What do Piggy's glasses symbolize in Lord of the Flies, and how does this symbol progress over the course of the story?

Piggy's glasses are a symbol of perception, and throughout the story they represent the capacity for reason and logic. In this sense, they are symbolic of a society that values knowledge and order. However, the glasses also come to represent vulnerability, as the boy's lose their sanity. Ultimately, the shattering of Piggy's glasses signifies the complete dissolution of civility.

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Piggy's glasses symbolize a connection to civilization and to scientific reasoning that generally erodes through the conflict in the novel.

In the first chapter, Ralph asks Piggy about his father, and Piggy takes off his glasses before answering:

“My dad’s dead,” he said quickly, “and my mum—”
He took off his glasses and looked vainly for something with which to clean them.

In this moment of emotional discord, Piggy removes his glasses and looks around vainly without them. This is important as it demonstrates Piggy's difficulty in reasoning his way through this emotionally-laden response. When the glasses come off, Piggy's ability to reason also falters.

When the group comes together later in that same chapter to discuss their options for survival, Piggy is seen putting on his classes before clearly assessing their dire situation:

Piggy put on his glasses.
“Nobody knows where we are,” said Piggy. He was paler than before and breathless. “Perhaps they knew where we was going to; and perhaps not. But they don’t know where we are ’cos we never got there.” He gaped at them for a moment, then swayed and sat down.

Piggy's sense of rationality is clear here. He understands their grim situation and applies a scientific understanding of planes, flight schedules, communication, and probability to their likelihood of being rescued. But before he can utter those, words, Piggy must first put on his glasses, which presents him as a symbolically trustworthy form of knowledge on the subject.

The boys determine that they should use Piggy's glasses as a fire-starter, indicating the power of scientific reasoning to bring survival to this world of savage disorder:

“Here–let me go!” His voice rose to a shriek of terror as Jack snatched the glasses off his face. “Mind out! Give ’em back! I can hardly see!"

It is important to note that the glasses are stolen from Piggy, demonstrating the lack of respect that Jack holds for reasoning and knowledge. Instead, Jack acts in emotional passions, a contrast to Piggy's solid sense of steady reasoning.

Once Jack's tribe steals what remains of Piggy's glasses, Piggy is left virtually powerless against their efforts to annihilate what remains of Ralph's group. He becomes frightened, and his speech echoes a lack of reasoning. When Ralph and Piggy make one final attempt to reclaim Piggy's glasses and a sense of order, Piggy is killed by Jack's tribe. This demonstrates Jack's complete disconnect from civilization and societal order.

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I would argue that Piggy's glasses symbolize different things at different stages of this classic novel. When Piggy first meets the other boys, his glasses, together with his pale visage and breathlessness, seem to symbolize weakness.

Later, when the boys realize that reflections from Piggy's glasses can be used to light a signal fire, they become a symbol of hope, as well as of intellect and sound reasoning. The fact that Jack grabs Piggy's glasses without his permission indicates that the glasses, together with their ability to make fire, are a symbol of power.

The next time Piggy's glasses take on a new kind of symbolism is when Jack hits Piggy's head, causing the glasses to fly off and be broken. The breaking of the glasses represents the breakdown of rational thought and civilization that is occurring on the island.

With one lens broken and one intact, Piggy's glasses come to symbolize the vast differences between the boys. Ralph, with his rationality, is represented by the side of the glasses which is still useful. Jack, hell-bent on selfishness and savagery, is symbolized by the broken lens.

Jack eventually steals Piggy's broken glasses, which symbolizes a loss of power, both for Piggy and for Ralph's group as a whole. Piggy cannot see anything, and the group as a whole has no further ability to make fire.

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Highly symbolic, Piggy's "thick spectacles" represent perception that is aided, and the ability to reason and to think logically, as well as a certain maturity. Also, when used for the rescue fire, these glasses represent the benefits of science, but after they are stolen and used to set fires that go out of control, the glasses signify civilization out of control.

  • In Chapter One of Lord of the Flies, when Piggy presents himself to Ralph, he appears older because of his heaviness, thinning hair, and glasses.  When he removes his glasses to wipe them, Piggy has an expression of "pain and inward concentration" alter his appearance.  So, the glasses symbolize this internalization of thought that engages in reasoning. For instance, in Chapter Two, Piggy again wipes his glasses as the boys assemble in response to Ralph's blowing the conch.
  • The glasses are also indicative of Piggy's vulnerability.  Again, in Chapter Two, the boys want to start a fire and Roger suggests making a bow and spin the arrow; however, Jack points to Piggy's glasses, "use them as burning glasses!"  Piggy is surrounded and screams, "Mind out!  Give 'em back! I can hardly see!"  Later, when Jack disparages Piggy for doing nothing, the solicitous Simon defends Piggy, "We used his specs....He helped that way." Of course, after Piggy's glasses are broken and finally stolen, the glasses symbolize the breakdown in civilization and the loss of rationality.
  • When Jack breaks Piggy's glasses after smacking his head,  Piggy's glasses "flew off and tinkled on the rocks. Piggy cried out in terror...."  This incident with the glasses foreshadows and symbolizes what will soon happen to him.    
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Piggy's glasses come to represent both weakness and power as the novel progresses.  At the beginning of the novel, Piggy's glasses are a symbol of his physical weakness which sets him apart from the other boys; however, as the boys figure out how to use the lens to create fire, Piggy's glasses become a symbol of power in the novel. 

Ralph's control as chief falters as Jack leaves the tribe and makes the bold move to steal Piggy's glasses.  Jack's act of theft signals a power shift in the novel.  As long as he controls the glasses, he also controls the power to make fire.

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