Lord of the Flies Lenses: Psychological, Anthropological, and Biographical

Applying Freud's model of the psyche, Thompson's model of an interdependent community, and Golding's biography to Lord of the Flies


Lord of the Flies: Psychological Lens
How can an understanding of Freud's model of the psyche be used to better understand characters, symbols, and events in Lord of the Flies?

Sigmund Freud's model of the psyche (the human mind)
Id: The id is the unorganized part of the psyche that contains a human's basic, instinctual drives and desires. To the id there is no right or wrong.

Ego: The ego is the organized part of the psyche that seeks to satisfy the id's drives and desires in ways that make sense (ways that are not destructive) in the long term. The ego makes choices; it is related to (but not the same as) reason, common sense, and the conscious (as opposed to subconscious) mind.

Superego: The superego refers to the part of the psyche that wants to act in socially appropriate ways. The superego can be thought of as the rules of a society that become part of you. The superego is associated with a person's conscience, a sense of right and wrong. (The superego is often in conflict with the ego.)


Lord of the Flies: Anthropological Lens.
How can an understanding of William Irwin Thompson's anthropological model of the roles necessary for an interdependent, harmonious society be used to explain what goes wrong with the society in Lord of the Flies?

1.        In 1957, John Marshall made a documentary film called The Hunters about hunter-gatherers in Africa.
2.        William Irwin Thompson designed an anthropological model to explain the interdependence and harmony within tribal communities like the one depicted in Marshall’s film.
3.        Writer Kathleen Woodward used Thompson’s model to explain the failure of society in Lord of the Flies.

Clown (fool) & Shaman (priest/ “saint”): ideational (think) / introverted  
Headman (leader) & Hunter (warrior): operational (do) / extroverted
Clown & Headman: rational / conscious
Shaman & Hunter: irrational / subrational / subconscious         


Lord of the Flies: Biographical Lens
William Golding
How can aspects of Golding's biography be used to understand aspects of Lord of the Flies?

Rationalism and the Rejection of Rationalism
“Born in 1911, Golding was the son of an English schoolmaster, a many-talented man who believed strongly in science and rational thought.

“Golding had switched his major from Natural Sciences [Physics, Chemistry, etc.] to English literature after two years in college a crucial change that marked the beginning of Golding's disillusion with the rationalism of his father. “
Source: Cyclopedia of World Authors, 4th edition

World War II
“The period in Golding's life that most affected his writing of Lord of the Flies, however, was probably his service in World War II.  Raised in the sheltered environment of a private English School, Golding was unprepared for the violence unleashed by the war. Joining the Navy, he was injured in an accident involving detonators early in the war, but later was given command of a small rocket-launching craft.  Golding was present at the sinking of the Bismarck—the crown ship of the German Navy—and also took part in the D-Day landings in France in June 1944.  He later described his experience in the war as one in which ‘one had one’s nose rubbed in the human condition.’”
Source: Cyclopedia of World Authors, 4th edition

In 1940 Golding was given a position teaching English and philosophy at Bishop Wordsworth (a private school in England). He joined the British Navy later that same year. In 1945 Golding returned to the teaching position at Bishop Wordsworth.

“Whether for his own research or not he is recalled as active in certain lessons - both of English and Religious Knowledge - in questioning boys and eliciting their ideas, insights and self-perceptions. It seems that, whether to young boys or potential Oxbridge scholars "his idea was to provoke us into thinking, which most schoolboys did as little of as possible". He also showed the importance of empathy when studying different religions - each one presented as if he believed in it. William Golding clearly had authority and discipline whether dealing with pert or precocious boys, or with the member of a play production crew who played the Russian (rather than the British) National Anthem before a performance, or with the culprit who attempted to conceal an ignited sparkler in his desk.

“As master in charge of a trip to Figsbury Rings (Iron Age fort) he gave permission for the boys to form into two groups - one to attack the fort and one to defend it. The author's opportunity for close observation of boys in conflict was further extended.

William Golding had been an unpublished novelist for some years. Many pupils can recall being given sheets of manuscript to read. These readings were tantalisingly piecemeal but enough to show some readers that the extracts were rather in the style of C.S. Forester's 'Hornblower'. In time he acquired the style of 'The Lord of the Flies', so much of it apparently written in class and reputedly finished under cover of his old green-tinged gown during a Founder's Day service.”
Source: http://www.bws.wilts.sch.uk/Alumni/sch_famous_ows.html

Writing the novel
“In 1952 he began the story that would later become Lord of the Flies after reading a bedtime boys adventure story to his small children. (At first the novel was known as Strangers from Within.) Golding wondered out loud to his wife whether it would be a good idea to write such a story but to let the characters "behave as they really would." His wife thought that would be a "first class idea." With that encouragement, Golding found that writing the story, the ideas for which had been germinating in his mind for some time, was simply a matter of getting it down on paper.

“In January of 1953 Golding began showing the book to publishers. In September of 1953 it was finally accepted for publication by Faber and Faber. It was published (with changes) in 1954.”
Source: Cyclopedia of World Authors, 4th edition


  1. Names

    Ralph: from Old Norse/Old English words for *wolf* and *counsel* (advice, instruction)

    Piggy: um, pig

    Jack: from Hebrew *Jacob* the supplanter, a person who takes over

    Simon: from Hebrew *Shim'on* a person who listens, observes, pays attention

    Roger: from Germanic words meaning *fame* and *spear*

    [I'm not sure if this is significant but Samuel is Hebrew for "name of God" and Samuel was a judge and prophet in the Bible. Eric comes from Germanic words meaning *one* and *ruler*.

  2. Christian Lens

    (1) Compare and contrast the following elements from *Genesis* and *Lord of the Flies*
    * Description of the Garden of Eden in relation to description of the island in Lord of the Flies
    * the role of nakedness in the Bible and LotF
    * the role of naming people and things in the Bible and LotF
    * serpent in Garden of Eden; "snake-like" beast "seen" by littluns
    * Consider the relevance of the following...
    Satan is sometimes referred to as the "Beast."
    * "Lord of the Flies" is an English translation of Beelzebub, a demon of decay and destruction. (Sometimes Beelzebub is used as a name for the devil.)
    (3) Simon
    * Could Simon be seen as a "saint" (William Golding's word for Simon), a prophet, or a Christ-figure? Think of spirituality, compassion, and non-violence.

    * Compare Simon's encounter with the Lord of the Flies and Christ's encounter with the devil during his 40 days in the wilderness.

    * Consider how each is martyred for a version (though different versions) of Good News.