Lord of the Flies - Context

This GCSE English Literature quiz challenges you on context in Lord of the Flies by William Golding. Context, when used in reference to a literary work, means the environment in which a text was written. This environment includes social and political events, great and small, as well as the geographical location and time at which the author wrote. If you think these aspects of context are beginning to sound familiar, this is because you will find the same elements in a text’s setting. As you know, setting refers to the fictional aspects of the world contained in the text. Context describes the same aspects of the author’s own world. On some occasions, the author’s historical context might seem indistinguishable from the fictional setting of the text. This is the case with Lord of the Flies, where readers sometimes assume that the novel’s historical setting matches Golding’s own wartime experiences (watch out for the differences!).

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Remember that context does not dictate the meaning of the text; it is very important to bear in mind that authors are only influenced by their environment and that this influence appears in various ways in the texts which they write. An author’s personal beliefs might also affect the text, although, again, it is important not to make assumptions about exactly how these beliefs are (or are not) apparent in the text.

How to write about context

Make the effort to learn as much as much as you can about the context of the works of fiction you study. You will begin to develop a good picture of how a specific text has been shaped by its environment. You should avoid leaping to the conclusion that any particular events or circumstances of the author’s life have a direct and obvious impact on the meaning of the text, however. The various ways in which context influences meaning are subtle and it is always wise not to assume that any historical event is represented in a clear and unbiased manner in the pages of a fictional text. The knowledge of context you gain will not be wasted, however, and will help you to understand the text better.

Research the context of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, remembering everything you have learned in your English lessons, and try these questions to see how much you know about the context of the novel.

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  1. "I should have thought that a pack of British boys - you're all British aren't you? - would have been able to put up a better show than that." What does the naval officer's statement imply?
    The naval officer expresses disappointment that British boys, in particular, could have become so uncivilised and even so disorganised that they are unsure how many boys are on the island
  2. In the novel the boys are evacuated during a war with the "Reds". Who are the "Reds"?
    "Reds" is shorthand for Communists. The war from which the boys are evacuated is not a historical war; its details are kept vague. This gives the war in which the novel is set a broad and deeply symbolic meaning
  3. The novel was first published during which war?
    Golding had direct experience of fighting in the Second World War. The novel was published during the Cold War between the Soviet Union and its allies and the United States and its allies
  4. Piggy's nickname results from the bullying he received at school. Against his will, Ralph shares the nickname with the other boys, perpetuating the bullying culture. Which of the following is NOT true of bullying in the novel?
    The bullying in the novel develops naturally from the boys' previous lives as school pupils; it escalates from name-calling and ridicule to injury, accidental death and the intention to murder
  5. "My father's in the Navy. He said there aren't any unknown islands left. He says the Queen has a big room full of maps and all the islands in the world are drawn there." Ralph's statements are intended to make the other boys feel safe and confident. They are a reminder of...
    Ralph says, "The Queen's got a picture of this island." The reassuring image of British maps which encompass the entire world and a Queen with a Navy at her command emphasises the reach of the British Empire. It is this world, however, whose decline is already well-advanced at the time the novel was written
  6. William Golding worked as which of the following?
    Golding taught in a boys' grammar school. He also served as a naval officer in the Second World War, published poetry and worked in theatre
  7. Which of the following took place in 1945 in New Mexico, United States of America?
    Nuclear bombs were dropped by the United States on the Japanese cities, Nagasaki and Hiroshima, soon afterwards. In the novel, Piggy overhears the pilot of the plane talking about an "atom" (nuclear) bomb which, he assumes, has destroyed the airport where the plane was due to land
  8. What is the single piece of modern technology the boys have on the island?
    Without Piggy's glasses, it is unlikely a fire could have been lit. Piggy, of course, needs the glasses to see, but is willing to share them for the good of the group. Later the glasses become a resource to be fought over and are stolen
  9. In what year was Lord of the Flies first published?
    Lord of the Flies was published in 1954, almost the middle of the twentieth century
  10. The opening to the novel resembles what type of story?
    The novel is written so that the reader will be reminded of a boys' adventure story, a genre popular in the early twentieth century. The boys, excited at the thought of having the island to themselves, compare their future adventures to Treasure Island, Swallows and Amazons and Coral Island

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