What are some symbols of good and evil in both Lord of the Flies and Macbeth?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Lord of the Flies, by William Golding, and Macbeth, by William Shakespeare, are popular works not only for their entertainment value, but also because both provide rich symbolism through characters and objects which deepen the reading experience and provide for insights into human nature. There are numerous symbols of good and of evil found in both texts, though it does require a deeper analysis to look for common symbols in both. The characters of Banquo (in Macbeth) and Simon (in Lord of the Flies) illustrate symbols of good, while the characters of the witches (in Macbeth) and Roger (in Lord of the Flies), as well as the presence and significance of blood in both texts, illustrate symbols of evil. 

Both Banquo and Simon are secondary characters in their respective texts, yet each plays an instrumental role in advancing the plot toward its inevitable conclusion when he meets his death. As symbols of good, both Banquo and Simon give off an air of innocence, of virtue, and of morality, both in general and when compared to the characters around them. Their deaths, in both plots, signify a definitive shift in the action toward an abandonment of good and a move toward evil. 

Macbeth himself describes the goodness of Banquo: 

Our fears in Banquo 
Stick deep; and in his royalty of nature 
Reigns that which would be fear'd: 'tis much he dares; 1060
And, to that dauntless temper of his mind, 
He hath a wisdom that doth guide his valour 
To act in safety. (Act 3, Scene 1). 

Additionally, Banquo serves as a representation of good by being the first (aside from Lady Macbeth) to suspect Macbeth of specific wrongdoing:

Thou hast it now: king, Cawdor, Glamis, all, 
As the weird women promised, and, I fear, 
Thou play'dst most foully for't: (Act 3, Scene 1).

When Macbeth sends the murderers to kill Banquo, the death scene is a turning point in the play, the death of any remaining good/hope. Following the murder of Banquo, Macbeth's thirst for blood only increases. 

Similarly, in Lord of the Flies, the author painstakingly illustrates the purity and goodness of Simon's soul, traits that continue until his violent death. Simon expresses, from the first day, a care and concern for the younger boys in the group that isn't matched by the others. 

He says, in Chapter 3,

"You've noticed, haven't you?"
Jack put down his spear and squatted.
"Noticed what?"
"Well. They're frightened."
He rolled over and peered into Jack's fierce, dirty face.
"I mean the way things are. They dream. You can hear 'em. Have you been awake at night?" Jack shook his head.
"They talk and scream." 

Simon's concern for the younger boys shows that he is caring and giving. As the novel continues, and the boys continue their descent toward savagery, Simon acts as a pillar of good. He braves the forest (in fact, finds comfort there) and works to dispel the fears of all of the boys about who/what the Beast and the Lord of the Flies truly are. 

When Simon is killed in Chapter 9, his body seems to glow as it's carried out to sea, which can also be seen as an ultimate symbol of Simon's goodness and of his overall role as a symbol of good in the novel. 

The water rose farther and dressed Simon's coarse hair with brightness. The line of his cheek silvered and the turn of his shoulder became sculptured marble....surrounded by a fringe of inquisitive bright creatures, itself a silver shape beneath the steadfast constellations, Simon's dead body moved out toward the open sea.

Symbols of good are best accentuated when paired with equal symbols of evil, and Macbeth and Lord of the Flies are no exception. Using character once again, the witches (collectively) and Roger can be seen as symbols of evil. Additionally, both authors used blood as a representation of evil. 

The witches can be seen as the essence of evil from the moment the play Macbeth opens. They harm for sport, and they give no consideration to the far-reaching effects their actions can have. While Macbeth arguably performs many evil acts throughout the play of his own free will, each time he begins to have doubt, the witches appear to goad him on toward a path of destruction. 

Following the three original prophecies from the witches in Act 1, they follow with additional prophecies in Act 4 that spur Macbeth onward. They start by addressing him as an evil being:

By the pricking of my thumbs,
Something wicked this way comes (Act 4, Scene 1).
And they continue by ordering him to listen only to the apparitions but avoid speaking to them. This adds a level of confusion to what the witches have already set up to be abstract symbols, misleading at best and evil at worst. The final image of Banquo's issue instead of Macbeth's pushes him toward desperate acts he may not have considered before. During this conversation with the witches, Macbeth vows to kill Macduff and realizes he has likely killed his trusted friend, Banquo, to no avail. He leaves the interaction with the witches feeling cursed. 
 
In Lord of the Flies, Roger serves as a symbol of evil from start to finish. Whereas many of the boys turn toward savagery as the book progresses, Roger started there. 
Roger gathered a handful of stones and began to throw them. 
Already in chapter 4, we see Roger's tendency toward hurting others (or scaring them, in this case) without any cause. 
 
Later, in chapter 11, Roger commits the only actual cold-blooded murder in the book when he deliberately pushes a boulder onto Piggy. 
High overhead, Roger, with a sense of delirious abandonment, leaned all his weight on the lever.....The rock struck Piggy a glancing blow from chin to knee; the conch exploded into a thousand white fragments and ceased to exist. Piggy, saying nothing, with no time for even a grunt, traveled through the air sideways from the rock, turning over as he went.
Both Macbeth and Lord of the Flies also use blood as a symbol of the presence of evil. Blood is a prominent theme throughout Macbeth, most notably for Lady Macbeth. In Act 1, Scene 5, she calls on the spirits to "Make thick my blood," and to "stop up the access and passage to remorse," a request to block out the good in her and increase the evil. Later, after much of the violence has taken place, Lady Macbeth believes she literally has blood on her hands. 
Out, damned spot! out, I say!...Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him? (Act 5, Scene 1).
Blood on the murderer's face shows Macbeth that Banquo's murder has been carried out: "There's blood on thy face," (Act 3, Scene 4), and Banquo appears to Macbeth at the banquet as a bloody figure: "Now they rise again, / With twenty mortal murders on their crowns (Act 3, Scene 4). 
 
In Lord of the Flies, the appearance of blood is one of the first indicators of the boys' shift away from their normal world and into one where evil has an active presence. Jack first puts clay on his face as camouflage when he's hunting the pig; in chapter 4, when he catches and kills the pig, he applies the blood to his face instead. Symbolically, Jack has shifted from a boy into a hunter, a killer, and he celebrates this by marking himself with blood. 
Jack stood up as he said this, the bloodied knife in his hand. The two boys faced each other. There was the brilliant world of hunting, tactics, fierce exhilaration, skill; and there was the world of longing and baffled commonsense. Jack transferred the knife to his left hand and smudged blood over his forehead as he pushed down the plastered hair.
Both Macbeth and Lord of the Flies are rife with symbolism, and each has its share of symbols of good and evil. Looking at characters, including Banquo, Simon, the witches, and Roger, as well as the presence of blood in both texts, can provide an avenue of analysis of the themes of good and evil in each as well as serve as a point of comparison between them.  
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial