William Golding presents numerous themes, basic ideas, and rich symbolism in Lord of the Flies that give the reader a great deal to consider. Most obvious is the theme that society holds us together; without the framework offered by societal norms, our ideals, values, and understanding of right and wrong are lost. Without rules, anarchy and savagery can – and often do – come to light. Golding also shows us that without civilization, we lose whatever values we draw from our surroundings. Given the right situation, people can only cover up inner savagery so long before it breaks out.
Imagery abounds in the novel, which helps underscore the descent into savagery. Between the boat shape of the island – an ancient symbol of civilization – and the water current that seems to be “flowing backwards,” the impression is that “civilization may be going backsward for the island or its inhabitants (see (http://wdb.sad17.k12.me.us/teachers/bburns/com/documents/literature/lof/analysis.html).
As quoted in the Study Guide Overview (http://www.enotes.com/lord-of-the-flies/overview), E. L. Epstein’s critical notes include the following interpretation of the story’s key symbol, that of the “lord of the flies”:
“The central symbol itself, the ‘lord of the flies’ [physically represented in the novel by the pig’s head Jack’s tribe mounts on a sharpened stick, and abstractly represented by the boy’s gradual descent into anarchy and violence] . . . is a translation of the Hebrew Ba’alzevuv (Beelzebub in Greek)…a devil whose name suggests that he is devoted to decay, destruction, demoralization, hysteria, and panic and who therefore fits very well in Golding’s theme.” (p. 3)
Several of the allegorical characters reinforce the moral breakdown of society:
Jack, who represents savagery and anarchy
Roger, who represents evil
The “Scar,” which represents man’s destruction
The Beast, which represents the dark side of human nature
The Lord of the Flies, representing the Devil and great danger
Each violent act, each tribal dance, is a manifestation of savagery, and in time, the only individual left who has not become savage is Ralph. Jack, whose rivalry with Ralph at first appears assuaged with Jack’s taking control of the fire, quickly turns to manipulation to gain the upper hand. Once he has tasted blood – represented by his killing a pig – his savage nature practically explodes onto the scene. Eventually, the blood spilled becomes human with the frenzied killing of Simon (mistaken for the Beast) and the deliberate killing of Piggy from a boulder shoved off the ledge by Roger. By the end of the story, Ralph is in fear for his life as he attempts to remain hidden from Jack and his tribe and their spears.