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

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sciftw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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." 

Read the study guide:
Lord of the Flies

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