Lord of the Flies Symbolism
This novel takes place on a deserted island somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. The island is tropical and full of plants and animals that help to enhance the sense of “wildness” that pervades throughout the story’s events. While much of the events that take place on the island are violent and chaotic, it’s important to see this as a representation for the world at large. We find out in the beginning of the novel that the boys were being evacuated from England during a violent global war.
Due to author William Golding’s experiences during WWII, this helps to convey the thematic elements that reflect the belief he picked up during war time that humanity possesses a certain amount of inherent evil. Nothing about the setting in this novel will allow audiences to forget this concept.
There are also several motifs that are wonderful supports to the story’s overarching themes and symbolic elements. Major motifs include nature, Biblical references, bullying, and symbols of savagery. These motifs either highlight truths about man’s innate goodness or about humankind’s innate evils. Seeing as the novel explores the juxtaposition between the existence of both these forces, these are important motifs to look out for. You will find them connected to the story’s major symbols, as well. For example, when Simon is looking at the boar’s head on a stick in the beautiful clearing, he ponders the stark contrast between nature’s beauty and what the boys have experienced on the island. During this time, he has an important epiphany and conceptualizes it by imagining the Lord of the Flies.
Here’s a list of major symbols in Lord of the Flies.
- The Conch Shell
- Piggy’s Glasses
- The Signal Fire
- The Lord of the Flies
- The Groups of Boys
Symbolism in Lord of the Flies
The Conch Shell
After the plane crash, Ralph and Piggy find the conch shell on the beach. Piggy’s suggests using it as a trumpet to draw the other survivors to them. The conch shell becomes much more than this as Ralph and some of the other boys work to try and establish some sort of social order. In meetings, only the individual holding the conch shell may talk—all others must listen silently. Since the shell is used to try and create order, it represents the potential for a type of political, social, cultural, etc. order that could be established. When Piggy is killed by a falling boulder pushed by one of the other boys, the conch shell is also destroyed. This symbolizes the end of all order.
As the most intellectual boy of the group, Piggy often serves as a voice of reason. However, he is frequently not listened to or allowed to elaborate fully on his ideas. Piggy’s glasses symbolize the intellectual aspects of organized society. The boys even use Piggy’s glasses to start fires with sunlight, symbolizing what can be achieved with intellectual order. When Jack’s hunters steal Piggy’s glasses, this symbolizes that savagery has won out over intellectual order and that Ralph’s group no longer has any authority.
The Signal Fire
Early in the novel, the boys decide to build a signal fire on top of the highest peak on the island in hopes that passing ship might see it and come rescue the boys. However, it becomes less than a priority pretty quickly. Many of the boys enjoy living free of rules and adult control. The savagery starts to take control of the group and the neglect of the signal fire serves as a way to gauge how important getting rescued really is to the boys. Life on the island becomes more important than the idea of getting rescued. Ironically, when the boys are finally found, they are noticed because of the raging fire that resulted from their savagery, instead of their own intentional stoking of any sort of signal fire.
The Lord of the Flies
When Jack and his hunters slaughter a sow, they stake its head on a stick as an offering to the best they believe is living on the island. When Simon returns to a beautiful glad and finds the sow’s rotting head there attracting flies, he imagines that it speaks to him as the Lord of the Flies. He tells Simon that every human heart contains evil, which leads Simon to his epiphany that the boys themselves are actually what they hear in the island’s beast. This is also a biblical reference, as “lord of the flies” is a literal translation of Beelzebub, a powerful demon in the Bible.
The Groups of Boys
Throughout the novel, the boys are largely divided. Ralph and his group represent order, intellectualism, and civility. Meanwhile, Jack and his group of hunters represent the wild nature and savagery. Each group of boys symbolizes one side of the dichotomy in human nature: good vs. evil. This is represented in the novel as civilization vs. savagery.