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Symbolism in “Lord of the Flies” by William Golding Research Paper

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Updated: Sep 14th, 2021

Introduction

When the story first begins, a group of children is stranded on a deserted, tropical island. The island symbolized freedom as there were no adults there. It seemed like the ideal world to them. William Golding wanted to show that paradise is far from reality.

The beginning setting resembled The Coral Island, a perfect setting – food, sun, friendship, simple democratic organization adventures, and happiness. A simple society was set up to introduce rules on the island to try and resemble their original society. This was accomplished by the symbolic nature of the conch shell. The conch shell represents power and authority and the only rules the children have. The conch shows how people use objects to give power.

At first, the conch was a success. Everyone followed the rules and was happy. It was the perfect Utopia. Later in the story, we also learn that objects don’t always give power when people don’t choose to obey them. This was the case when Jack started to rebel and disobey Ralph’s rules and commands. This was where their perfect Utopia fell apart.

Main text

William Golding also wanted to show his readers the true meaning of the real world. He wanted to show that reality is not always perfect. Instead of comradeship, co-operation, and teamwork, like described in the ideal world – William Golding has created a murderous, bloodthirsty and evil society that has accurately represented the world that society exists in today. In an ideal world, hard work plays out and goodness comes to those ends.

In The Lord of the Flies, the fire in the story is lit as a symbol of hope and rescue. In the ideal world – this would have resulted in their rescue, however, rebellion from and murderous acts from Jack resulted in their final rescue and not the original fire. So in reality, we succeed more often from luck instead of hard work.

Lord of the Flies can also be interpreted as an allegory or parable. Ralph, Jack, and the rest were given a choice and the knowledge of good and evil. The island in The Lord Of The Flies resembled the perfect type of Utopia at first, and all they had to do was follow the ‘good laws’ of the adult society. They fell prey to temptations – pride, cruelty, bloodthirstiness, greed, and the desire to hurt and kill. Jack, who was the head of the choir group and who was the also first to follow rules – could not resist these temptations deep within him. And that was why he was taken over to the dark side. (Reilly 49)

Many of the characters in the story are symbolic of really important people. They show how the real world is made up of people. Ralph symbolized a good leader who was the first to try and establish a civilized society and bring rules to the island. Ralph, however, could not control evil people like Jack. Ralph represented Franklin Roosevelt before World War 2, who could not prevent the war from breaking out. Piggy symbolized the educated people who gave good advice which nobody listened to. Piggy represented Albert Einstein when he argued the bad ideas of using the atomic bomb.

Simon symbolized Christ, a holy and angelic figure in the story. It was Simon who discovered that the true evil was the evil coming from one’s own heart. Jack, on the other hand, was a crazy leader who killed and slaughtered because he wanted power.

He broke rules and had a disregard the commands of Ralph. Jack represented Adolf Hitler, who was also evil, arrogant, and dictatorial. William Golding has shown his readers the true reality of our world. Instead of a perfect, happy, and ideal world, he has shown us a world where human life is ruled by the law of the jungle – the survival of the fittest. The Lord of the Flies acts as a miniature summary of the unpleasant lessons of world history. This novel is fulfilled with symbolism, but the ones that stand out the most are Piggy’s glasses and the fire, and the conch.

“His spectacles are used by them as burning glasses”! This quote connects to two symbols which are the fire and Piggy’s glasses. The fire is a symbol of rescue and hope. Without Piggy’s spectacles, they wouldn’t have been able to start a fire. While the novel went on they started another fire but they got sidetracked and the fire went out. Furthermore on in the story, the boys were working very hard to start a fire because they wanted to get rescued, but when it had gone out some boys like Jack didn’t care anymore about being rescued and had decided to give up because he knew he wasn’t going to be. At the end of the novel, Jack started the fire and wanted to ablaze that island to kill Ralph, but instead, it rescued them.

Throughout Lord of the Flies, the most important symbol is the conch. The importance of the conch is that it symbolizes everyone that is speaking, in other words, whoever is holding the conch has the power and right to talk and everyone surrounded by him must be listening. Ralph uses it to call meetings and for the boys to come. “I’ll give the conch to the next person to speak. He can hold it when he’s speaking”. The conch shows much power and a step towards the organization.

The plot is fairly simple but some very complex themes and symbolism are woven into it. The story starts with a group of young boys being marooned on an island previously uninhabited by mankind. They discover they are alone; there are no adults and they struggle to survive and to form a civilized society. This eventually leads to chaos, the breakdown of order and reason, and a return to man’s most primitive instincts. It is quite a disturbing book, which makes the reader look at the dark side of man’s soul.

The first symbol the reader encounters is the island itself. It represents the whole world. The island seems like paradise, it reminds us of the biblical Garden of Eden, a place where everything is perfect until humankind arrives. Golding deliberately makes the island remote from the rest of civilization to allow him to reveal the true nature of the characters and the world they create for themselves. The boys symbolize the whole of mankind. (Baker 401) They create their little world on the island. Their isolation from the rest of the world allows the author to experiment with them. The characters all remind the reader of people they know and so seem very real.

When Ralph finds the conch he makes it the first rule that whoever has the conch is allowed to speak and everyone else has to listen to them because he realizes that they need something to represent authority and rules. This shows that they have discovered the importance of communication in society. Language is unique to humans and is one of the things that make us different from animals. Towards the end of the story, the conch gets broken, this is a major turning point in the plot and symbolizes the breakdown of communication, the disintegration of society, and the point where the boys allow their primitive instincts to take over, making them almost animals.

Early in the book, Piggy, one of the boys, is made fun of about his appearance, including the fact that he wears glasses. In the boys’ first few hours Jack points out that Piggy’s glasses could be used to reflect sunlight onto dry wood to make a signal fire to increase the chance of rescue. They realize that Piggy’s glasses may be the most important thing they have. Piggy’s glasses symbolize the hope of rescue, clear thinking, and being able to see the truth.

When one of the lenses gets broken, things seem to break down and events start to become unclear, no one knows what is going on. When the ‘savages’ steal Piggy’s glass, everything becomes unclear. The glasses are the power of fire and when the savages steal them, Piggy’s group is left helpless with no hope of rescue. So the glasses are a symbol for seeing clearly, and for the power of fire which may lead to the rescue.

The signal fire on the mountain takes on huge importance because it symbolizes hope. It is their only possible way of attracting rescuers. It makes the boys feel secure because it is a link to the outside world and reminds them that there is hope and they are not doomed to a life on the island. (Johnson 132) It is an increasing source of comfort as the story progresses and they become more frightened of the ‘beast’.

When the fire goes out, the boys seem insecure and unsure of what might happen and are frantic to get it lit again. In a way, the signal fire is like a parent watching over them and giving them a kind of protection. When the power of fire is taken away from Piggy and Ralph, they almost abandon hope and eventually go and confront the savages and ask for the power of fire back.

Each of the main characters comes to symbolize an aspect of humanity. Ralph represents order, leadership, and civilization. Ralph also represents the normal, average boy; there is nothing special about him. He and his actions symbolize that of the majority of young boys. The other characters’ special abilities are measured against Ralph and he is used to showing for example the cleverness of Piggy and the evil in Jack. Throughout the story, Ralph symbolizes growing up or coming to “the end of innocence”. (Babb 120)

Piggy symbolizes the cleverness and sensibleness in the group. He is the first person to point out that no one knows that they are there. “Who knows we’re here? Eh?” He is like the voice of a grown-up, the brains behind Ralph’s actions, and when he is killed, towards the end of the novel, Ralph seems to almost fall apart with no Piggy to tell him what to do and how to do it. “Ralph wept for the end of innocence, the darkness of man’s heart, and the fall through the air of a true, wise friend called Piggy.” Jack picks on piggy because he is different; there is no real reason. This bullying is caused by a lack of understanding, the boys’ have never met problems like the ones Piggy has. This can be seen in their lack of understanding of his asthma, or “ass-mar”.

Jack symbolizes evil and savagery. His evil actions are seen from the very start of the novel when he makes fun of Piggy for almost no reason other than his appearance. (Baker 452) “Shut up Fatty.” Jack symbolizes the savagery and lust for power, this is also portrayed from the start when the first thing he thinks is that the group must have hunters and he must be the leader of the hunters. As the story progresses, this lust for power becomes clearer when he starts to express anger and jealousy towards Ralph and eventually starts his tribe, just to be the leader.

Carrying on the Biblical theme Simon also symbolizes Jesus. Jesus is considered by Christians as a miracle being. (Gindin 198) Simon spoke to the devil in the form of the Lord of the Flies just as Jesus spoke to the devil on his forty-night journey across the desert and Simon, like Jesus, predicted his death when talking to the Lord of the Flies.

Roger symbolizes exactly how cruel and brutal one human can be. He is by far the most savage of all the boys; he fully supports Jack in his evilness. Right at the start, he takes a liking to throw rocks and boulders and spears at his fellow boys and he has no regret or sympathy after he commits his violent acts. (Baker 119) He likes to torture, he tortured the little ones, the pig and Piggy. He is the one who eventually murders Piggy by rolling a boulder onto him. His badness goes further than anyone else’s.

The Lord of the Flies is perhaps the most important symbol in the novel. When Simon wanders off by himself he finds a pig’s head on a spear, surrounded by flies, which had been offered to the ‘beast’. Simon begins to hallucinate and imagines that the pig’s head is talking to him. It tells him that the beast is a figure of their imagination. (Friedman 78) This symbolizes that the boys have become insane.

They believe in this ‘beast’ which only exists within them and Simon is the first to realize this. The Lord of the Flies speaks in a voice that could be Jack’ “I’m warning you, I’m going to get waxy. D’you see? You’re not wanted. Understand? We are going to have fun on this island! So don’t try it on, my poor misguided boy, or else we shall do you. See?” Simon rushes back to tell the others that the beast doesn’t exist but before he can tell them, he is killed.

The ‘beast’ that all the boys fear is an important symbol. It shows that the boys have in one respect gone mad. They allow their childish fears to take over their adult reasoning. They all believe in this creature from the start, first of all, it takes the form of a ‘beastie’ that the little ‘uns see – ” a snake-thing. Ever so big.” Next, it takes the form of “the thing that bowed” which was the dead parachutist. Last, of all, it takes the form of the Lord of the Flies. It is the fear of the unknown, fear itself.

There is the symbolism of light and dark. By daylight, all seems fine but the nights on the island symbolize a time when something awful might happen. In the beginning, just the little ‘uns are scared of the dark but later they are all uneasy when darkness falls and there is a general feeling that with the darkness comes uncertainty about what might happen before daylight “Evening came, not with calm beauty but with the threat of violence” – Ralph. Light and dark is a common symbol for good and evil. In the end, Ralph weeps for “the darkness of man’s heart” and this is the whole essence of the book, a child’s realization of how evil one person can become. (Whitley 110)

Towards the end of the novel, after Simon and Piggy are killed, all the boys come to symbolize the instinctive, primitive behavior of early humans. They become one tribe and act with a common instinct. This is shown in Ralph when he is running away from Jack’s tribe “He obeyed an instinct he did not know he possessed.”

Summary

In conclusion, the symbolism is what makes the book great. It is what makes the reader think more deeply about what is happening and what reveals the true nature of the characters. Without it, “Lord of the Flies” would be just another children’s adventure story with a very simple plot and not the great work that it is. Lord of the flies is full of symbolism. Throughout the novel, Golding uses symbols that show us a deeper meaning and when you see the symbols you can truly find out what the story is all about symbolism because it is such an important aspect, which runs through the whole book and is crucial to the reader’s understanding of the plot and the development of the characters.

Works Cited

Babb S. Howard: The Novels of William Golding; Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1970.

Baker James R. Critical Essays on William Golding; Boston: G. K. Hall & Co., 1988.

Baker, James R. “The Decline of Lord of the Flies.” In South Atlantic Quarterly, Vol. 69, 1970, pp. 446-60

Baker, James R., ed. “Why It’s No Go: A Study of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. Arizona Quarterly 19 (1963): 393-405.

Friedman, Lawrence S. William Golding. New York: Continuum, 1993.

Gindin, James. William Golding. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1988.

Golding, William. Lord of the Flies. New York: Capricorn Books, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1954.

Johnson, Arnold (1980). Of Earth and Darkness. The Novels of William Golding. Missouri: University of Missouri Press, 132.

Reilly Patrick. Lord of the Flies. Fathers and Sons. New York: Twayne, 1992.

Whitley John S. Golding. Lord of the Flies. London: Edward Arnold, 1970.

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