Describe the Symbols Used in The Lord of the Flies
The Lord of the Flies is the debut allegoric novel written by William Golding, which has not become too popular after it was published. But after a while, it became a bestseller and was called one of the most significant novels written in the English language, due to the problems it highlights, and a strong moral. Charles Brian Cox said, “its exceptional strength stems from the fact that Golding believes: every detail of human life has a religious significance”(William Golding: Some Critical Considerations).
While writing the story the author wanted to show that evil is something external to human nature and looked for the extent to which the human soul is free from evil. Author’s thoughts about the prevailing of evil in humanity and the fragility of modern civilization have found their reflection in a story about a group of boys stranded on a desert island.
Firstly, boys try to organize their lives wisely, in accordance with the rules of civilized existence, making efforts to create a semblance of democracy. But it does not last for long: the struggle for power erupts, and panic breaks out, children feel the presence of the dreaded beast – the embodiment of their unconscious fears. And then, the order disrupts under the influence of dark instincts. Animal instincts which are asleep in human minds win, and fear and the instinct of self-preservation become destructive, lead to meanness and murder. Consequently, Golding claims that the biggest problem of society is the evil concealed in the human soul.
The writer gives specific significance to simple items and phenomena. For example, a conch found by Ralph and Piggy acquires the meaning of symbol while becoming a horn which unites and summons children – it embodies the principles of civilization, law, and equality. Boys associate the conch with a right to give a talk. But as the number of conflicts and contradictions increased, among them the conch loses its essence – its destruction means the eliminating of civilization all children believed in.
The true meaning of the symbols is not always revealed even by the end of the story. For example, a fire at the beginning of the novel is associated with salvation, it is a signal fire, but it quickly falls out of control and destroys one of the boys. Fire fades when Jack kills his first pig and becomes a terribly destructive force during hunting to catch Ralph, although thanks to the fire boys were found and saved. The meaning of symbols changes as the story progresses, but also depends on the fact that main characters subjectively invest in these symbols.
Golding’s heroes are not just specific boys with child logic and behavior, but also certain social and philosophical types of personality. Each character represents his own specific position (side of the human soul) in the struggle between two worlds – the world of savagery and the common-sense world. But the main conflict of the novel occurs between Ralph and Jack, who are shown as two different characters, two opposite personality types. Jack embodies willingness, cruelty, and selfishness; Ralph is soft and inclined to search for the truth. But simultaneously they both represent two inner beginnings, the two worlds of feelings and ideas.
Image of the symbol Lord of the Flies originally emerged unspeakably – it finds manifestation in boys’ fear and their feeling of some “beast.” Imaginary “beast” is generated by fear, which by its nature has two sides: state of fear and act of self-preservation. In both manifestations, fear gives a push to cruelty, violence, and blood. If rationalist Piggy does not see the gist of events, then Simon reaches this understanding by insight. Only he knows that the “beast” is hidden in their souls – it is a secret fear, cruelty and a willingness to kill. So, “beast” awakens in Jack, Roger, Maurice and becomes the essence, which then symbolically embodies in The Lord of the Flies. This image opens in an external action (pig’s head impaled on a stick and plastered with flies) and inner (fear in the minds of the children). At the level of meaning it is the instinct of “beast,” awakened in children, and on the artistic level, it is a symbolic and fantastic form of The Lord of the Flies. That is why there are artistic ambiguity and ambivalence of this image. While planting a pig’s head on a stake, Jack announces: “The head is for the beast. It’s a gift” (Lorcher). This symbol reflects the pervasive evil that seizes man. “Looking at the novel in the context of biblical parallels, The Lord of the Flies recalls the devil, just as Simon recalls Jesus. In fact, the name Lord of the Flies is a literal translation of the biblical name Beelzebub, a powerful demon in hell sometimes thought to be the devil himself” (SparkNotes Editors).
Hence, the author with the help of describing such symbols as signal fire, the conch, “beast” and The Lord of the Files endows inanimate objects with human significance and meaning of life. Also, he points out the fact that animal instincts are likely to prevail in the environment of fear and hopelessness. According to D. Anderson, “the story investigates the origins of the moral degradation of humanity” (William Golding: Some Critical Considerations). Jack in the first chapter of the book blamed himself for not having the courage to cut the pig. Later he overcame himself at the expense of his soul’s principles but changed drastically. And in nowadays society people often forget about honesty, justice, the value of life and order. That is why it is natural that this narrative story has great popularity – someone, having read it, would recognize himself in one of the characters’ behavior. The moral of The Lord of the Flies is to make right choices in our life and do not forget that if we succumb to the dark side of our soul, we will have the “beast” inside us. On the whole, adult problems described here make us think about the fate of humanity, civilization ways, and the relationship between personality and society.
Biles, Jack I., and Robert O. Evans, editors. William Golding: Some Critical Considerations. University Press of Kentucky, 1978. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt130j3cq.
Lorcher, Trent. “An Analysis of Important Quotes From the Novel Lord of the Flies.” Bright Hub Education, 5 May 2009, www.brighthubeducation.com/homework-help-literature/34385-lord-of-the-flies-quotes.
SparkNotes Editors. “Lord of the Flies: Symbols.” SparkNotes.com, SparkNotes LLC, 2007, www.sparknotes.com/lit/flies/symbols.