Symbolism In The Lord Of The Flies

Throughout his novel The Lord of The Flies, William Golding effectively utilizes symbolism to convey important and meaningful messages to the readers. Golding uses symbolism to express his thoughts on human’s natural evilness and how the boys fall into savagery. The five most important and recognizable symbols in the novel are the conch shell, the fire, Piggy’s glasses, the sow’s head, and the beastie. The conch shell represents the rules and democracy among the boys. The fire represents the boys’ hopes of being rescued, but it also symbolizes destruction and chaos. Piggy’s glasses represent technology on the island and it causes hatred and separation between the boys as they try to acquire this technology. The sow’s head symbolizes the lord of the flies and the evil nature that lies in every boy’s mind. Lastly, the beastie is a political device that strengthens Jack’s dictatorial power. Through these symbols, Golding shows to the readers that humans are naturally evil, and how the absence of societal rules and external control can lead humans to make evil choices.

An important symbolic device that represents democracy and order on the island is the conch shell. The conch first appears in the novel when Piggy finds it lying on the beach. Piggy knows that the conch can make loud noises, so he proposes an idea to “call the others” (Golding 22) and gather all the boys on the island. After Ralph gets elected as the leader of the boys, he makes a rule that whoever holds the conch has the right to speak, and everyone agrees to his idea. This rule shows that the conch symbolizes law and order, which is “a main trait of a democracy”. (Bruns 2008) The conch gives everyone the freedom of speech to express their opinions, including the littluns and the weaker boys, such as Piggy. But the power of the conch is only effective when the boys respect the power of rules and democracy. As the power shifts from Ralph to Jack, the conch also loses the influence. More boys join Jack’s group as they descend from civilization into savagery. Even Ralph realizes that the conch has lost its power to control the boys. When Piggy asks Ralph to use the conch to call an assembly, Ralph laughs at him saying “You could call an assembly?”. (Golding 192) This symbolizes that savagery and inhumanity is overtaking civilization and democracy on the island. At the end of the novel, “the conch exploded into a thousand white fragments and ceased to exist”. (Golding 222) As the conch is destroyed by Roger, who represents savagery, this symbolizes the termination of democracy and civilization on the island. The conch was the most important object on the island that was holding democracy together, but as it got shattered, civilization and democracy that Ralph and Piggy have fought for has completely disappeared on the island.

The fire represents both the hope of being rescued and destruction on the island. It acts either as a signal beacon for Ralph’s rescue, or for Jack’s weapon of destruction. It must be lit all times, so the passing ships can rescue the stranded boys. “When the flames dance brightly, it shows the enthusiasm they hold for the idea of being rescued”. (Gedleh 2009) But only Ralph and Piggy understands the importance of the signal fire, “The fire is the most important thing on the island. How can we ever be rescued except by luck, if we don’t keep the fire going?”. (Golding 80) Most of the boys do not understand the importance of the fire and tends to ignore it. Especially Jack is not interested in maintaining the fire and he treats the fire very poorly. Ralph and Piggy feel safe and hopeful when the fire is lit, it can defend them from the beastie and “as long as the fire continues burning, it suggests not only that the boys want to return to society, but also that they are still using their intellectual capacity”. (Gedleh 2009) But for Jack, the fire is used as a weapon of destruction. After stealing the glasses from Piggy, Jack uses the fire only for his tribe, to cook food and as a meeting place. At the end of the novel, Jack uses the fire to burn the whole island to murder Ralph. But ironically, the fire that was started to murder Ralph, finally summons a ship to the island. It wasn’t the signal fire lit by Ralph that leads the boys getting rescued.

Another important symbol on the island is Piggy’s specs which symbolize technology and science. It is Piggy, who is considered the weakest boy on the island who have this very important technology. Once the boys decided to light a signal fire to get rescued, Jack proposes an idea to use Piggy’s glasses to start the fire. “His specs – use them as burning glasses!”. (Golding 52) Because Piggy’s specs are the only tool to start a fire on the island, therefore the boy who has the specs is considered the most powerful person. In the start of the novel, it is Ralph and Piggy, who has the technology and power over everyone. But as Jack gains power over time, he decides to steal the glasses because Jack knows the importance of the specs. This makes him more powerful than ever as more boys join his group. Piggy’s specs are no longer used as a tool for rescue, instead it is used to strengthen Jack’s dictatorial power. But Piggy’s glasses are not only used to start fires, Piggy mainly uses it to see properly. His glasses can be seen as “the window that views and recognizes good from evil”. (Gedleh 2009) Piggy uses his specs to distinguish what is right or wrong, savagery and civilization. When Piggy’s glasses break into pieces, this symbolizes that Piggy lost the power of discernment. Therefore, the boys will no longer able to be intellectual and logical, hence they can’t develop anymore. It is also ironic that the owner of the specs, Piggy never gets to leave the island. It was Jack and his tribe who brutally murdered Piggy, used his specs to burn the island and summoned the naval cruiser and gets rescued.

The sow’s head represents “the lord of the flies”, the devil that lies beneath every boy’s mind. After hunting their first pig, Jack and his hunters decide to “sharpen a stick at both ends” (Golding 169) and place the bloody sow’s head on it. Jack decides to leave the sow’s head on the mountain, as a sacrificial offering to the beastie. “This head is for the beast. It’s a gift”. (Golding 170) Very soon the bloody, rotting head is surrounded by a flock of flies, making the sow’s head the lord of the flies. The word “lord of the flies” stands for Beelzebub, the Satan in Hebrew words. Simon has his own secret hideaway near where the sow’s head is located. By placing Simon, the boy who is symbolically shown as the Christ-like figure beside the sow’s head, Golding tries to emphasize that inside every human being, goodness and evil coexists. The lord of the flies talks to Simon through the pig’s head, intimidating him and threatening him. “You knew, didn’t you? I’m part of you? Close, close, close! I’m the reason why it’s no go? Why things are what they are?”. (Golding 177) Through this imaginary conversation, Golding reveals the truth that Satan lives within all humans, including the “perfect” English boys, and this beastie that lives inside every human being is what causes the sinful and savage behaviors. After realizing the truth, Simon runs towards the boys to explain the truth about the beastie. While the boys were celebrating their successful hunt and enjoying their dance, they mistake Simon for the beast, and brutally stabs him to death. Ironically, it was Simon who knew the truth of the beastie, and who could have saved all the boys. The conversation between Simon and the lord of the flies closely resembles Jesus’ temptation in the desert by Satan. Jesus sacrificed himself to save humanity from evil. Simon also tried to alert the boys about the beastie and the fact that it never exists. Simon wanted to save the boys from descending into complete savagery, but he fails to do so. By murdering their own friend, the boys have completely descended into savagery and they cannot become the civilized, intellectual, and logical humans again.

The beastie is an important political device in The Lord of The Flies that is used to strengthen Jack’s dictatorial powers. Almost every boy on the island fears the beastie, that does not even exist, especially the littluns are. After discovering the dead pilot on the mountain, “their fear of a beast from the air makes them even more afraid than before”. (Bruns 2008) Although Jack knows that the beastie is just an embodiment of their imaginations, he uses the existence of it to gain his influence over the boys. The boys believe in Jack that he is the only one who can provide them with safety. Jack also accuses Ralph that he is incapable of protecting the boys from the beastie. As fear against the beastie increases among the boys, they further descend into savagery. They worship the beast and even offer sacrifices to the beast. The boys can’t even recognize Simon, one of their friends and brutally murders him. After Simon, the only person on the island who knew the truth about the beastie was murdered, the boys will never realize that the beastie does not exist. Therefore, they will continue their savagery behaviors due to the fear against the beastie.

Various symbolic devices in The Lord of The Flies such as the conch shell, the fire, Piggy’s glasses, the sow’s head, and the beastie effectively shows the readers how the boys lose their innocence and morality, when they are separated from societal rules and civilization. The conch shell represents democracy and order but is destroyed into pieces as savagery overtakes the boys. The fire symbolizes the boy’s hope of being rescued, but later it is used solely for destruction and chaos. The sow’s head represents the natural evilness that lies beneath every boy’s mind, that leads them to commit sinful actions. The beastie is used as a political device to strengthen Jack’s totalitarian power and control over the boys. Through these symbols, William Golding is sending a message to the readers that every human being is evil in their heart, that without the rules of society, even us can become inhumane savages like the boys.

Works Cited

Golding, William, et al. Lord of the Flies. Educational edition. ed., London,

Faber and Faber, 2004.

Bruns, Björn. "The Symbolism of Power in William Golding’s Lord of the Flies."

Diva-portal, 2008,

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Gedleh, Amal. "William Golding Symbolism in Lord of the Flies." Literature

Study, Jan. 2009,

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