Explain Golding's use of symbolism in this novel Lord of the Flies, with examples.

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durbanville eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Lord of the Flies is an allegorical novel and, as such, is full of many symbolic events, characters, items and places with significance way beyond the scope of a novel.  

The symbols support the main themes of the novel, one of which is the conflict between good and evil or more specifically civilization versus savagery. Four of the boys in particular stand out here as symbolic figures - Ralph, Piggy, Simon and Roger.

Ralph represents order, leadership and civilization. He is assumed to have inherited his

natural authority from his father, a commander in the Navy.

Piggy has a scientific approach to most things and is representative of that intellectual sector of society.

Jack on the other hand leads a

 savage society (which) becomes more distinct and powerful  

Roger is one of the most extreme characters who,

with a sense of delirious abandonment,

represents bloodlust and brutality. He pushes the rock off Castle Rock which therefore also holds symbolism as a dark and dangerous place.  

Religious symbolism is present in the form of Simon, possibly the most symbolic character of all. He has been said to represent a      

 religious prophet or seer who is sensitive and inarticulate yet who, of all the boys, perhaps sees reality most clearly. 

The Lord of the Flies(the pig's head that Jack impaled on a stick) is another strong symbol. It is complicated and represents all that is evil. It is the physical manifestation of the Beast - a symbol itself - and naturally being the title of the novel, the strongest symbol of all. It

abstractly represented by the boy’s gradual descent into anarchy and violence.

is a translation of the Hebrew Ba’alzevuv (Beelzebub in Greek).... whose name suggests that he (the devil) is devoted to decay, destruction, demoralization..

The Beast stands for the primal - most basic - of all savagery that (may) exist in all humans. In terms of Golding's belief  after his experiences at war 

 ..he began to view man, instead, as a creature with a very dark and evil side to his nature

The conch shell - a symbol of good order - comes to be so much more and is even a political tool in the hands of the speaker. It is at least an attempt at a crude form of democracy.

Piggy's glasses are appropriately used to start a fire by directing sunlight - the power of science. The stealing of Piggy's glasses becomes a symbolic event as Jack and his crew effectively "seize" power. Without the power to make fire Ralph's group cannot function properly and cannot be rescued.

The signal fire itself and the mountain on which it burns (and later the beach) maintain some connection with humanity.  It is a symbol of hope but when the fire burns low or goes out it signifys the boys descent into anarchy and loss of vision. It's an acceptance almost that they have no choice but to settle for this life on the island 

Fire itself becomes a symbol as ironically it is a fire that alerts a ship to the boys' plight - it is not the signal fire though but the forest fire started by Jack and his gang to hunt and kill Ralph.  

Further Reading:
Read the study guide:
Lord of the Flies

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