What Does The Island Symbolize In Lord Of The Flies

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Written in response to the Victorian novel by R. M. Ballantyne's adventure story, The Coral Island, in which English boys defeat savages on the island and civilization triumphs, William Golding examines in Lord of the Flies the innate nature of man, on an uninhabited island.

While the golden boy Ralph, upon looking around after the plane crash, thinks he has found himself on the "coral island," it is, perhaps, more of a Rousseauian island, but one that fails to preserve man's basic innocence. For, instead of the successful experiment of the  boys' being born upon it and brought up in a naive state of ignorance of the evils of society, they have come from "a civilization that...was in ruins" and landed upon the sands.

And, yet, the boys are provided the freedom from the restrictions of society. In some time, however, the conditioning of society erodes; for instance, Roger's arm held back by the fear of punishment, prevents him from hurting Henry, but after he has been on the island for some time, Roger's innate sadism has full play and he pushes a boulder upon Piggy's head, sending him careening down the mountain.

Others, like Jack, hide their sadism behind masks, but it is not long before they, too, allow their innate savagery to surface. Clearly, then, the beautiful island does not prevent the boys' spiritual corruption, and is no Coral Island. And, it is the intuitive Simon, hiding often in a forested area, who identifies the "beast," the evil of man, as inherent in them. For, eventually, Jack and his hunters become so savage that they burn and destroy the island's pristine beauty. 

They understood only too well the liberation into savagery that the concealing paint brought.

Therefore, the island of Golding's Lord of the Flies represents an environment free from influences, a virtual testing ground for the souls and characters of the boys, who reveal their innate nature. This island, that in the final paragraphs the naval officer unknowingly and with dramatic irony remarks,"I know. Jolly good show. Like the Coral Island," is only land; it is no Garden of Eden. The boys destroy it in their atavistic savagery that emerges.

a fleeting picture of the strange glamour that had once invested the beaches.

It is a pristine environment unlike the unrealistic Coral Island that is not outside the influence of the evil that lies innately within the hearts of men.