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Symbolism in William Golding's Lord of the Flies

Symbolism in William Golding's Lord of the Flies

William Golding's extraordinary novel 'Lord of the Flies' supported his entire reputation as a writer. Full of symbols, this novel continues to entertain readers even now. Study with Penlighten the symbolism of Lord of the Flies.
Rucha Phatak
Did You Know?
William Golding's Lord of the Flies was written as a reaction to R.M. Ballantyne's The Coral Island, even using a similar setting as well as names. However, in The Coral Island, the boys remain civilized till the end, while in Lord of the Flies, the boys descend quickly into barbarism without any adult supervision.

"We did everything adults would do. What went wrong?" says Piggy, a character from Lord of the Flies. The novel narrates the story of a group of British children who are stranded on an island amidst World War II. Them they are trying to recreate a society there. It shows the transition of civilized children from establishing social norms on the island to behaving according to their primitive senses. The novel holds up a mirror to society's primitive nature within social conducts.

For better understanding, let's go through the summary, and check out the symbolism of Lord of the Flies.

Lord of the Flies: Summary

The novel opens at an unspecified war time, when a group of British boys, aged 6 - 12, are stranded on an island in the Pacific ocean. In a plane crash, they are the only survivors. With no adults around, the boys are left to fend for themselves. One of the boys, Ralph, finds a conch on the seashore, and is thus elected as the chief of the young boys. They decide to build a fire to signal to any passing ship, for their rescue.

All the boys, except Jack, who was already a chief sort for the choir boys, were coping under Ralph's leadership. Boys like Simon help him build shelters for all of them. The trouble begins when the young boys recount the tales of the island beast. The older ones tease them, though all the boys are actually afraid of the beast.

One day, Jack lured the boys to go pig hunting. While the boys go for the hunt, they miss their rescue as no one is left tending to the fire. Jack becomes more and more savage as the days go by on the island.

One day, a dead fighter's parachute gets tangled in the trees. In the dark, the boys mistake this as the beast. Jack and Ralph lead a hunting party, but with no success. Only Simon identifies the dead man, and decides to tell everyone else.

Jack, later, forms his own tribe, as he does not think Ralph to be a good chief. He lures other boys with the promises of food, hunting, and freedom. Simon watches the pig hunt, and the mutilation of the pig's head, led by Jack. Simon names the pig head 'Lord of the Flies', and believes it is talking to him. Simon imagines the dead pig head telling him that the beast is inside the boys. He decides the tell the boys the truth, but is killed instead by frenzied boys due to his sudden appearance. As the sea washes off Simon's body, the wind untangles the parachute, and the dead man's body falls into the water.

Jack and his crew decide to take Piggy's glasses to create a rescue fire. While Ralph and Piggy are talking to Jack and his crew, one of the crew member, Roger, pushes a boulder from a cliff, killing Piggy and breaking the conch. Ralph runs for his life, as Jack and the others chase him. The chase ends when Ralph runs into a British Navy officer. The officer is surprised to find civilized British boys in a very uncivilized and savage state, and demands an explanation. The boys begin crying, as they realize that they are now safe, but remember what all has happened on the island.

Lord of the Flies: Symbolism

Golding has used the novel to show the changeover from being civilized to being primitive when there is no authority to organize. To express his idea in a more effective way, he has used symbolism in the story. Let us work our way through the different symbolism in Lord of the Flies.

Conch

In the beginning of the novel, we see Ralph and Piggy discovering a conch shell on the seashore. Ralph uses it to gather all the boys, who were separated after the plane crash. This use makes the conch a symbol of civilization and order, instantly. The influence of the conch helps Ralph get elected as a chief unanimously. In addition to that, anyone holding the conch in the meeting could speak his mind. The shell becomes a symbol of democracy as well. The conch starts to lose its bright colors as the boys grow more and more savage. In the end, the smashing of the conch with the death of Piggy symbolizes the end of whatever little democracy or civility was left in the boys.

Fire Signal

The boys decide to burn a fire as a signal so as to attract a passing ship's attention, which would help them be rescued. In this way, the fire signal connects the boys to civilization. However, as they become more savage, their losing connection with civilization is shown with their ignorance of this signal. For example, Jack lets the fire go out in order to go hunting.

The fire signal symbolizes the hope to be rescued. However, with the loss of the fire, they lose their hopes as well. In the end, the fire raging out of control depicts the boys' loss of control.

Glasses

In the novel, Piggy's glasses are used as a mode to start a fire. The glasses also stand for the ability see and understand things clearly. When the glasses are broken, with Piggy's death, it depicts the boys' inability to see or understand anything civilized. They then become totally barbaric.

Beast

The boys believe that the island is a habitat of a beast. The beast has no specific shape or size. The boys perceive a dead paratrooper tangled in the trees to be this beast. However, this unseen beast represents the inner beast or inner savagery of mankind. Among all the boys, only Simon actually understands that there is no real beast around, and that the actual beast is within themselves.

Lord of the Flies

After a hunt, Jack impales a pig's head on a stick, and keeps it as an offering to the beast. When Simon sees this, it is already swarming with flies. Simon names it 'Lord of the Flies'. It is a physical representation of the beast that talks and explains the true nature of evil to Simon. It is a literal translation of a biblical name 'Beelzebub', which is a powerful demon from hell.

Scar

At the beginning of the novel, after the plane crashes, it leaves a scar on the island. Golding uses this image to depict the evil that mankind has shaped on Earth. It is ugly and permanent, like the very scar in the novel.

The Boys

Just as other things, the boys also represent different aspects of society.

Ralph: leadership, order, and civilization

Piggy: intellectual aspect of society

Jack: savagery and desire of power

Simon: goodness

Roger: brutality

Older boys: ruling class

Younger boys: common people

Golding reflects on society in Lord of the Flies. Using different symbols, he indirectly pinches the issues that plague society as a whole. Using young boys as protagonists, he shows how terrifying the ways of civilization are.