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What does the ocean symbolize in William Golding's Lord of the Flies?

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dahyun | Student, Grade 9 | eNotes Newbie

Posted February 21, 2010 at 11:20 AM via web

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What does the ocean symbolize in William Golding's Lord of the Flies?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted February 21, 2010 at 11:57 AM (Answer #1)

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William Golding wrote his Lord of the Flies in response to a Victorian story about English boys stranded on an island entitled, "The Coral Island."  In this novel, however, the boys are without wickedness and cunning, reaffirming the moral values of Victorian England, whereas in Golding's work, the boys degenerate into "the heart of darkness."

As they are stranded on an island, the ocean symbolizes a barrier to Ralph, Piggy, Jack, and the other boys, isolating them from the world that they have known.  Its waves erase any marks on the shore; likewise, the waves seem to erode the vestiges of society that slowly slip from the boys.  They remove their clothes and bathe in the waters of the ocean, perhaps rebaptizing themselves as their primordial selves shedding their conditioned behavior for their inherent savage nature.

One example of the use of the ocean as a symbol is in the passage in which Roger looks down at the littl'un Henry who sits by the seashore playing with the "detritus of landward life," the minute little sand crabs.  The motion of these beings is fascinating to Henry as he can control their movements, giving him "the illusion of mastery."  Then, Roger throws a stone at Henry, "that token of preposterous time," at Henry, purposely missing.  The introduction of two atavistic forces, the ocean and the rock, symbolizes the removal of the trimmings of society that occurs on the island.  And, it is this removal of society's structures and controls that releases the power of these atavistic elements.  For, in the later chapters of his novel, Golding writes of the ocean as the "levithian" that crashes against the rock, the rock that "makes a sort of bridge," Jack says in Chapter Six.  In Chapter Six Golding writes,"

Ralph shuddered.  The lagoon had protected them from the Pacific:  and for some reason only Jack had gone right down to the water on the other side. Now he saw the landsman's view of the swell and it seemed like the breathing of some stupendous creature....Down, down, the waters went, whispering like the wind among the heads of the forest....Then the sleeping leviathan breathed out, the waters rose the weed streamed, and the water boiled over the table rock with a roar.  There was no sense of the passage of waves; only this minute-long fall and rise and fall.

The boys heave and push at a rock, toppling it into the sea "so that a thunderous plume of spray leapt half-way up the cliff."  This same rock later splits the skull of Piggy and this same ocean swallow him:

Piggy fell forty feet and landed on his back across he square red rock in the sea.  His head opened and stuff came out and turned red.  Pigy's arms and legs twitched a bit...Then the sea breathed again in a long, slow sigh, the water boiled white and pink over the rock; and when it went, scking back again, the body of Piggy was gone.

The ocean, from which live emanates, also claims life again.  It is the unending ebb and flow of life, this ocean.  And, it is the barrier that separates the boys from the daily progression of life as they are out of time and out of place, having become victims of their inherent savage natures.

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