Two separate illustrations of an animal head and a fire on a mountain

Lord of the Flies

by William Golding

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What does the signal fire represent in Lord of the Flies?

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Among other things, fire represents light, the light at the end of the tunnel which the stranded boys on the island eventually hope to reach. So long as the fire can be kept going, there will be hope that the boys will one day be rescued. But once it goes out, that hope will instantly die out with it.

It's notable in this regard that the very boys charged with looking after the fire—Jack and his gang—couldn't care less about its going out. They'd much rather head off for another pig-sticking adventure or bully some littluns just for the hell of it.

Jack realizes early on that it's not in his interests for the other boys to have hope or to see light at the end of the tunnel in the shape of a possible rescue. He knows that, as long as the boys remain stranded on the island, he'll get to be king of the castle. He enjoys life on the island, and in truth, doesn't want his captivity to end. That being the case, he's completely indifferent to whether or not the fire goes out. His neglect of the fire shows him to be the enemy of hope, civilization, and enlightenment, indeed all the many things that the fire symbolizes.

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The signal fire represents both hope and civilization.

The boys originally make the fire because they still have the hope that they'll be rescued. They're aware that potential saviors might not see them as they sail by; their solution is to make a fire and send smoke high into the sky. As long as the fire is burning, the boys are making an active attempt to be rescued.

The fire also represents civilization. It helps them stay more civilized than they'd be without fire; fire is an important tool for any society. They cook meat on it. They use it to stay warm. The fire also helps them stay on a schedule and create a society—their own civilization. They realize that they'll have to have a set rotation of people dedicated to tending the fire to make sure it doesn't go out. Civilization is a precious commodity that the boys have to work to maintain.

It's only when the fire is no longer a signal fire—when it's out of control—that the boys give up any semblance of civilization. This is just before they're found by their rescuers.

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The signal fire is meant to attract the attention of passing ships. It is an expression of the desire of the boys to escape. In a larger sense, the fire is symbolic of a wish to return to civilization and becomes an expression of political power as well. This comes to a head in the chapter "Cry of the Hunters," in which Jack decides to let the signal fire die and go hunting instead. Jack's decision is, of course, an overt challenge to Ralph's authority, but more than that, it is at once a embrace of desire over duty and a rejection of the wider world in favor of the primitive society the boys have created on the island, one which Jack thinks he can dominate.

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The signal fire in the story is a symbol of hope of the boys' return to civilisation. By keeping the signal fire going they hope to attract the attention of a passing boat or aircraft who will then rescue them. It starts off on the mountain but then later moves to the beach. Because it is linked so closely with the boys' return to civilisation, it becomes an indicator of the boys' connection to civilisation. For example, in the early parts of the novel the boys want to maintain the fire and keep it going which is a good sign as it shows they want to be returned to civilisation. However, when the fire is allowed to burn low or even goes out, it is highly symbolic of their rejection of civilisation in place of the barbaric savagery that runs amok on the island. It is highly ironic that at the end of the novel a fire does attract a ship, but it is not the signal fire, instead it is the fire that Jack and his mob start to hunt and kill Ralph.

One key passage that demonstrates this is in Chapter 4 when Jack and his hunters neglect their responsibility to keep the signal fire going and go and hunt and kill a pig instead. Ironically, this is when Ralph and Piggy can see a ship on the horizon, who of course does not know they are there because the signal fire has gone out. We see here that Jack and his hunters are more interested in hunting and savagery and satisfying their blood instinct than they are with rescue and return to civilisation.

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

Fire is a complex symbol in Golding's classic novel Lord of the Flies. In the story, fire is both destructive and necessary for survival at various moments in the story. When the boys initially attempt to light a signal fire, they pile too much dry wood onto the fire and accidentally catch an entire side of the mountain on fire. Tragically, the littlun with a mulberry-colored birthmark dies in the forest fire. Towards the end of the story, Jack instructs his hunters to burn the forest in hopes of smoking Ralph out of his hiding place. By doing so, Jack and his savages set the entire island on fire and narrowly avoid death at the end of the story. These examples indicate that fire has the potential to be destructive like the disastrous decisions the boys make on the island.

The signal fire symbolically represents the hope of rescue, is the boys' connection to the outside world, and can be used as a gauge to measure the boys's civility. Initially, Jack and his hunters are in charge of maintaining the signal fire at the top of the mountain. The boys hope that a passing ship will see the smoke and eventually rescue them. Ralph, who is an outspoken proponent of civilization, continually reminds the boys about the importance of maintaining the signal fire. Tragically, the hunters allow the signal fire to go out and they miss a rare opportunity for rescue when a ship passes.

After relighting the signal fire, Samneric mistake a dead paratrooper on the top of the mountain for the beast and once again let the signal fire go out. Ralph, Simon, and Piggy then attempt to build a small signal fire on the beach but cannot maintain it because the other boys join Jack's tribe of savages and there is not enough dry wood around to feed the flames. The absence of the signal fire corresponds with the absence of civility and loss of hope on the island. Without the signal fire, the boys rapidly descend into savagery, and there is virtually no hope of rescue.

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

As a symbol of technology—generated by Piggy's glasses, no less—fire purifies the boys' primitive surroundings by introducing into their new surroundings a feature of the modern life they left behind in England. It allows them, then, to maintain a connection with what is comforting and familiar in the midst of this harsh, scary environment. So long as the boys can keep this fire going, there is always hope that they will one day be rescued and return to their former lives.

That's why it's rather telling that Jack and his gang make no effort to keep the fire burning. Truth be told, they don't want to go back home any time soon. They're doing just fine on the island, thank you every much, and see it as nothing more than an awfully big adventure. Jack's association with the fire going out is instructive; it shows us that Jack offers no hope for the other boys, only brutal domination and control. So long as Jack's around, any hope that the other boys have will always be tinged with fear.

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

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." 

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What does the fire in Lord of the Flies represent?

Lord of the Flies carries with it a very cynical message about the nature of humanity. In particular, it seems to show that it is intrinsically destructive. Because of this, the symbol of fire within the narrative takes on a dual and seemingly paradoxical meaning. One one hand, fire is shown to represent the hope and ideals of civilization. To Ralph, who is shown on several occasions to be the wisest of the children on the island, the maintenance of the signal fire is of paramount importance. As the group of boys descend further into madness and primal savagery, Ralph struggles to remind them of the fire and how it represents the final connection with the light of civilization beyond the island.

However, the fire is also shown to represent destruction and how this destruction is inherent in the nature of human beings. When the boys first crash on the island, the scorched area is referred to repeatedly as a scar. Indeed, the boys' presence on the island can be seen as a wound. The natural landscape of the island, despite what horror it represents to stranded human beings, is objectively very beautiful. Fittingly, nearly all of it is destroyed in fire when the madness of primal humanity comes to its climax at the end of the book.

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What does the fire in Lord of the Flies represent?

Fire in the novel represents power. As the plot illustrates, power can be a beneficial force, or it can be an agent of destruction.

In the hands of Ralph and Piggy, who represent the civilized norms of Great Britain, the fire is a beneficial force. It is a gathering point for the boys, and the work of watching and tending to it, if tedious, also represents the hope of rescue. In this context, it symbolizes the disciplined life that is at the core of civilization, in which people defer instant gratification for long-term gain.

In the hands of Jack, however, fire is a dangerous form of power, because Jack is dangerously out of control. Jack doesn't care about anything but indulging the dark desires of the present moment. Tending the fire for the benefit of rescue is of no interest to him. Nor is preserving the ecosystem of the island on which the boys depend for food and shelter. As long as he can have what he wants in the present moment—power, domination, the wild indulgence of his sadistic impulses—he doesn't think at all about the future consequences of his actions.

In the end, the wild conflagration that sets the jungle on fire brings rescue—and civilization—back to the boys, but it could have too easily gone the other way, with the force of an out-of-control barbarism taking them all down.

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What does the fire in Lord of the Flies represent?

Fire is a complicated symbol in Lord of the Flies. It has several different interpretations, which represent various elements found within the story. Fire can symbolically represent rescue, hope, and the boys' link to civilization, which is illustrated by the signal fire on the top of the mountain. At the beginning of the story, Ralph uses Piggy's glasses to start the signal fire and places Jack's hunters in charge of maintaining the signal fire. The smoke from the signal fire is meant to catch the attention of passing ships and result in the boys being rescued. Unfortunately, Jack allows the signal fire to go out, and the boys believe the beast inhabits the top of the mountain, which prevents them from relighting the signal fire.

In addition to representing a link to the civilized world and the boys' hope of rescue, fire also symbolically represents warmth, comfort, and survival. During the dark nights, the boys find comfort by the fire and also use it to cook the pig meat. Without the fire, Jack and his hunters cannot hold feasts and eat pig meat. Therefore, Jack and his hunters resort to stealing fire from Ralph's tribe and eventually take Piggy's glasses, which are used to spark a flame. Given the importance of fire, one could argue that it also symbolically represents power and authority. By the end of the story, Jack and his savages possess the ability to start fires, which represents his position of power.

Fire also symbolically represents destruction and the dangers of the natural world. In chapter 2, the boys discover the danger associated with fire when they accidentally start a forest fire, which claims the life of a littlun. At the end of the story, Jack and his savages attempt to smoke Ralph out of his hiding spot and also start a massive forest fire that almost destroys the island. Fortunately, the British Navy sees the massive flames and rescues the boys.

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What does the fire in Lord of the Flies represent?

In "Lord of the Flies" fire is representative of three things: hope, power, and destruction. 

In the beginning of the novel, fire represents hope.  The boys agree to build and maintain a fire as a signaling device to passing ships. The fire is their mechanism to achieve rescue; therefore, the fire is a symbol of hope.  It is giving the boys hope to go home and links their efforts to a return to civilization. 

Fire is also symbolic of power in the novel.  Whoever has the ability to make fire is the more powerful leader or "tribe."  Perhaps Piggy's glasses represent this power element better than the fire, but fire is the end result of the glasses.  The glasses are simply a tool to start the fire.  By attaining the glasses later in the novel, Jack becomes the more powerful leader, because he has the ability to make fire. 

The third thing that fire represents is destruction.  It is the signal fire that winds up killing the first boy.  Jack also uses fire to hunt down Ralph, which is ironic because it's that fire that ultimately signals a rescue ship.  

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In Lord of the Flies what does the signal fire represent in the beginning and ending?

The signal fire built by the boys in William Golding's novel, Lord of the Flies, represents at least two different things: First, it serves as the obvious sign of life--the smoke creates a signal for anyone searching for the boys. Secondly, it also symbolizes the boys' aim to remain civilized. The fire warms the boys when the nights are cool, and it cooks the meat and fish that they procure. Additionally, it serves as a constant reminder that the boys must remain alert, disciplined and faithful to their modern human way of life. 

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What does the fire represent in Lord of the Flies by William Golding?

Fire becomes a focal point inLord of the Fliesin chapter two, "Fire on the Mountain."  Ralph suggests to the other boys on the island that "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" (38).  Ralph's quest to keep the fire lit comes to represent the boys' desire for reconnecting with civilization and being rescued. 

Later, the fire becomes a source of conflict between the boys when Ralph angrily confronts Jack about not doing his part to keep the fire going: "I was talking about smoke! don't you want to be rescued? All you can talk about is pig, pig, pig" (54)!  Ralph perceives the fire as the boys' only chance for rescue and becomes angry with Jack when he does not place the same importance on keeping the fire lit.  Jack's preference for hunting signifies his desire to stay on the island, hunting and wild. 

Ultimately, the boys' difference in opinions whether hunting or fire is more important will cause their fragile alliance to splinter in Chapter Eight, "Gift for the Darkness."  Ironically, the enormous fire created by Jack and his hunters to flush Ralph out of the jungle in the end of the novel leads to the boys' rescue by the naval officer who comments, "We saw your smoke.  What have you been doing? Having a war or something?" (201) 

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