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An Analysis of Different Symbols Used in Lord of the Flies, a Novel by William Golding

Updated August 1, 2022
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An Analysis of Different Symbols Used in Lord of the Flies, a Novel by William Golding essay

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The Chronicles of Modern Humanity: The Beast, the Conch, and the Glasses

A complex, symbolic novel that brings to light criticism upon the very essence of humanity, William Golding’s Lord of the Flies tells the story of young boys and their battle to fight the descent from civility to savagery. On the tropical island upon which the boys are stranded, little is left unstudied or ignored: everything has a purpose. Throughout the story, certain recurring objects become increasingly more prominent while their meaning grows clearer. Such deep, complex symbols include Piggy and his glasses, the conch, and the beast. Golding uses these symbols through his novel to explore themes concerning the contrast between the two sides of man’s humanity. From the few earliest pages of the novel, Piggy is recognized as the most intelligent, rational boy in the group. While this revelation is not necessarily traceable to a specific occurrence — nor obviously recognized by every boy — it is suggested when Piggy begins to establish rules and offer up a large amount of knowledge, at which the other boys quickly become annoyed; “…the clamor changed from the general wish for a chief to an election by acclaim of Ralph himself. None of the boys could have found good reason for this; what intelligence had been shown was only traceable to Piggy…” (Golding 28).

Piggy is indeed recognized as an intelligent boy, though — notably — not necessarily a boy of great power or importance. It also becomes apparent that Piggy is the only one who wears glasses, which classically represent science and intellectual endeavor in society. In fact, the only element that the future-savage boys truly acknowledge are Piggy’s glasses, which is where the symbolic irony is uncovered — the boys begin using Piggy’s asset to their advantage to start a fire. This greatly reflects and further defines Golding’s underlying message — the idea that in a society complete with ignorance and savagery, intelligence and civility bring controversy and ultimately ignite the flames that create wars, just like the one depicted in the novel. This underlying idea is further developed as the plot progresses: When Jack’s hunters raid Ralph’s camp and steal the glasses, the savages effectively take the power to make fire, leaving Ralph’s group helpless. ‘Now Piggy can’t see, and they came, stealing—’Ralph’s voice ran up’—at night, in darkness, and stole our fire. They stole it. We’d have given them fire if they’d asked. But they stole it and the signal’s out and we can’t ever be rescued. Don’t you see what I mean? We’d have given them fire for themselves only they stole it. I—’ … ‘What you goin’ to do, Ralph? This is jus’ talk without deciding. I want my glasses.’ (Golding 245).

The change of possession of the glasses highlights the impact the spectacles have upon the group, and consequently, the symbolic qualities of the glasses strengthen within these last few pages of the novel. Shortly after landing on the island, Ralph and Piggy find a conch. Similar to the glasses in the way that they both relate to a higher intelligence and power in society, It soon becomes the symbol of authority, law, and order; it’s eventual destruction symbolizes the destruction of what little civilization the boys possessed. Used to call assemblies, the conch is used as a vital vocal symbol: the boys even impose a strict “rule of the conch” on themselves, deciding that no one can speak unless he’s holding the shell. This idea was originally suggested by the bulk of intelligence on the island, Piggy: “Piggy paused for breath and stroked the glistening thing that lay in Ralph’s hands. ‘Ralph!’ Ralph looked up. “We can use this to call the others. Have a meeting. They’ll come when they hear us—’ He beamed at Ralph” (Golding 20). Piggy’s idea was quickly adopted by the rest of the boys. Though the conch was immediately recognized as a symbol of leadership, Golding goes on to imbue the shell with an even deeper meaning within the boys’ society, the idea of optimum power and democracy: …there was a stillness about Ralph as he sat that marked him out: there was his size, and attractive appearance; and most obscurely, yet most powerfully, there was the conch. The being that had blown that, had sat waiting for them on the platform with the delicate thing balanced on his knees. (Golding 29)

The conch becomes the symbol of democracy, though delicate. Golding shows that the party with the shell is the most powerful, an idea which becomes especially prominent when the conch is destroyed by Roger. The elimination of the conch results in the amplified chaos of the boys, and the death of Piggy; essentially, ‘all hell breaks loose’: The rock struck Piggy …; the conch exploded into a thousand white fragments and ceased to exist. Piggy, saying nothing, with no time for even a grunt, traveled through the air sideways from the rock, turning over as he went. … Piggy fell forty feet and landed on his back across the square red rock in the sea. His head opened and stuff came out and turned red. Piggy’s arms and legs twitched a bit, like a pig’s after it has been killed. (Golding 260) Ultimately, the conch symbolizes power, democracy, and order throughout the length of the novel, but it isn’t until the conch is destroyed that Golding’s message, concerning the importance of order in society, becomes clear. After the conch is destroyed and Piggy is killed, the overwhelming savage nature of the boys emerge, illuminating the significance of another important symbol: the beast.

The imaginary beast that frightens the boys symbolizes the primal instinct of savagery that exists within all human beings. The boys all grow to be extremely afraid of the idea of the beast, but only after a small, paranoid boy timidly confesses to being scared of such things: “The small boy twisted further into himself. “Tell us about the snake–thing.’ ‘Now he says it was a beastie.’ ‘Beastie?’ ‘A snake–thing. Ever so big. He saw it’” (Golding 50). This instance sparks the idea of a terrifying, powerful beast on the island, and the rise of fear among the boys is simple perpetuation. However, the prominence of the boys’ fear increases as they grow less civil and more savage. Near the end of the novel, the boys are leaving the beast sacrifices and treating it as a totemic god, as if they have learned to accept the realm of savagery in which they’ve become submerged. Only Simon reaches the realization that they fear the beast because it exists within each of them: Simon looked up, feeling the weight of his wet hair, and gazed at the sky…. Simon lowered his head, carefully keeping his eyes shut, then sheltered them with his hand. There were no shadows under the trees but everywhere a pearly stillness, so that what was real seemed illusive and without definition.

The pile of guts was a black blob of flies that buzzed like a saw. After a while these flies found Simon. … They were black and iridescent green and without number; and in front of Simon, the Lord of the Flies hung on his stick and grinned. At last Simon gave up and looked back; saw the white teeth and dim eyes, the blood—and his gaze was held by that ancient, inescapable recognition. Ultimately, the boys’ behavior brings the beast into existence, and so the more savagely the boys act, the more real the beast seems to become. Golding’s work Lord of the Flies is undoubtedly a complex, symbolic novel. While it appears to merely tell the story of young boys learning to govern, organize, and develop independence, it also delves deeper to uncover the truth to the blurred lines between civility and savagery, an idea of unsavory yet inevitable descent from normal humanity. Golding primarily uses symbols to cement this idea into the bones of the novel; and it is at this point that the bones must wait for a boy with the right pair of glasses, a will to speak confidently, and his own beast within to uncover the true significance.

An Analysis of Different Symbols Used in Lord of the Flies, a Novel by William Golding essay

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An Analysis of Different Symbols Used in Lord of the Flies, a Novel by William Golding. (2022, Aug 01). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/an-analysis-of-different-symbols-used-in-lord-of-the-flies-a-novel-by-william-golding/

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