What does the fire in Lord of the Flies represent?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Lord of the Flies carries with it a very cynical message about the nature of humanity. In particular, it seems to show that it is intrinsically destructive. Because of this, the symbol of fire within the narrative takes on a dual and seemingly paradoxical meaning. One one hand, fire is...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

Lord of the Flies carries with it a very cynical message about the nature of humanity. In particular, it seems to show that it is intrinsically destructive. Because of this, the symbol of fire within the narrative takes on a dual and seemingly paradoxical meaning. One one hand, fire is shown to represent the hope and ideals of civilization. To Ralph, who is shown on several occasions to be the wisest of the children on the island, the maintenance of the signal fire is of paramount importance. As the group of boys descend further into madness and primal savagery, Ralph struggles to remind them of the fire and how it represents the final connection with the light of civilization beyond the island.

However, the fire is also shown to represent destruction and how this destruction is inherent in the nature of human beings. When the boys first crash on the island, the scorched area is referred to repeatedly as a scar. Indeed, the boys' presence on the island can be seen as a wound. The natural landscape of the island, despite what horror it represents to stranded human beings, is objectively very beautiful. Fittingly, nearly all of it is destroyed in fire when the madness of primal humanity comes to its climax at the end of the book.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Fire in the novel represents power. As the plot illustrates, power can be a beneficial force, or it can be an agent of destruction.

In the hands of Ralph and Piggy, who represent the civilized norms of Great Britain, the fire is a beneficial force. It is a gathering point for the boys, and the work of watching and tending to it, if tedious, also represents the hope of rescue. In this context, it symbolizes the disciplined life that is at the core of civilization, in which people defer instant gratification for long-term gain.

In the hands of Jack, however, fire is a dangerous form of power, because Jack is dangerously out of control. Jack doesn't care about anything but indulging the dark desires of the present moment. Tending the fire for the benefit of rescue is of no interest to him. Nor is preserving the ecosystem of the island on which the boys depend for food and shelter. As long as he can have what he wants in the present moment—power, domination, the wild indulgence of his sadistic impulses—he doesn't think at all about the future consequences of his actions.

In the end, the wild conflagration that sets the jungle on fire brings rescue—and civilization—back to the boys, but it could have too easily gone the other way, with the force of an out-of-control barbarism taking them all down.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Fire is a complicated symbol in Lord of the Flies. It has several different interpretations, which represent various elements found within the story. Fire can symbolically represent rescue, hope, and the boys' link to civilization, which is illustrated by the signal fire on the top of the mountain. At the beginning of the story, Ralph uses Piggy's glasses to start the signal fire and places Jack's hunters in charge of maintaining the signal fire. The smoke from the signal fire is meant to catch the attention of passing ships and result in the boys being rescued. Unfortunately, Jack allows the signal fire to go out, and the boys believe the beast inhabits the top of the mountain, which prevents them from relighting the signal fire.

In addition to representing a link to the civilized world and the boys' hope of rescue, fire also symbolically represents warmth, comfort, and survival. During the dark nights, the boys find comfort by the fire and also use it to cook the pig meat. Without the fire, Jack and his hunters cannot hold feasts and eat pig meat. Therefore, Jack and his hunters resort to stealing fire from Ralph's tribe and eventually take Piggy's glasses, which are used to spark a flame. Given the importance of fire, one could argue that it also symbolically represents power and authority. By the end of the story, Jack and his savages possess the ability to start fires, which represents his position of power.

Fire also symbolically represents destruction and the dangers of the natural world. In chapter 2, the boys discover the danger associated with fire when they accidentally start a forest fire, which claims the life of a littlun. At the end of the story, Jack and his savages attempt to smoke Ralph out of his hiding spot and also start a massive forest fire that almost destroys the island. Fortunately, the British Navy sees the massive flames and rescues the boys.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In "Lord of the Flies" fire is representative of three things: hope, power, and destruction. 

In the beginning of the novel, fire represents hope.  The boys agree to build and maintain a fire as a signaling device to passing ships. The fire is their mechanism to achieve rescue; therefore, the fire is a symbol of hope.  It is giving the boys hope to go home and links their efforts to a return to civilization. 

Fire is also symbolic of power in the novel.  Whoever has the ability to make fire is the more powerful leader or "tribe."  Perhaps Piggy's glasses represent this power element better than the fire, but fire is the end result of the glasses.  The glasses are simply a tool to start the fire.  By attaining the glasses later in the novel, Jack becomes the more powerful leader, because he has the ability to make fire. 

The third thing that fire represents is destruction.  It is the signal fire that winds up killing the first boy.  Jack also uses fire to hunt down Ralph, which is ironic because it's that fire that ultimately signals a rescue ship.  

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team