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Lord of the Flies | Study Guide

William Golding

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Learn about symbolism in William Golding's novel Lord of the Flies with Course Hero’s video study guide.

Lord of the Flies | Symbols


Piggy's Glasses

Piggy's glasses represent reason and intelligence. They are an extension of Piggy, and he is the wisest boy and always insists on reason and sense. Piggy longs to be back with adults because he believes adults to be thoughtful beings. He has little respect for children. When he believes the boys are acting unreasonably by rushing to start the fire in Chapter 2, he dismisses them scornfully as "acting like a crowd of kids!" They are kids, of course, but for Piggy, to be considered a kid is a major insult.

In Chapter 2, Piggy's glasses are used to light the signal fire. The glasses act as an instrument of creation and innovation: they are the only way for the boys to create fire, the discovery of which will lead the boys back to the civilized, adult world.

Piggy is rendered useless without his glasses, resulting in the trip that he, Ralph, and Samneric take in Chapter 11. When Piggy's glasses are stolen, it represents the end of reason and intelligence on the island. While Jack and his crew will also use the glasses to create fire, they need it to make food and later use it for destructive purposes. The fact that one lens breaks early in the book suggests the fragility of the civilized veneer the boys have when they first reach the island.

Conch Shell

The conch shell represents civilization and the order that Ralph hopes to impose, but this order is less rational than rules and procedures for meeting might be, as evidenced by the conch shell's emotional and symbolic appeal. The conch is described as beautiful and with a glowing white appearance. The look and sound give the conch a charismatic appeal for the boys. Ralph blows the conch in Chapter 1 to gather those boys who survived the plane crash. It continues to be used for gathering purposes as the book proceeds. By Chapter 2, the conch shell is also used to determine who has the floor. Holding the conch conveys the charisma of the conch to the holder and gives him the right to be heard.

Jack, who becomes a savage, is not interested in civilization. Because of this lack of interest he is not interested in the conch and tries to strip it of its power. In Chapter 2 Jack says, "The conch doesn't count on top of the mountain," and he tells Piggy to shut up. Later, he wants to get rid of the conch altogether. In Chapter 6 he says, "We don't need the conch any more. We know who ought to say things." In his group a conch is not needed. He is a dictator and has the final word on all matters.

Piggy and Ralph hold the conch to be sacred. Ralph is reluctant to blow the conch in Chapter 5 for fear it will not be obeyed. He says, "If I blow the conch and they don't come back; then we've had it." In Chapter 11 he blows the conch during the meeting in the hope it will remind the boys of civilization. Piggy convinces himself that Jack would want to steal the conch in Chapter 10, when, in reality, he wants Piggy's glasses, which carry the ability to make fire. Piggy dies while holding the conch, which is shattered by the same rock. Thus, the boy with the never-ending faith in order and civilization and the symbol of Ralph's tenuous order are destroyed simultaneously.

Pig's Head

While the pig's head only appears in three chapters (Chapter 8, Chapter 9, and Chapter 12) and is featured primarily in just one scene in Chapter 8, it is a powerful and important symbol. The head is seen as the Lord of the Flies by Simon; the phrase is a translation of Beelzebub, one of the traditional names of Satan.

The Lord of the Flies speaks to Simon in Chapter 8 and conveys the author's view of humanity. It says, "I'm part of you." When Simon tries to escape, it tells him that he cannot escape and implies that it is everywhere. Every person has evil inside of himself or herself. The only chance humanity has is to keep the evil inside and not act on its impulses. When people act on their evil impulses, terrible things occur. This is seen time and again in the novel. By the end of the novel, Jack and his crew are completely controlled by the evil inside. They are slaves to the Lord of the Flies.

War Paint

The war paint worn by Jack and his hunters symbolizes the boys' embrace of violence. Jack puts it on first in Chapter 4 as camouflage; he believes the pigs see his pink skin, which is why he is unsuccessful in the hunt. Putting the paint on changes him, however. It becomes a mask that "liberated [him] from shame and self-consciousness." In other words, he is without a conscience—the voice of civilization that prevents humans from antisocial behavior or evil actions.

In Chapter 9 Jack wears the paint even when he is not hunting. He is seen painted while sitting on the log, presiding over his tribe as a chief who has unchecked power over his followers. The others adopt the war paint as well; first, like Jack, to hunt—it is a means to an end. But by the final chapter, they wear the paint even when not hunting. They have fully given themselves over to violence.

Uncontrolled Fire

The uncontrolled fire that occurs twice in the book symbolizes the chaos and evil that consumes the boys. The first time is in the first chapter when the idea of the signal fire is first acted on. The Mulberry littlun dies in that fire, and his death, and the boys' reaction to it, foreshadows what will come. The littlun dies because the boys cannot control the fire, just as they cannot control the evil inside them. When his body is discovered, they do not acknowledge their responsibility, just as later they cannot acknowledge the evil they carry inside.

The second uncontrolled fire comes at the final chapter, when Jack, bent on finding and killing Ralph, has the jungle set aflame. There is dramatic irony in this incident in that readers understand something that the characters do not. The massive fire brings the naval officer to the island, thus ensuring the boys' rescue. Ralph, it turns out, was right—a signal fire would save them, though Jack is the unwitting instrument of that saving act. The rescue comes at an opportune time because the fire, left unattended, would consume all the life-giving fruit trees and pigs on the island—and perhaps the boys themselves.

Chaos, then, leads to rescue, a fortunate outcome for the boys. There is nothing in the book to suggest that Golding thought the chaos unleashed by adult humanity in the real world would also lead to rescue, however.

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