What does the fire represent in the Lord of the Flies by William Golding?

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Kristen Lentz | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Fire becomes a focal point inLord of the Fliesin chapter two, "Fire on the Mountain."  Ralph suggests to the other boys on the island that "if a ship comes near the island, they may not notice us.  So we must make smoke on top of the mountain.  We must make a fire" (38).  Ralph's quest to keep the fire lit comes to represent the boys' desire for reconnecting with civilization and being rescued. 

Later, the fire becomes a source of conflict between the boys when Ralph angrily confronts Jack about not doing his part to keep the fire going: "I was talking about smoke! don't you want to be rescued? All you can talk about is pig, pig, pig" (54)!  Ralph perceives the fire as the boys' only chance for rescue and becomes angry with Jack when he does not place the same importance on keeping the fire lit.  Jack's preference for hunting signifies his desire to stay on the island, hunting and wild. 

Ultimately, the boys' difference in opinions whether hunting or fire is more important will cause their fragile alliance to splinter in Chapter Eight, "Gift for the Darkness."  Ironically, the enormous fire created by Jack and his hunters to flush Ralph out of the jungle in the end of the novel leads to the boys' rescue by the naval officer who comments, "We saw your smoke.  What have you been doing? Having a war or something?" (201)