Lord of the Flies Symbols
by William Golding

Lord of the Flies book cover
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Symbols Overview

Lord of the Flies is an intensely symbolic work at all levels of analysis. As an allegory, the story’s most basic elements serve as symbols for aspects of human life. Golding builds this intentional symbolism into the specific images and objects of the novel as well, from the conch shell to the signal fire to the surrounding sea.

The Beast | The Conch | Face Paint | Fire | The Lagoon | The Ocean | The Parachutist | The Pigs | Piggy's Glasses | The Scar | The Sow's Head

The Beast

The "beast” is a pervasive symbol of fear and evil that takes different forms. It begins as a “snake-thing,” an indistinct jungle creature that becomes a source of fear amongst the younger boys and derision amongst the older boys. However, after Samneric mistake the dead parachutist for the beast, it becomes a terrifying monster with “teeth” and “claws” and “wings” that scares all of the boys. However, the true form of the beast is the boys themselves, for it symbolizes the capacity for evil that dwells in all humans. 

The beast is originally mentioned by the boy with the mulberry-colored birthmark, who describes it as a “snake-thing” that turns back into a creeper vine during the day. The older boys dismiss these claims, believing that the “littluns” are just having nightmares. The older boys rejoice in the freedom they have on the island and are less susceptible to the fears that the littluns experience. However, the ability to manipulate fear is a potent source of power, and Jack takes full advantage of the younger boys’ belief in the beast to reinforce his position as the leader of the hunters. While the beast is born from the fears of the younger boys, it is fed by the evil within Jack, who validates the littluns’ fears by promising to hunt it down and kill it. 

The next incarnation of the beast is based on the corpse of the parachutist. Samneric see the billowing parachute and “bowing” movement of the body from a distance and report back to the rest of the boys, describing the beast as having “teeth” and “claws” and “wings.” The original incarnation of the beast is the product of the littluns’ fears, but this is the first time that the older boys believe in its existence. This more widespread belief in the beast’s presence coincides with the mounting tension between Ralph and Jack. Jack grows more obsessed with killing pigs while Ralph continues to focus on getting rescued. The littluns know the beast from the beginning because they immediately descend into hedonism and laziness, forgetting the structure and order of the civilized world. By contrast, the beast takes longer to set in amongst the older boys. They only begin to fear the darkness within themselves in the wake of their first successful pig kill, an act of violence that cost the boys a chance at rescue.

Early on, Simon intuits that the beast comes from within the boys. He tries to tell the boys this truth, even before Samneric encounter the dead parachutist and the older boys start to believe it exists at all. However, he is left “inarticulate in his effort to express mankind’s essential illness.” His knowledge of human nature is later confirmed by the Lord of the Flies, the sacrificial sow’s head. The violent instincts and inherent evil that led Jack and his hunters to brutally kill the sow, as well as the fear that led them to sacrifice it to the beast, is where the true beast lies. This is made explicit when Simon, who the frenzied boys mistake for the beast, is torn apart by the “teeth and claws” of the other boys, appendages earlier attributed to the beast. 

The Conch

The conch represent goodness, order, and civilization—man rising above his innate savage heart. Lord of the Flies portrays the rise and fall of a democracy, which also coincides with the existence of the conch. The conch begins as a “worthy plaything” for Ralph, who relishes in the “stupendous noise” it emits. 

However, it quickly becomes a symbol of unity and democracy due to its role in bringing...

(The entire section is 3,437 words.)