What is the significance in the title of the book, Lord of the flies?

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coachingcorner eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Interestingly, the title of the short novel 'Lord Of The Flies' was not the author's first choice. William Goldsmith originally had a much less 'attention-grabbing' title for his book, and during discussions with his publisher, decided to change it. A good decision, it appears, for the novel stirred up a lot of interest and early runs of the books were newsworthy as copies flew off the shelves. 

This shows us that the significance of the title has something to do with the inner selves of all us - it touches references and motifs and fears with which we are already familiar. The author's family had links to Christian education and perhaps one of the most obvious themes suggested by that title is the Bible. Think of the image of Beelzebub, an early name for the devil - who was often depicted as having horns or tusks, much like a pig. The novel deals with man's innate propensity for evil and this resonates with other religious events in the novel such as the choirboys with their torn dirty gowns. Think also of icons, graven images, statues and idols (often pushed up on sticks in religious ceremonies) and the Bible's warnings from God saying 'thou shalt have no other Gods but me, kneel not to graven images.' The word 'Lord' suggests hierarchy, such as that involved in the struggle between good and evil - in this case we wonder who wins out in the end? Is it the good theme represented by Simon, and the ending where rescuers arrive? We must remember that the 'rescuer' may represent a subtle form of perceived evil however, as he could represent the armed forces conducting a war which is only in the interests of a great superpower. The word 'Lord' also connotes dominion, both in the Bible (where man has dominion over all living things) and out in the world where feudalism, slavery and royalty still have relevance in certain parts of the world.

Flies also connote images of death, dirt and decay and engender fear and hostility among humans. Although potential readers do not usually know the outcome of the story in detail, the word 'flies' is powerful. The combination of the two images makes a potential reader wonder what such a 'Lord' could be - and is a hook which makes them curious enough to want to read the book.