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

Lord of the Flies

by William Golding
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Lord Of The Flies Fire Quotes

What are some quotes about the fire in the novel Lord of the Flies?

The fire is an important symbol in The Lord of the Flies. It represents civility and the boys' hopes for rescue, but, in the case of the forest fire, it also demonstrates how the boys can quickly lose control over a powerful and deadly force.

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At first, the boys, under the direction of Ralph, attempt to light a fire as a signal to passing ships. Here is the description of their attempt from Chapter 2:

"On one side the air was cool, but on the other the fire thrust out a savage arm of heat that crinkled hair on the instant. Boys who felt the evening wind on their damp faces paused to enjoy the freshness of it and then found they were exhausted. They flung themselves down in the shadows that lay among the shattered rocks. The beard of flame diminished quickly; then the pile fell inwards with a soft, cindery sound, and sent a great tree of sparks upwards that leaned away and drifted downwind. The boys lay, panting like dogs."

Their attempt to keep the fire going and to generate smoke is fruitless, as they find it's impossible to keep the fire burning at that level of intensity. They are quickly exhausted from the effort, but they try to keep the fire going in the increasingly vain hope of rescue. 

Piggy notices that the fire has burnt out of control. The author describes the raging fire in the following way:

"Smoke was rising here and there among the creepers that festooned the dead or dying trees. As they watched, a flash of fire appeared at the root of one wisp, and then the smoke thickened. Small flames stirred at the trunk of a tree and crawled away through leaves and brushwood, dividing and increasing. One patch touched a tree trunk and scrambled up like a bright squirrel. The smoke increased, sifted, rolled outwards. The squirrel leapt on the wings of the wind and clung to another standing tree, eating downwards. Beneath the dark canopy of leaves and smoke the fire laid hold on the forest and began to gnaw. Acres of black and yellow smoke rolled steadily toward the sea. At the sight of the flames and the irresistible course of the fire, the boys broke into shrill, excited cheering."

The fire at first seems to rally the boys to action, but, as Piggy notes, the fire is out of control and is consuming all their firewood. They have spent themselves with the first effort to try to be rescued, and their misspent energies do not bode well for their chances at rescue.

Ralph continues to try to keep the fire burning, even as Jack and his followers branch off into a rival band of hunters. Ralph tells the little boys who still follow him:

"'The fire's the most important thing. Without the fire we can't be rescued. I'd like to put on war-paint and be a savage. But we must keep the fire burning. The fire's the most important thing on the island, because, because--'He paused again and the silence became full of doubt and wonder. Piggy whispered urgently. 'Rescue.'"

Notably, Ralph can't even remember the reason he is keeping the fire burning, and the boys eventually let the fire burn out when a ship is passing. Ralph says, "If I blow the conch and they don't come back; then we've had it. We shan't keep the fire going. We'll be like animals. We'll never be rescued." The fire and the conch are the boys' connection to rescue and to civilization. When the fire burns out, it's a symbol that they no longer care about being rescued and have descended into brutality and chaos.

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Early in the novel, Ralph comments that they must make a signal fire in order for them to be rescued. He hopes that a passing ship will notice the smoke and stop to pick them up. As soon as they successfully light their first fire, Ralph yells for the boys to grab more wood to feed the flames. Golding writes,

"Life became a race with the fire and the boys scattered through the upper forest. To keep a clean flag of flame flying on the mountain was the immediate end and no one looked further" (56).

The signal fire is a symbol of hope, rescue, and civilization throughout the novel. The boys' focus on and enthusiasm for maintaining the signal fire illustrates their initial affinity for civility.

In Chapter 5, Ralph holds a meeting to discuss how the boys are not completing the tasks agreed upon during the assemblies. After commenting on the shabby huts, lack of water in the coconuts, and the location of where the boys are relieving themselves, he says,

"The fire is the most important thing on the island. How can we ever be rescued except by luck, if we don’t keep a fire going? Is a fire too much for us to make?...Look at us! How many are we? And yet we can’t keep a fire going to make smoke. Don’t you understand? Can’t you see we ought to—ought to die before we let the fire out?" (Golding 31).

Ralph is pleading with the boys to focus on the importance of having a signal fire, but they do not share the same feelings. The inability to maintain a signal fire correlates with the boys' inability to create a civil society on the island. Their indifferent feelings about maintaining a signal fire reflect their gradual descent into savagery.

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