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 are symbols of power in "Lord of the Flies"?

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In Lord of the Flies, one symbol of power is the conch. From the very beginning of the story, the conch brought the boys together. Then as a symbol of authority, the person holding the conch has permission to speak. The boys continued to use the conch as a symbol of power, but toward the end, Jack began to disrespect the conch as a symbol of authority. He disregarded anyone who was holding the conch.

At the end of Piggy's life, he is still holding on to the conch. Piggy is fighting for some semblance of order. Piggy never gave up. As Roger pushes the rock over on Piggy, the conch is crushed along with Piggy. Jack takes this opportunity to become the chief. He screams at Ralph that he will get the same treatment. With the conch broken into pieces, and Piggy dead, that was the last appearance of order. Jack seizes the moment to scream orders at Ralph, claiming that he now chief:

Jack screams that that’s what Ralph will get. The conch is gone. He is chief now. He hurls his spear at Ralph, grazing his side. The others, including Roger, hurl their spears as well. Ralph turns and flees...

Piggy was crushed right along with the conch. In his death, he was trying to create a system or order. With Jack in control, the conch means nothing.

Another symbol of power would be the pig's head that Jack hung on a stick. The pig's head gives Jack and his hunters authority. Jack and his hunters have no fear for the pig's head was a sacrifice to the beast. For Simon, the pig's head represents the power of evil:

On a rational level, Simon knows the pig's head is just that: a "pig's head on a stick." But on a more emotional level, Simon realizes that the pig's head represents an evil so strong that it has the power to make him faint. When he thinks of the head as "The Lord of the Flies," the symbol becomes even more powerful, as this title is a translation of "Beelzebub," another name for the Devil.

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What are all of the symbols in Lord of the Flies?

One way to easily identify symbols is to look at each person and object and ask yourself what it represents.  Since Lord of the Flies is allegorical, almost everything and everyone is a symbol.  I will describe some for you here.

The conch

The conch shell is introduced early on.  It is used by Ralph to call the boys together, and it immediately adorns him with leadership qualities in the eyes of the boys. 

The being that had blown that, had sat waiting for them on the platform with the delicate thing balanced on his knees, was set apart. (ch 2)

You can hear the conch “for miles” and Piggy comments that it is valuable—which it is, as a symbol of power.  The boys pass around the conch, and the one who has it talks.

The “specs”

Jack pointed suddenly.

“His specs–use them as burning glasses!” (ch 2)

Piggy’s glasses symbolize his intelligence and his civilization.  When humans conquered fire, it was a huge step forward for our society.  The same is true for the boys when they use the specs to create fire.  However, the ability to harness fire does not necessarily mean that one can completely control its destructive potential.  The boys destroy the island because they open the Pandora’ box of fire but cannot control it.

The island

Ralph is overcome with giddiness once he realizes they are on an island, a romantic notion for sure.

He patted the palm trunk softly, and, forced at last to believe in the reality of the island laughed delightedly again and stood on his head. (ch 2)

The island itself symbolizes the boys’ isolation and regression.  With no vestiges of civilization and no adults, the boys are completely on their own. 

The beast

Although most of them do not realize it, the beast represents their inner-savagery.  The boys are afraid of the beast, but can never quite pin it down. The “beastie” is described as a “snake-thing” (ch 2).  Some of the younger kids insist that the “beastie came in the dark.”  Jack’s reaction to the idea of the beast is to hunt and kill it.

“Ralph’s right of course. There isn’t a snake-thing. But if there was a snake we’d hunt it and kill it. We’re going to hunt pigs to get meat for everybody. And we’ll look for the snake too–” (ch 2)

However, the beast does turn out to be real—it is the boys, when they kill Simon and Piggy.

Characters are also symbolic.  Ralph and Jack have contrasting leadership styles for a reason.  Ralph represents civilization, and Jack savagery.  Simon, the Christ-like figure, represents religion or culture.  Piggy, as already mentioned, represents intelligence and man-kind’s ingenuity.

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What are the main four symbols in Lord of the Flies?

1.  The Conch--  The conch is the first major symbol that Golding introduces in the novel.  The boys find the conch gleaming "creamy...among the ferny weeds" (14).  Later Ralph uses the conch to call the boys together on the island and regulate their assemblies as a visual symbol for taking turns.  The conch comes to symbolize civilization and order.

2.  The Beast-- The 'Beast' is the sum of all the boys' fears on the island.  First mentioned in the second chapter by one of the littluns who says there was a "beastie...A snake thing.  Ever so big" (35).  The 'beast' represents the boys' fear of the unknown on the island, a metaphorical 'boogey-man.'  It makes the littluns have nightmares, and even the big boys fear the jungle at night.  Later on, Simon poses the idea that the beast on the island--"maybe it's only us"--that the source of evil on the island is really the boys themselves (88).

3.  The Lord of the Flies--  The Lord of the Flies is a fly-covered, nasty sow's head on a stick left by Jack and his hunters as an offering for the Beast.  Simon encounters the head in chapter eight, "A Gift for the Darkness."  Whether in a trance or hallucination, Simon and The Lord of the Flies have a conversation in which the Lord of the Flies confesses that he is the Beast:

"You knew, didn't you? I'm part of you? Close, close, close! I'm the reason why it's no go? Why things are what they are?" (143)

Named after Beezelbub from the Bible, the Lord of the Flies represents the innate evil in man and the boys' descent into savagery.

4.  Fire--  According to Ralph, fire is the most important thing on the island.  As one of his few rules, Ralph commands that a signal fire be kept on the mountain at all times, with the hope that a ship might spot the smoke and rescue them.  In this way, fire represents rescue.  Jack uses the fire as a destructive force of power and a form of control, like when he steals Piggy's glasses to make a fire for his hunters.  Ironically, it is Jack's enormous fire set in the end of the novel to flush out Ralph from the jungle that ends up catching the eye of a nearby cruiser, thus resulting in the boys' rescue.

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What are some of the minor symbols in Lord of the Flies?

The boys, Ralph, Jack, Simon and Roger are symbols in the book as well. 

Ralph symbolizes order, and leadership

Piggy symbolizes intelligence and the orderliness of society

Jack symbolizes the savagery and primal behavior that humanity is capable of exhibiting given the right circumstances

Simon represents the natural goodness of humanity

Roger represents brutality and violence to an extreme in society 

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What are some of the minor symbols in Lord of the Flies?

"Lord of the Flies" has many symbols.

One symbol is the conch shell. The boys use it to call meetings and to keep themselves in order. The shell represents the democratic process that the boys try to use to govern themselves.

Piggy's glasses are another symbol. Because Piggy is intelligent, the glasses represent science and innovation on the island.

The signal fire symbolizes how connected the boys on the island are to the rest of civilization. The fire is constantly being moved, going out, or having to be maintained.

The beast represents the savagery of humanity.

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What are some major symbols from the novel Lord of the Flies?

The Conch-- The Conch shell represents order and civilization within the novel.  Ralph first uses it to call the other boys to their first assembly, and the boys show him the same respect to authority as they had the man with the megaphone at the airport.  Later, Ralph institutes the conch as a symbol of order in their assembly meetings, using it to signal when each boy has the floor and right to speak. 

The Signal Fire--Ralph is adamant about maintaining the signal fire throughout the novel.  He stresses its importance as their one chance to be rescued.  In many ways, the signal fire becomes the link between the boys and civilization.

The Beach--The beach is portrayed by Golding as being warm, golden, and inviting.  The boys set up their camps there in the protection of open light and sunshine.  The beach symbolizes safety.

The Jungle--Dark and mysterious, the jungle represents the unknown.  Depicted as having shadows and twisty creepers with shaded paths, the jungle becomes a fearful place for many of the boys who worry about what its dark corners might conceal.

The Lord of the Flies--One of the strongest symbols in the novel, the Lord of the Flies appears to Simon in the rotting visage of the sow's head.  The Lord of the Flies represents true evil and the genuine nature of the beast.

The Beast-- Symbolic of all the boys' worst fears and nightmares, the Beast takes many forms in the novel, from a 'snake thing' to a beast from the water or air.  The Beast symbolizes fear itself.

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