What is the significant importance of fire in Golding's Lord of the Flies?That is, what does fire symbolize regarding civilization? Please answer with evidence and examples.

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gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Fire symbolizes the possibility of rescue, civilization, and also the destructive force of nature throughout the novel. Initially, Ralph suggests that the boys create a signal fire, which will emit smoke that passing ships can spot. He tells the boys,

"We’ve got to have special people for looking after the fire. Any day there may be a ship out there . . . and if we have a signal going they’ll come and take us off." (Golding, 58)

The possibility of rescue also correlates with the symbolism of civilization, in that the boys will return safely to their homes in England. In order to create and maintain the signal fire, the boys must work together. The concepts of collaboration and organization concerning the maintenance of the signal fire are related to the fire's symbolic interpretation.

Unfortunately, the boys gradually descend into savagery and begin to neglect the signal fire. After Jack entices Samneric to leave their duty on top of the mountain, the signal fire extinguishes. Once the signal fire initially goes out, the boys fail to keep a constant fire on top of the mountain, which signifies their distance from civilization. Toward the end of the novel, Ralph laments their inability to maintain a signal fire, which negatively affected the possibility of being rescued. Ralph tells Piggy,

"Just an ordinary fire. You’d think we could do that, wouldn’t you? Just a smoke signal so we can be rescued. Are we savages or what?" (244)

In addition to symbolically representing the possibility of rescue and civilization, the signal fire can also be interpreted as a destructive force. When the boys initially build a fire, it rapidly grows out of control and destroys much of the surrounding forest. Golding writes,

"Beneath the dark canopy of leaves and smoke the fire laid hold on the forest and began to gnaw. Acres of black and yellow smoke rolled steadily toward the sea." (34)

Unfortunately, one of the littluns loses his life during the forest fire. In this way, the signal fire also represents the unpredictability of nature and its destructive force. In order to harness the power of fire, the boys must collaborate, exercise responsibility, and perform maintenance. By the end of the novel, the boys do not maintain a signal fire, which represents their descent into savagery and emphasizes their distance from civilization.

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As an allegory, The Lord of the Flies, employs fire is a symbol of power, just as it represents power in the myth of Promethesus, who stole fire from the gods and gave it to man.  

  • As a signal to the outside world of civilization, fire represents the power of rescue and return to civilization.
  • The fire also represents the reponsibility that civilization demands as Ralph insists that the boys keep the fire going so that they can be rescued.  Their failure to do so results in their being missed by a passing ship.  In Chapter Five Ralph tells the boys, that the fire is the most important thing...."smoke is more important than the pig."
  • When Jack and the hunters steal the fire, as Prometheus does in the ancient myth, the evil and destructive power of anarchy is symbolized as Jack and the sadistic Roger gain control of the boys
  • The resulting regression to savagery is symbolized by the fire that sweeps the island, "burning" away the vestiges of society and threatening death to Ralph:

Acres of black and yellow rolled steadily toward the sea....like flames, as though they were a kind of wild life, crept as a jaguar creeps on its belly toward a line of birch...Beneath the capering boys a quarter of a mile square of forest was savage with smoke and flames. (Chapter Two)




pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

To me, fire symbolizes a couple of different things.  It can be a link to civilization -- a sign that the boys are still civilized and want to be rescued.  However, it can also be a symbol of how destructive savagery can be.

The signal fire is a link to civilization.  It is one of the first things that the boys try to do when they are still interested in being rescued.  As they get less interested (and less connected to civilization) they tend to let the fire go out.

The wildfires are destructive.  They kill accidentally (the boy with the birthmark) and they are used in an attempt to kill intentionally (trying to get Ralph out where they can kill him).

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Lord of the Flies

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