Two separate illustrations of an animal head and a fire on a mountain

Lord of the Flies

by William Golding
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How does Golding achieve symbolic importance with Piggy's glasses in Lord of the Flies, and what is his thematic/moral intention?

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Piggy's glasses are a symbol of his intelligence and insight. At the beginning of Lord of the Flies, he is proud of them, telling Ralph, "I've been wearing specs since I was three." Piggy is constantly cleaning his glasses, wiping and polishing them on any piece of cloth that comes to hand. This illustrates the difficulty of maintaining civilized standards on the island. These standards are abandoned when Piggy's glasses are first broken, then stolen, leaving him handicapped and unable to do his part in supporting Ralph and maintaining order.

The power of the glasses is most dramatically demonstrated in their ability to create fire. This power, which rightfully belongs to the intelligent, thoughtful Piggy, is the subject of bitter wrangling between the two contenders for leadership, Jack and Ralph. Golding shows how the glasses spark violence as well as fire when they become the focus of a power struggle. It is Piggy, however, who articulates the moral point when he asserts that his claim to the glasses goes beyond mere strength and cunning. They are rightfully his, and he intends to claim this right regardless of the danger involved. He resolves to confront Jack:

"I'm going to him with this conch in my hands. I'm going to hold it out. Look, I'm goin' to say, you're stronger than I am and you haven't got asthma. You can see, I'm goin' to say, and with both eyes. But I don't ask for my glasses back, not as a favor. I don't ask you to be a sport, I'll say, not because you're strong, but because what's right's right. Give me my glasses, I'm going to say--you got to!"

When Ralph actually does claim the glasses on Piggy's behalf, however, he is more aggressive, not only asserting Piggy's right, but abusing Jack and calling him a thief:

"You could have had fire whenever you wanted. But you didn't. You came sneaking up like a thief and stole Piggy's glasses!"

"Say that again!"

"Thief! Thief!"

Although he is a better leader than Jack, Ralph is incapable of being as temperate and thoughtful as Piggy, and is lost without the wisdom and power symbolized by the glasses.

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