprising when used in combination here?
    The task of washing a shirt is incongruous with the ideal of adventure. Ralph begins to long for clean clothes, a haircut and a toothbrush. These desires distinguish him from Jack, who revels in the earthiness of hunting and the covering of his body in mud and charcoal.
  2. "Jack planned his new face. He made one cheek and one eye-socket white, then rubbed red over the other half of his face and slashed a black bar of charcoal across from right ear to left jaw." What is implied by the use of the phrase "new face"?
    The face markings begin as camouflage to improve Jack's ability to hunt successfully but become a terrifying mask which allows him to engage in forbidden behaviour
  3. "We'll have rules!" he cried excitedly. "Lots of rules! Then when anyone breaks 'em - "
    "Whee-oh!"
    "Wacco!"
    "Bong!"
    "Doink!"
    What do these lines demonstrate?
    These boyish interjections would be typical of a comic - you can imagine them inside a "shout" bubble
  4. "The officer, surrounded by these noises, was moved and a little embarrassed. He turned away to give them time to pull themselves together; and waited, allowing his eyes to rest on the trim cruiser in the distance." How does the word "trim" function in this sentence?
    The officer is embarrassed by the boys' (and his own) emotion. His silence is intended to encourage the boys to adopt a "stiff upper lip". The "trim" ship contrasts order with the disorder he has discovered on the island
  5. "A sliver of moon rose over the horizon, hardly large enough to make a path of light even when it sat right down on the water; but there were other lights in the sky, that moved fast, winked, or went out, though not even a faint popping came down from the battle fought at ten miles' height. But a sign came down from the world of grown-ups, though at the time there was no child awake to read it." What is the effect of this passage?
    The adult world and the children's island world each seem small and insignificant in contrast to the other. This effect is created through the use of language such as "faint popping" and the description of lights which "winked, or went out". The fact that the children are unable to read the "sign" sent by the battle taking place in the adult world also contributes to the effect
  6. "Within the diamond haze of the beach something dark was fumbling along. Ralph saw it first, and watched till the creature stepped away from the mirage on to clear sand, and they saw that the darkness was not all shadow but mostly clothing." Which of the following words in this introduction of the choir contribute to the foreshadowing of later events?
    The introduction of the choir is foreboding. The manner in which they operate as a group, which at first appears to be a dark creature, foreshadows their terrifying power later in the novel
  7. "Down, down, the waters went, whispering like the wind among the heads of the forest. There was on flat rock there, spread like a table, and the waters sucking down on the four weedy sides made them seem like cliffs. Then the sleeping leviathan breathed out - the waters rose, the weed streamed, and the water boiled over the table rock with a roar." What does the sea NOT do in these sentences?
    The verbs used here describe the sea almost as if it were alive: it whispers, sucks, rises, causes seaweed to stream, boils and roars. Golding uses the metaphor of a leviathan (a sea monster); the rise of the waves are the monster's exhalation
  8. "Simon found he was looking into a vast mouth. There was a blackness within, a blackness that spread.
    ' - Or else,' said the Lord of the Flies, 'we shall do you. See? Jack and Roger and Maurice and Robert and Bill and Piggy and Ralph. Do you. See?'"
    Why is the phrase, "do you", especially menacing?
    The reader can imagine the threat, "do you", to be one commonly employed by the bullying schoolboys with whom Simon would be very familiar. The Lord of the Flies draws upon the secret fear that everyone else is against Simon. The threat is fulfilled during the frenzied attack later at Castle Rock
  9. "Break the line.
    A tree.
    Hide, and let them pass."
    These lines express Ralph's thoughts as he is being hunted by the rest of the boys. What is the effect?
    Ralph barely has time to decide which of his few options gives him the greatest chance of survival. He misses Piggy's advice and the orderly decision-making of earlier days on the island
  10. When Ralph and Piggy find their way to Jack's camp and are fed roast meat, each of the boys' actions is described in terms which contrast learned, "civilised", human behaviour with more animal-like traits. Which of the following sentences emphasises only human characteristics?
    Laughing at Piggy restores the usual social cohesion of the rest of the group. This behaviour is tolerated in "civilised" society, unlike eating meat with the hands, gnawing bones and responding to the environment with aimless movement

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