Describe the Symbols Used in The Lord of the Flies
The Lord of the Flies is the debut allegoric novel written by William Golding, which has not become too popular after it was published. But after a while it became a bestseller and was called one of the most significant novels written in English language, due to the problems it highlights, and a strong moral. Charles Brian Cox (“The Lord of the Flies. Critics Reviews,” n.d.) said “its exceptional strength stems from the fact that Golding believes: every detail of human life has a religious significance.”
While writing the story author wanted to show that evil is something external to human nature and looked for the extent to which human soul is free from evil. Author’s thoughts about the prevailing of evil in humanity and the fragility of modern civilization have found their reflection in a story about a group of boys stranded on a desert island.
Firstly, boys try to organize their lives wisely, in accordance with the rules of civilized existence, making efforts to create a semblance of democracy. But it does not last for long: the struggle for power erupts and panic breaks out, children feel the presence of the dreaded beast – the embodiment of their unconscious fears. And then, the order disrupts under the influence of dark instincts. Animal instincts which are asleep in human minds win, and fear and the instinct of self-preservation become destructive, lead to meanness and murder. Consequently, Golding claims that the biggest problem of society is the evil concealed in human soul.
The writer gives specific significance to simple items and phenomena. For example, a conch found by Ralph and Piggy acquires the meaning of symbol while becoming a horn which unites and summons children – it embodies the principles of civilization, law and equality. Boys associate the conch with a right to give a talk. But as a number of conflicts and contradictions increased, among them the conch loses its essence – its destruction means the eliminating of civilization all children believed in.
The true meaning of the symbols is not always revealed even by the end of the story. For example, a fire in the beginning of the novel is associated with salvation, it is a signal fire, but it quickly falls out of control and destroys one of the boys. Fire fades when Jack kills his first pig, and becomes a terrible destructive force during hunting to catch Ralph, although thanks to the fire boys were found and saved. The meaning of symbols changes as the story progresses, but also depends on the fact that main characters subjectively invest in these symbols.
Golding’ s heroes are not just specific boys with child logic and behavior, but also certain social and philosophical types of personality. Each character represents his own specific position (side of the human soul) in the struggle between two worlds – the world of savagery and common-sense world. But main conflict of the novel occurs between Ralph and Jack, who are shown as two different characters, two opposite personality types. Jack embodies willingness, cruelty and selfishness, Ralph is soft and inclined to searching for the truth. But simultaneously they both represent two inner beginnings, the two worlds of feelings and ideas.
Image of the symbol Lord of the Flies originally emerged unspeakably – it finds manifestation in boys’ fear and their feeling of some “beast.” Imaginary “beast” is generated by fear, which by its nature has two sides: state of fear and act of self-preservation. In both manifestations fear gives a push to cruelty, violence and blood. If rationalist Piggy does not see the gist of events, then Simon reaches this understanding by insight. Only he knows that the “beast” is hidden in their souls – it is a secret fear, cruelty and a willingness to kill. So, “beast” awakens in Jack, Roger, Maurice and becomes the essence, which then symbolically embodies in the The Lord of the Flies. This image opens in an external action (pig’s head impaled on a stick and plastered with flies) and inner (fear in the minds of the children). At the level of meaning it is the instinct of “beast,” awakened in children, and on the artistic level it is symbolic and fantastic form of The Lord of the Flies. That is why there are artistic ambiguity and ambivalence of this image. While planting a pig’s head on a stake, Jack announces: “The head is for the beast. It’s a gift” (“Important Quotes from Lord of the Flies,” 2012). This symbol reflects the pervasive evil that seizes man. “Looking at the novel in the context of biblical parallels, the Lord of the Flies recalls the devil, just as Simon recalls Jesus. In fact, the name Lord of the Flies is a literal translation of the biblical name Beelzebub, a powerful demon in hell sometimes thought to be the devil himself” (“Lord of the Flies. Themes, Motifs and Symbols,” n.d.).
Hence, the author with help of describing such symbols as signal fire, the conch, “beast” and The Lord of the Files endows inanimate objects with human significance and meaning of life. Also, he points out the fact that animal instincts are likely to prevail in the environment of fear and hopelessness. According to D. Anderson (“The Lord of the Flies. Critics Reviews,” n.d.), “the story investigates the origins of moral degradation of humanity.” Jack in the first chapter of the book blamed himself for not having courage to cut the pig. Later he overcame himself at the expense of his soul’s principles, but changed drastically. And in nowadays society people often forget about honesty, justice, value of life and order. That is why it is natural that this narrative story has great popularity – someone, having read it, would recognize himself in one of the characters’ behavior. The moral of The Lord of the Flies is to make right choices in our life and do not forget that if we succumb to dark side of our soul we will have the “beast” inside us. On the whole, adult problems described here make us think about the fate of humanity, civilization ways, and relationship between personality and society.
The Lord of the Flies. Critics Reviews. Retrieved from http://ru.wikipedia.org
Important Quotes from Lord of the Flies, 2012. Retrieved from http://www.brighthubeducation.com
Lord of the Flies. Themes, Motifs and Symbols. Retrieved from http://www.sparknotes.com
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William Golding’s work has always been somewhat controversial, with many critics hailing him as a literary giant and others decrying what they see as a tendency to create contrived, manipulative works laden with heavy-handed symbolism. Golding’s reputation grew slowly. In 1955, when Lord of the Flies was first published in the United States, few readers had ever heard of him, and the book (which had been rejected by twenty-one publishers) sold only a handful of copies. Four years later, however, when a paperback edition appeared, sales of the work began to increase, promoted by word of mouth. Not long afterward, Lord of the Flies became required reading in many secondary schools and colleges, prompting interest in the author’s subsequent work. In 1983, Golding received the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Born in Cornwall, England, in 1911, Golding attended Oxford University, changing his major from science to literature halfway through, and then, after publishing a book of poetry, became caught up in World War II. He spent five years serving with the Royal Navy, emerging as a lieutenant and embarking on a teaching and writing career. He wrote novels and novellas, poetry, plays, essays, and travel articles.
Lord of the Flies remains Golding’s best-known work. It is a superficially simple but densely layered tale that has been labeled, among other things, a fable, a myth, an allegory, and a parable. On the surface, it is an adventure story. A group of schoolboys await rescue on a deserted island, meanwhile exploring, hunting, and finally warring with one another. In Golding’s hands, the story becomes a parable that probes the nature and origin of evil.
The point of departure for Lord of the Flies is a nineteenth century boys’ novel titled The Coral Island (1858), by R. M. Ballantyne. In Ballantyne’s story, a group of shipwrecked British schoolboys (two of whom share their names with Golding’s main characters) manage to create on their deserted island a fair replica of British civilization. Golding’s view of human nature is less sanguine. His is a view that accepts the doctrine of original sin but without the accompanying doctrine of redemption. People in a state of nature quickly revert to evil, but even in a so-called civilized state, people simply mask their evil beneath a veneer of order. After all, while the boys on the island are sinking into a state of anarchy and blood lust, their civilized parents and teachers are waging nuclear war in the skies overhead.
The novel’s central symbol, the pig’s head around which flies buzz, which the boys dub the Lord of the Flies, is an allusion to Beelzebub, one of the most loathsome and repulsive of the false gods assailed in the Old Testament. Here, Beelzebub is represented by the rotting head of the sow killed by Jack Merridew and his hunters (choir members) in a frenzy of bloodletting that, in the language used to describe it, has sexual overtones. As Simon realizes, however, the beast, the Lord of the Flies, represents something anarchic and evil in the very core of human nature, not—as in the Bible and religious folklore—a demon separate from humanity but capable of taking possession of one’s soul. Although human beings are gifted with at least a glimmer of intelligence and reason—represented in the novel by Piggy and Ralph, respectively—the power of evil is sufficient to overwhelm any opposition.
Lord of the Flies bears a close resemblance to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1902); each involves a journey by representatives of one of the supposedly most civilized nations of the world into a darkness that lies at the very core of the human self. The irony in Lord of the Flies is even more pointed, however, in that Golding’s entire cast of characters consists of children—traditional symbols of innocence (“trailing clouds of glory” from their heavenly home, William Wordsworth claims). That they are British public schoolboys only adds to the irony in that perhaps the chief goal of the British public school is to instill in its charges a sense of honor and civil behavior. Indeed, the boys’ first impulse is toward order: Jack Merridew, later to become the most barbarous of them all, enters the novel marching his choir members along in two parallel lines.
Golding’s story unfolds amid a dense web of symbols, including the conch shell, which represents the fragile hold of rule and order and which is finally smashed to bits when Piggy is killed. Piggy’s spectacles, too, symbolize the weakness of intellect and (as a tool for making fire) the loss to humanity when intellect is quashed by superstition and irrationality. The beast, the parachutist, the fire, the killing of the sow—all assume symbolic significance in the novel, justifying the label of allegory that is often applied to this work.