What are some examples of symbolism William Golding's Lord of the Flies? 

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kipling2448's profile pic

kipling2448 | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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One use of symbolism in William Golding’s Lord of the Flies is the conch shell.  Piggy in particular is excited by the discovery of the shell, and begins treating it as special object of inordinate value.  Discovering further that blowing on the shell summons all the boys, it soon becomes associated with, and used for calling them to assembly, as noted when Piggy suggests, “We can use this to call the others. . .They’ll come when they hear us—” As the story progresses, the shell’s importance grows as a symbol of power.  When the boys decide that one of them needs to be a leader, and with Jack staking his claim based upon his position of “chapter chorister and head boy,” attention turns to Ralph.  This scene is heavy with symbolism, as the mere idea of engaging in a democratic process symbolizes for the boys their increased sense of importance in their new home.  As Golding writes of the moment, “This toy of voting was almost as pleasing as the conch.”

The symbolic meaning of the conch shell, however, remains among the most prominent in the novel, as in that scene in which the boys consider electing a leader, and begin to look towards Ralph for that role:

 “. . .there was a stillness about Ralph as he sat that marked him out: there was his size, and attractive appearance; and most obscurely, yet most powerfully, there was the conch.  The being that had blown that, had sat waiting for them on the platform with the delicate thing balanced on his knees, was set apart.”

 And, again, the importance of the shell is emphasized, as when a small boy, a timid little six-year-old, approaches Ralph and Piggy and the sacred conch shell: “Piggy knelt by him, one hand on the great shell . . .”

Another prominent symbol is “the Beast.”  Dismissed by Ralph as a myth, this mysterious “snake-like” creature takes on ever-greater importance.  As the boys continue to debate its existence, “the beast” assumes the proportions of a “boogie man,” representing the great, unseen threat that lurks in the darkness of the jungle – or, perhaps, the depths of the sea.  Ralph continues to insist that no such creature exists.  In trying to quell what he sees as irrational fears, he states:

“The thing is – fear can’t hurt you any more than a dream.  There aren’t any beasts to be afraid of on this island.”

Ultimately, of course, “the beast” is revealed as a metaphor for both fear of the unknown, and for the darkness the boys discover that lies within them.  As “the Lord of the Flies” threatens Simon, “There isn’t anyone to help you.  Only me.  And I’m the Beast.”  It is Simon who had earlier suggested that “Maybe, it’s only us.”  As the growing rift between factions threatens their survival, it become apparent that Simon was right.

Another symbol is Piggy’s glasses, which come to represent the sole technological instrument essential for survival.  As reliance on technology can be a great disadvantage under the right circumstances, Piggy’s constant need to clean his glasses repeatedly emphasizes his weakness and vulnerability, as when Golding writes, “Piggy’s glasses were misted again—this time with humiliation.”

Eventually, the glasses would prove useful in efforts at starting a fire.  The breaking of the glasses, however, will illuminate Piggy’s fragile character, and Jack’s later capture of the glasses cements the threat to Ralph and Piggy.

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Jyotsana's profile pic

Jyotsana | Student, Grade 10 | (Level 1) Valedictorian

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Some of the symbolism are the conch shell, Piggy glasses. The conch shell represents who get to become leader and who holds the power. Piggy glass represents intelligence.

tyler-k's profile pic

tyler-k | Student, Grade 12 | (Level 1) Salutatorian

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It's been a while since I read Lord of the Flies, but the two main things I remember are Piggy's glasses and the conch shell. The shell seemed to symbolize leadership and power to the boys. Whoever had it theoretically had control of the others. And Piggy's glasses were somewhat symbolic of his character. He needed them to see, but they eventually broke and became useful for something else, which was when things began to get worse for Piggy and the rest of the boys.

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