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Supplemental Guide to Lord of the Flies/Symbolism

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The Lord of the Flies contains many examples of symbolism which Golding has incorporated to show a deeper level to the main, mostly straightforward, storyline that reveals his thoughts on the nature of humanity and evil. Below are some of the main symbols used in the book, but there are plenty more for you to discover yourself. Among such symbols may be included such small or natural seeming events like the coral reef, (Submarine warfare, surrounding of Britain by German U-boats?) or the "great fire", which may represent the first world war, ("We shall never commit to this savagery again"). Blood is another symbol Golding uses extensively, although what he uses it for is open to interpretation. The different styles of leadership shown by Jack and Ralph symbolize democracy and dictatorship, much like as depicted in George Orwell's Animal Farm where he used pigs to symbolize the USSR's communist leaders. There are also examples of symbolism in the title, which is a major factor in the storyline of the book.

The Beast[edit | edit source]

The imaginary beast that frightens all the boys represents the primal instinct of savagery that exists within all human beings. The boys are afraid of the beast, but only Simon reaches the realization that they fear the beast because it exists within each of them. As the boys grow more savage, their belief in the beast grows stronger. By the end of the novel, the boys are leaving it sacrifices and treating it as a totemic god. The boys’ behavior is what brings the beast into existence, so the more savagely the boy's actions, the more real the beast seems to become. The boys "become" the beast when they kill Simon. Golding describes the savages' behavior as animal-like; the savages dropped their spears (man's tool) and "screamed, struck, bit, tore. There were no words, and no movements but the tearing of teeth and claws." This description is very similar to Sam and Eric's description of the beast on the mountain. The Beast is a threat, be it imagined or real, to the society that has been formed on the island and is treated as such by all the characters except Simon. This threat is at first a unifier of the boys and then divides them, all seeking safety in the tribe and its military power. So the beast can be seen as a tool whereby Jack maintains his power, a representation of all evils and a way of instilling fear and respect in the populace. In the context of the book, if looked at historically, the Beast is the threat from Soviet Russia used by governments to manipulate their people and increase military spending or similarly any propaganda used by any government to undermine democracy. Also, Simon realizes there is no beast and says “Maybe it’s only us” this shows how Simon realizes the “darkness of man's heart” affects us all.

In a more analytical sense, the beast is a symbolic representation of the evil Human nature within mankind when outside the constructs and laws of society.

The Conch[edit | edit source]

A conch.
A conch.

Piggy and Ralph first find the conch in Chapter 1. It represents civilization and democracy. Ralph first blows the conch to call all the other boys on the island together to form a civilization. All the boys then vote him as the leader because he called them together and they all see Jack as an unattractive threat. The boys then use the conch as a right to speak. "Ralph smiled and held up the conch for silence." Throughout the novel, Piggy holds on to the conch and encourages Ralph and others to use it at times when Piggy feels that civilization is being lost. In Chapter 11, Ralph, Piggy and Sam 'n Eric arrive at Castle Rock to claim Piggy's glasses. Ralph again tries the conch one more time to bring the "savages" back to form a civilization. However this fails, and instead, Ralph argues with Jack. Piggy tries one more time to use the conch as a right to speak. Finally, at the height of this argument, Roger levers a boulder off the rock which kills Piggy and smashes the conch. "The conch exploded into a thousand white fragments and ceased to exist". Therefore, all hope of civilization is lost. Ralph and Piggy discover the conch shell on the beach at the start of the novel and use it to summon the boys together after the crash separates them. Used in this capacity, the conch shell becomes a powerful symbol of civilization and order in the novel. The shell effectively governs the boys’ meetings, for the boy who holds the shell holds the right to speak. In this regard, the shell is more than a symbol—it is an actual vessel of political legitimacy and democratic power. As the island civilization erodes and the boys descend into savagery, the conch shell loses its power and influence among them, which is mirrored by its physical condition. As the story progresses the conch begins to lose its color as its influence (and hence civilization in general) begins to wane, all the way until it becomes colorless before it is finally destroyed. Ralph clutches the shell desperately when he talks about his role in murdering Simon. In chapter 10, Jack chooses to steal Piggy's glasses (fire) instead of the conch showing how little he values it. Later, the other boys ignore Ralph and throw stones at him when he attempts to blow the conch in Jack’s camp. The boulder that Roger rolls onto Piggy also crushes the conch shell, signifying the demise of the civilized instinct among almost all the boys on the island.

Piggy's Specs[edit | edit source]

Piggy's glasses (specs) are a symbol of technology and innovation. In a more concrete sense, Piggy's glasses function as a tool, as the specs are used by the boys to light a fire. It should be noted here that sources of light are traditionally representative of truth, wisdom, or reason, especially in the context of a civilization. As the specs are damaged and eventually stolen, the technological status of the boys on the island becomes less and less advanced, such as when they cease work on the huts and fire to instead hunt and maim, just for the sake of it. They also symbolize vision, which is why Golding made Piggy short-sighted with glasses because they give him a vision. When the lenses of the glasses are smashed, it symbolizes the vision of being rescued fading away.

The Signal Fire[edit | edit source]

The fire on top of the mountain is used by the boys to attract attention which will hopefully lead to rescue from passing ships. It acts as a gauge on how interested the boys are in returning to civilization. Ironically, in the end, the signal fire is not what attracts their rescue but the ongoing forest fire that started in a bloodthirsty hunt for Ralph. Piggy's glasses are the only way which the fire can be lit, a possible metaphor for science offering the only hope to the struggling countries in the post-war era. There is also an aspect of fire as the cleanser, that from the ashes shall come something more stable; a rebirth. From the first fire arises death, accidental, and from the second arises salvation in the form of the arriving Royal Navy. The fire also symbolizes the meaning of hope to be rescued. This hope is what keeps the boys going at the start of the book, but when they have an assembly about the hunters not keeping the fire going in chapter 9, it marks the point at which the hope of being rescued starts to fade away.

Hair & Eyes[edit | edit source]

As the boys' hair grows, some allow it to fall in their eyes, usually when they are engaged in the savage behavior. Ralph fights an ongoing battle with his hair falling into his eyes; he is continually pushing it out of his eyes as he struggles to stay civilized. Piggy's hair never seems to grow, yet another characteristic that separates him from the other boys. Golding seems to use hair in the eyes to signify the boys' descent into savage behavior. Ralph struggles to stay civilized like Piggy because of the other boys' actions. Ralph also at the start is called “the boy with the fair hair” he then becomes “a shock of hair” this shows the savagery which is affecting Ralph.