What is the significance of fire in Lord of the Flies?

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Fire is a complex symbol in Golding's classic novel Lord of the Flies . In the story, fire is both destructive and necessary for survival at various moments in the story. When the boys initially attempt to light a signal fire, they pile too much dry wood onto the fire...

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Fire is a complex symbol in Golding's classic novel Lord of the Flies. In the story, fire is both destructive and necessary for survival at various moments in the story. When the boys initially attempt to light a signal fire, they pile too much dry wood onto the fire and accidentally catch an entire side of the mountain on fire. Tragically, the littlun with a mulberry-colored birthmark dies in the forest fire. Towards the end of the story, Jack instructs his hunters to burn the forest in hopes of smoking Ralph out of his hiding place. By doing so, Jack and his savages set the entire island on fire and narrowly avoid death at the end of the story. These examples indicate that fire has the potential to be destructive like the disastrous decisions the boys make on the island.

The signal fire symbolically represents the hope of rescue, is the boys' connection to the outside world, and can be used as a gauge to measure the boys's civility. Initially, Jack and his hunters are in charge of maintaining the signal fire at the top of the mountain. The boys hope that a passing ship will see the smoke and eventually rescue them. Ralph, who is an outspoken proponent of civilization, continually reminds the boys about the importance of maintaining the signal fire. Tragically, the hunters allow the signal fire to go out and they miss a rare opportunity for rescue when a ship passes.

After relighting the signal fire, Samneric mistake a dead paratrooper on the top of the mountain for the beast and once again let the signal fire go out. Ralph, Simon, and Piggy then attempt to build a small signal fire on the beach but cannot maintain it because the other boys join Jack's tribe of savages and there is not enough dry wood around to feed the flames. The absence of the signal fire corresponds with the absence of civility and loss of hope on the island. Without the signal fire, the boys rapidly descend into savagery, and there is virtually no hope of rescue.

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As a symbol of technology—generated by Piggy's glasses, no less—fire purifies the boys' primitive surroundings by introducing into their new surroundings a feature of the modern life they left behind in England. It allows them, then, to maintain a connection with what is comforting and familiar in the midst of this harsh, scary environment. So long as the boys can keep this fire going, there is always hope that they will one day be rescued and return to their former lives.

That's why it's rather telling that Jack and his gang make no effort to keep the fire burning. Truth be told, they don't want to go back home any time soon. They're doing just fine on the island, thank you every much, and see it as nothing more than an awfully big adventure. Jack's association with the fire going out is instructive; it shows us that Jack offers no hope for the other boys, only brutal domination and control. So long as Jack's around, any hope that the other boys have will always be tinged with fear.

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The fire from Lord of the Flies is significant because it symbolizes both hope and destruction.  

When the novel first begins, Ralph is adamant that a signal fire is kept lit.  His hope rests on the belief that the fire will be able to attract the attention of a passing ship.  

“There’s another thing. We can help them to find us. 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. . . We’ve got to have special people for looking after the fire. Any day there may be a ship out there“ –- he waved his arm at the taut wire of the horizon -– “and if we have a signal going they’ll come and take us off.”

Unfortunately that initial fire wound up being more destructive than anything else.  By then end of chapter two, the fire had burned completely out of control, didn't signal any rescue whatsoever, and killed one of the boys.  

While fire may have gone from a symbol of hope to a symbol of destruction in the beginning of the book, fire does the opposite at the novel's conclusion.  Jack has gone ballistic by the end of the book, and he wants to hunt and kill Ralph.  Part of Jack's plan is to use fire to smoke Ralph out into the open.  To Jack's credit, that part of the plan is successful; however, the fire and smoke are also seen by a passing ship.  Rescue arrives just in time to save Ralph's life.  Fire has once again been turned into a symbol of hope and rescue.

The fire reached the coconut palms by the beach and swallowed them noisily. A flame, seemingly detached, swung like an acrobat and licked up the palm heads on the platform. The sky was black.

The officer grinned cheerfully at Ralph.

“We saw your smoke." 

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