And in the middle of them, with filthy body, matted hair, and unwiped nose, Ralph wept for the end of innocence, the darkness of man’s heart, and the fall through the air of the true, wise friend called Piggy.
The officer, surrounded by these noises, was moved and a little embarrassed. He turned away to give them time to pull themselves together; and waited, allowing his eyes to rest on the trim cruiser in the distance.
You read these last few sentences, close your copy of Lord of the Flies and think, “Man… That was intense.”
I have to admit that I have a soft spot for this novel. Every time I read it — which has been more than I can count on one hand — I see some new symbol I never thought about before.
So while it may be a lot to wrap your head around on the first readthrough, I’m going to help by explaining seven different symbols and grouping them into three Lord of the Flies symbolism ideas to help get you started on your essay.
Why Your Teacher Assigned This Book
You have to do a lot of reading for school, and sometimes the books your instructor assigns seem a little pointless. I’m sure that he or she actually has reason for assigning every book, but there is so much value in William Golding’s Lord of the Flies that the reasons you’re reading it should be obvious by the time you are done.
The first reason your instructor assigned you this book is because of its profound theme. The novel’s main theme is one that touches on the human condition: the struggle between civilization and savagery. What do seemingly civilized people, children in this case, do when there are no more concrete rules to govern them?
Furthermore, your instructor probably assigned you to read Lord of the Flies to get you thinking more about symbolism. Almost everything you come across, from the characters to the setting to the various objects, are symbols for something.
Before I give you an example of some of this Lord of the Flies symbolism, I will first give you a more in-depth description of what symbolism is.
What Is Symbolism?
Symbolism, simply put, is any concrete person, place, or object that represents a more abstract idea. In Lord of the Flies, different characters represent different concepts such as leadership and order (Ralph), intelligence and reason (Piggy), kindness (Simon), and savagery (Jack).
There are examples of symbolism in real life too. Some see a crown as a symbol of power, and a lion as a symbol of bravery or courage.
If this symbolism thing is still escaping you, read the following Lord of the Flies symbolism examples. They’ll really help you get the picture.
3 Lord of the Flies Symbolism Ideas
You, of course, don’t have to use the examples listed below. They’re here for example and inspiration purposes. You can group them however you want. You can choose to focus on one symbol or even write about all of these Lord of the Flies symbolism examples in one essay if you want — though that would probably be a really long essay.
Whichever way you cut it, these symbolism examples will give you a good starting point.
Evil Within: The Beast and The Lord of the Flies
The Beast and the Lord of the Flies are interconnected in this novel. The Beast is just a made-up monster that no one actually sees. At first, most of the boys shrug off the Beast, but as they fall further from civilization, they put more faith in it.
The Beast is a symbol for the evil and malice that reside within everyone, and it gets more powerful as the boys succumb to their savagery.
Jack’s savage group ends up making an offering to the Beast in the form of the Lord of the Flies — a pig’s head on a spike.
This shows not only how much the boys believe in the Beast (enough to make it an offering), but also how savage they have become (killing a pig and putting its head on a spike).
Simon is the only character who recognizes that the Beast is the evil inside them, and he’s the one who starts hearing the Lord of the Flies talk to him, evoking a great sense of fear.
The Beast and the Lord of the Flies end up becoming symbols for the same thing — the Beast as a mental manifestation and the Lord of the Flies as a physical manifestation of the evil and darkness within everyone.
The Conch Shell, Fire and Piggy’s Glasses: Rise and Fall of Order/Civilization
Photo by cheesy42 via flickr
The conch shell symbolizes order and civilization. Piggy quickly recognizes what the conch shell is and how to make sound from it, and it is Ralph that makes the most use of it.
In the beginning, all of the boys agree to meet whenever the conch sounds and that whoever is holding the conch in meetings is the one who gets to speak. The conch shell is destroyed by the boulder that also kills Piggy. This incident symbolizes the fall of order and civilization on the island.
Similarly, the signal fire represents the hold that order and civilization have over the boys on the island. At first, when the boys are trying to maintain the social order of the outside world, they attempt to keep the fire going.
The more vicious and savage some of the boys become, the smaller the signal fire becomes.
The signal fire, however, is not what gets the attention of a passing ship, but the destructive fire Jack lights to hunt Ralph.
Thus, fire as a whole in this novel can represent both civilization and savagery. The ability to control the fire as the boys did with the signal fire represents a controlled and orderly society, while the out-of-control fire shows the destructive force of a society without restrictions.
Piggy himself represents intelligence and logic, but it is his glasses that are a symbol of intelligence as a foundation for civilized society.
The glasses are the physical manifestation of Piggy’s best qualities. He’s not athletic, but he has brains. The glasses are also one of the last remaining tools from the outside world. The boys use this tool, instead of more primitive means, to light the signal fire (the desire for order).
But the glasses, like the conch shell, are broken by savagery. When the glasses break, the last link the boys had to their past society is broken.
You can write about all three of these symbols in your essay to discuss the competing forces of civilization and savagery, which is one of the main themes of the novel.
Humankind’s Capacity for Destruction: The Island and the Scar
Photo by Doc Searls via flickr
Along with mankind’s inner evil and the forces of savagery and civilization, the Lord of the Flies symbolism also covers the destruction humans are capable of. Not only does this whole story take place during a war, which causes destruction on a massive scale, Golding also includes a couple symbols to demonstrate this point.
The island itself is a symbol of perfection — unadulterated natural beauty. It is said to have plenty of fruit, and the children are all able to build shelter from its resources. Even the pigs that some of the boys end up brutally killing seem to have never seen humans before.
But then the humans come, and the island’s beauty is disrupted from the moment the boys arrive. The crashed plane creates what the author calls a scar–literal, permanent visible evidence of a gash or wound. The plane crashing was a product of the destruction of war, and by the time the boys are rescued, they have engaged in their own kind of war and further destroyed the paradise.
Final Thoughts on Lord of the Flies SymbolismThese are only a few examples of Lord of the Flies symbolism, and I’m sure you can find countless more as you read through the novel. I’ll give you a hint though — most of the symbols involve opposing parts of the human condition:
- Savagery versus civilization
- Perfection versus destruction
- Kindness/goodness versus evil
I hope this helps get the wheels turning on your thoughts for your own essay. If you want to make absolutely sure that you got it, send it to one of the Kibin editors when you are done. They’ll let you know if you need to add anything and will help you get that essay cleaned up.
*Cover image by SpartanHedgey
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Choose a novel in which an important theme is explored. Explain how the author develops this theme throughout the novel.
The Lord of the Flies by William Golding is a novel in which the theme of savagery versus civilisation is explored. Some British boys are stranded on an isolated island at the time of an imaginary nuclear war. On the island we see conflict between two main characters, Jack and Ralph, who respectively represent civilisation and savagery. This has an effect on the rest of the boys throughout the novel as they delve further and further into savagery.
The theme of savagery versus civilisation is first introduced to us through the symbol of the conch shell which we associate with Ralph as he is the person who first uses it and becomes the elected leader of the boys. This symbolises authority amongst the boys. At the first assembly Ralph says “I’ll give the conch to the next person to speak…he won’t be interrupted”. This suggests civilisation as Ralph is allowing each boy to have an equal say and opinion. If they have the conch, no matter who they are or what age they are they will be given the chance to speak and will be listened to by the rest of the boys. The boys have created the island to be a democratic place which shows a civilised side to them as they try to mimic the homes they have just left.
Contrasting with the symbol of the conch is the symbol of the beast which comes to be associated with Jack as by the end of the novel he is almost devil worshipping it. The beast begins as a “snake thing” but by the end of the novel it has become “the Lord of the Flies”. The first quote shows us that the beast is clearly evil. Western society considers snakes to be bad omens because it was a snake that led Eve to eat from the tree of knowledge. However at this stage of the novel the beast is quite insubstantial as it is only a “thing”. As the boys fear of the beast grows so to does the beast itself until it has manifested into the devil – the ultimate and most powerful evil. He has a strong status as a Lord although it is over something pretty disgusting – the flies. The boys belief in the beast leads them to behave more like savages as they act out from their fear and they begin to loose hold of the rules, led by Jack, thus demonstrating the theme of savagery.
One of ways Golding shows conflict between savagery and civilisation is when Jack and some of the other boys are killing the first pig. Jack chants “kill the pig, cut her throat, spill the blood”. This suggests savagery as the boys are being violent and aggressive when killing the pig and they don’t care about it. This is particularly clear through Golding’s word choice. Jack talks about cutting the pig’s throat which makes it sound like a savage action and spilling her blood which reinforces the lack of care and feeling shown towards the pug’s carcass. This shows that the boys are no longer feeling guilty about what they have done thus showing them becoming savages.
We can see the conflict between savagery and civilisation developing further when Piggy’s glasses are broken. We are told “Piggy cried out in terror ‘my specs!” This shows us that the boys savage natures are beginning to overule their more civilised sides. At the start of the book Jack would never have dared touch Piggy, but here he actually snaps and goes for Piggy who he despises. We can tell that Piggy is really scared as Golding chooses the words “cried” and “terror” to describe the scene. Piggy sounds like he is hurting and is genuinely terrified about what Jack might do to him and the loss of his sight. Piggy’s glasses have also come to represent intelligence on the island, with them breaking we see that the pathway to savagery is now completely open for the boys. This is the first true piece of violence between the two factions on the island and it will result in nearly all the boys becoming savages.
A final way in which we see the theme of savagery versus civilisation being demonstrated is when Ralph sticks up for Piggy after he is attacked by Jack. Ralph says “that was a dirty trick”. This shows that Ralph is really angry at Jack for what he said and did to Piggy. He is still attempting to impose himself as leader here as he says this in an aggressive and assertive tone. This suggests there is still some glimmers of civilisation on the island at this point as there is still someone with a sense of moral goodness ready to fight for justice.
In conclusion The Lord of the Flies by William Golding is a novel in which the theme of savagery versus civilisation is shown. Ralph represents civilisation as he wants to enforce rules and let everyone have an equal say. Whereas Jack who represents savagery as he rules over the boys and he is not interested in what they have to say. Through the boys actions Golding shows us that we need rules and to consciously impose them to make sure society functions properly.