Essay Paper on Interpretation of Symbolism in Lord of the Flies
by Jimmie Scherington
In William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, the story can be seen as an allegorical representation told in literature form. In this essay, I will be showing examples of how symbolism is deeply interpreted in the story and how it is reflected in real life. The story involves a group of boys that become shipwrecked on a deserted island after their plane is forced to land. Although the fate of the crew is not known, it is apparent that all of the adult crewmembers and some of the boys did not survive the crash. The symbolism of the story starts as soon as the boys are gathered on the beach.
The boys can be seen as symbols for humanity and the divisions that begin almost immediately, are the representations of various countries and nations. As the boys begin to make their own rules, the symbolism here is the relationship between those rules and the rules of the world. The rules are allegorical representations of the world’s varying governments. As the boys separate into two distinct tribes, the symbolism here is that these tribes are set to be seen as two independent nations. At first, the separation of the boys into these separate groups is done only as a distinct division for some of the boy’s alliances and thinking agreements. Once the story goes deeper into this tribal separation, the story uses these two tribes as warring nations, which are bent on destroying the other. The tribes fighting can be allegorically and symbolically related to the act of war in the real world.
The deep symbolist imagery, that is found all through the novel, starts to be seen as the boys have divided into tribes and one goes into the woods and the other stays on the beach. It is then that both tribes need to learn to adapt to their new, unfamiliar surroundings (Golding). Of all the items in the story, only one commands the power of speech and that is the conch. It is the conch that elicits and controls the power of speech and can be seen, symbolically, as the greatest item on the island for power and control. Even after the conch is smashed into a thousand pieces, the power of this symbol is notwithstanding.
The conch is the item that when held, allows the speaker to talk undeterred and without interruption. The symbolism of the conch, to life in the real world, is that society’s rules, politics, and speech, are dictated by those that have the podium and the conch. Although the conch is used to call the boys to order, in real life, it is the ones that have the power that can make and install societal order and rules and regulations.
In the story, the boys voluntarily impose this “rule of the conch” on themselves, and thus the conch represents society’s rules, politics, and methods of speech. The conch is used as a podium of sorts, and is the one item that is utilized for electing a chief (Julien). While holding the conch, the boy has the ultimate power, at that moment in time, and this can be seen as a symbol of when a leader is in power in the real world.
Once the conch is smashed into a thousand pieces, then the boys are open to being elected as the chief. When the conch was still unbroken, it was Piggy that had the power and was able to silent the other boys and demand that they listen to his every word while holding the conch. In real life, the deeper symbolism of the conch revolves around the one in power being able to make the rules and break the rules as he sees fit. As the conch is now broken, the power of the island is now once again open and available to all of those that desire to be in control.
The conch demonstrates what it is that real life deems acceptable behavior and when it is held by a boy on the island, the respect and the control, that is guaranteed through the voluntary elections of the boys, makes the conch a symbol of repressive, communication and rule.
The symbolism of fire in the book is one that is used numerous times throughout the story. At the start of the book, one of the main characters, Ralph, desires to perpetually keep a signal fire burning. This is in case a ship passes by and can see the fire and the boys will be rescued. The symbol of fire starts to become clear when the first fire rages out of control and one boy is killed in the flames. In real life, the application and imagery of fire can be seen as a provider of assistance and a destructor as well.
The signal fire becomes a paradoxical symbol, which is steeped, in a dual purpose of life giving and life ending. In the Lord of the Flies, fire is seen as a symbol of the real world and something that links the island world of the boys, to the real world of humanity. By the end of the book, fire once again becomes a main symbol of the story as Jack lights one and uses this light and power to hunt his enemy, Ralph. In a twist of fate, it is jacks lighting of the last signal fire, which allows the remaining boys to be rescued.
The real life symbolism of the fire in the story is that this sole item, on the island, has the power to rescue the boys but at the same time, can be seen as a symbol of the destruction of the real world. The dichotomy of fire in the novel, is one that burns eloquently through the entire book. Fire is used as a form of heat and as a power symbol for the boys. In the end, the allegorical representation of fire, is that it reaffirms what the boys already realize. The real world is just that, real, and the island reality, for the boys, is an allusion.
In the story, there are a pair of glasses owned by Piggy that are used as symbols of the boys advancement into real life society. What this means is that through the power of the glasses, once they are broken, the boys are evolving into a more civilized, industrious, reality. In real life, this is comparable to the inventions of the Industrial Revolution that made life a bit easier for mankind.
The use of the broken glasses on the island for the boys, allows them to start signal fires and this was a huge turning point in their eventual rescue. Before the glasses were broken, Piggy had purpose and was seen as the one with real world knowledge. The glasses involve seeing and looking, as well as sight, and this can be allegorically defined in the book, as the power item.
The pighunts are used throughout the story to symbolize not only man’s capacity for destruction and ultimate violence, but also the basic idea of bloodlust, mass hysteria, and sacrificial rituals. A stark vision is seen in the story, as in one of the pighunt scenes, the slaughter of a sow is used as a symbol of mans desire to hunt and not only for meat and survival. In the mother pig hunting expedition, the boys take on a more sinister, vicious reality, and this can be seen as the way man does in the real world through violence and war.
As the story continues, the boys use the act of pig hunting, more often and it is in these acts of violence, where we see the symbolism of hunting in real life. Rituals start to evolve and these are likened to the primal, prehistoric mans hunting parties, that used fire, sticks, and spears, and gathered around the fires in dance and chanting, just like the boys on the island.
In the story the Lord of the Flies, there is a beast that is the manufacturing of unknown, perceived evil in the minds of the boys. While the beast starts out as just an imaginary entity in the imaginations of the boys, the symbolic nature of this beast in the darkened woods is that the real world is full of these monstrous beings. The beast is made stronger and real to the smaller boys at first for these boys are afraid of what they cannot see in the dark.
The manifestation of the beast happens when the dead soldier comes parachuting in from the real world and is found by the boys. The symbolism here is that for all the strengths and assets of the real world, the very best they can offer is a visual, physical representation of the evil that they comprise.
As the story winds down and comes to an ending, the beast is thought at first to be an ape. It is the symbol of the dead man in the trees that sparks a host of other symbolic representations and the main one that is derived from the real world intrusion of the dead soldier, is that the beast is in all of us (Shmoop). This is a major turning point in the story and hints to the evilness that not only comes from the real world, but that is on the island with the boys, in the boys. Of all the symbols that are represented in the Lord of the Flies, it is the beast that compels the boys to the most horrific actions of all, murder. The symbolism of taking others life can be seen when Jack kills Ralph.
In summation, I thought that the strongest representative of a symbol to real life, was that of the signal fire. In this symbol, fire is seen as both a rescuing force and a force that is to be feared. As in the real world, fire is used in both ways and can be a tool for assistance as well as a method of destruction.
With so many symbols and allegorical representations in the story, this essay only touched upon some of the major ones and is not an all encompassing dissection of all the symbols in the novel. The Lord of the Flies is a massive allegorical representation of the world that the boys are forced into and with the events that transpired on the island as a pretense to the eventuality of what will happen in the real world, the novel makes great use of the symbols of expression, to compare and contrast those that are found in the real world. The story is an allegorical representation of life on the island for the boys and the real life situations that we all face on a daily basis.
Golding, William. The Hot Gates. London: Faber paper covered editions (1965).
Hynes, Samuel. “William Golding”. Columbia Essays on Modern Writers, No.2 (1964).
Julian, K. Diesterweg edition of “Lord of the Flies” – (2010). The Political Philosophy of the Novel (pp. 201-202) & Golding’s Nobel Lecture (pp. 206-207).
Kinkead, Mark and Gregor, Ian. William Golding: A Critical Study. London: Faber (1971).
Shmoop Editorial Team. “The Big Massive Allegory in Lord of the Flies” Shmoop.com. Shmoop University, Inc., 11 Nov. 2008. Web. 29 Dec. 2011.
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