Piggy: What’s in a name?

‘He was shorter than the fair boy and very fat. He came forward, searched out safe lodgements for his feet, and then looked up through thick spectacles’ (7).

This is our first visual introduction to Piggy on the opening page of William Golding’s extraordinary novel Lord of the Flies and this description serves us well for the rest of the book. Piggy is perhaps the most famous and enduring character from Lord of the Flies; his large stature, spectacles and insistence on rules and order makes him instantly recognisable. His often priggish attitude to life on the island causes annoyance to the other boys and frustration on the part of the reader, who can appreciate the good Piggy is trying to do, but his manner usually ends up alienating him from the group.

What is most interesting about Piggy is that we never find out his real name. During his first meeting with Ralph, he ask Ralph his name, and is surprised when Ralph doesn’t ask for his. Eventually he gives up hinting to Ralph to ask for his name and instead declares, ‘I don’t care what they call me … so long as they don’t call me what they used to call me at school’ (11). This makes Ralph ‘faintly interested’ and he asks Piggy for the nickname without requesting his actual name. Piggy, in his desire for friendship, makes his first mistake on the island by revealing the name given to him from former tormenters. Later during the first meeting, Jack calls him ‘Fatty’ but Ralph interrupts with a shout: ‘His real name’s Piggy!’ (23). All the boys unite in laughter while Piggy cleans his glasses in embarrassment and shame. Shortly after, Piggy confronts Ralph over the revelation of his hated name: ‘I said I didn’t care as long as they didn’t call me Piggy; an’ I said not to tell and then you went an’ said straight out’ (26). Ralph, understanding his mistake, tries to reassure him, ‘Better Piggy than Fatty’ (27).

Throughout the novel, he is always referred to as Piggy and, even though several biographical details about him emerge – he lives with his aunt who has a sweet shop, his father is dead and he has asthma – his real name is never revealed. When Ralph is rescued by the officer during the book’s thrilling conclusion, he weeps ‘for the end of innocence, the darkness of man’s heart, and the fall through the air of the true, wise friend called Piggy’ (223). Ironically, of course, this ‘true, wise friend’ is not called Piggy at all, and the way Golding has structured this sentence – emphasising the fact that he is ‘called’ Piggy – suggests that Ralph regrets his failure to discover his real name.  This also serves as a reminder to Ralph that it is his fault that Piggy was so-named on the island and is another source of regretful shame.

Although we never determine Piggy’s name, Piggy himself is keen to find out exactly who everyone is on the island. He says, ‘I expect we’ll want to know all their names … and make a list’. When other boys join them on the beach after Ralph blows the conch shell, Piggy dutifully collects names and tries to tell Ralph who again, is uninterested. In a bid to placate Piggy over the upset of his nickname, Ralph tells him that it is his ‘job’ to take names while he, Jack and Simon explore the island, which calms Piggy’s indignation. However, without the support and presence of the leader, the boys disperse and Piggy is unable to complete his register. This causes a problem during the fire on the mountain when one of the small boys disappears. Piggy rightly insists that the lack of rules and chaos are the cause of this disappearance and predicts further problems unless some kind of order is established. ‘How can you expect to be rescued if you don’t put first things first and act proper?’ (50).

The conch

When Piggy makes these statements, backed up by his possession of the conch, the other boys, particularly Jack, usually shout him down. Indeed, Piggy firmly believes in the power of the conch, even after the conflict on the island and the stealing of his spectacles. When Ralph, Piggy, Sam and Eric go to confront the other boys about the theft Piggy says, ‘You let me carry the conch, Ralph.  I’ll show him the one thing he hasn’t got’ (189). Piggy tries to reason with them, backed up by the ‘white magic shell’ (199) by shouting ‘Which is better – to have rules and agree, or to hunt and kill?’ (199). The response of Roger, a member of Jack’s tribe, is to drop an enormous rock onto Piggy. Beautifully written by Golding: ‘the rock struck Piggy a glancing blow from chin to knee; the conch exploded into a thousand white fragments and ceased to exist’ (200). The destruction of Piggy and the conch symbolises the end of any semblance of order and exposes Piggy’s naiveté; his hope that the boys would still recognise the authority of the conch is destroyed in the most brutal manner.

The tragic murder of Piggy is the most shocking event in Golding’s novel. Although Simon is killed a few chapters earlier, it was unintentional, as the boys mistook him for the beast in their excitement, fear and panic. Roger executes Piggy’s murder ‘with a sense of delirious abandonment’ (200) and if the officer hadn’t arrived on the island, Ralph would certainly have been killed next. Piggy’s death elucidates the savage results of societal breakdown and disorder. Perhaps this is why he continues to fascinate readers to such an extent; this character – known only as ‘Piggy’ – who is so insistent on rules, order and democratic processes, is destroyed not just because of the lack of them, but because he believed in them.

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