Why does Ralph Think that the Boy He Sees is “Not Bill” in Lord of the Flies?

Updated 28 August, 2023
In "Lord of the Flies," Ralph mistakes the naval officer for a boy named Bill because the officer's uniformed appearance starkly contrasts with the boys' disheveled state. The officer's khaki shorts, black cap with a gold badge, and visible revolver highlight his disciplined look, standing in stark opposition to the wild, paint-smeared appearance of the stranded boys. This moment of mistaken identity serves as a poignant commentary on the loss of innocence and the stark contrast between the structured world of adults and the chaos the boys have descended into on the island.
Detailed answer:

In William Golding's "Lord of the Flies," Ralph's assertion that the naval officer he sees is "not Bill" highlights the stark juxtaposition between the disciplined world of adults and the chaos that has consumed the stranded boys.

Throughout the novel, the boys' descent into savagery and their gradual loss of civilization are evident. When the naval officer arrives on the island to rescue the boys, he represents the return of order and authority. Ralph's initial confusion, believing the officer is a boy named Bill, underscores the shocking contrast between the boys' appearance—disheveled, paint-smeared, and wild—and the officer's disciplined, uniformed presence.

The text reflects this contrast when it describes the officer: "His khaki shorts were turned up at the waist by a belt, a gold cap badge glinted on his black cap, there was a revolver bulging in his pocket." These details highlight the officer's stark departure from the boys' primitive state.

Ralph's mistaken observation serves as a poignant moment of irony and commentary on the loss of innocence and societal norms that the boys have experienced. It also emphasizes the jarring dichotomy between the world of adults, represented by the naval officer, and the world the boys have created on the island.

Furthermore, this moment encapsulates one of the novel's central themes—the inherent darkness within human nature and the thin veneer of civilization that separates individuals from chaos. Ralph's misidentification of the officer reflects the boys' yearning for the structure and security that the officer represents, yet it also exposes the profound divergence between their idealized notions of civilization and the grim reality they have faced.

In conclusion, Ralph's belief that the naval officer is "not Bill" in "Lord of the Flies" serves as a symbol of the stark contrast between the disciplined adult world and the boys' descent into savagery. This poignant moment underscores the themes of loss of innocence, the fragile nature of civilization, and the inherent darkness within human nature.


  1. 1. Golding, W. (2003). Lord of the Flies. Penguin Books.
    2. Ballantyne, R. (2018). The Coral Island and Lord of the Flies: Parallel Worlds? Critical Survey, 30(1), 23-33. doi:10.3167/cs.2018.300104
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