Civilization vs. Savagery
What do symbols illustrate in novels? In William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, symbols are illustrated through people, objects, and colors. In this novel, a group of children are faced with the difficulty of living isolated from society after their plane crashes on a deserted island. With no formal civilization, parents, or rules, the kids have the freedom to do as they choose. Throughout the novel, the boys find and use objects on the island that symbolize something of different importance. In Lord of the Flies, William Golding uses different objects to symbolize the difference between civilization and savagery.
One of the first symbols presented in the Lord of the Flies is the conch shell. After the boys’ plane has crashed on the island, Ralph and Piggy, two of the main characters, find the conch lying in the sand on the beach. Ralph immediately recognizes the conch as being a possible way “to call the children to assemblies.” (Cox 170). The conch soon becomes one of the most powerful symbols of civilization in the novel. “He can hold it, when he’s speaking.” (Golding 33). This quote refers to the idea that, whoever has possession of the shell, may speak. It soon becomes a symbol of democratic power, proactively governing the boys. With Ralph being the leader, and Piggy by his side, the conch shell serves as an equivalent to the executive branch of government. He who holds the shell is superior, at that time. When savagery begins to take control of the boys as the novel progresses, the conch shell begins to lose power. After innocent Ralph is involved with the murdering of Simon, he holds onto the conch tightly, remembering the sense of graciousness that he once had. The conch shell ends up getting smashed during the scene of Piggy’s death, when Roger kills him with ‘the rock,’ another symbol in the book.
Another symbol presented in Lord of the Flies is the beast. The beast, representing horror, is the most intricate of all the symbols. It is unique because it is not an actual object, but instead it is the imagination of the boys. It shows the inclination toward evil that all human beings are faced with in a time of great disaster. Simon, a character of human goodness rather than savage, comes up with the conclusion that the beast was not actually an object or figure, but instead it was the boys themselves. “Maybe it’s only us.” (Golding 89). After Simon speaks of this, the boys erupt in anger. Jack and the rest of his savage boys fall into chaos. Jack promises that there is a beast and they will find and kill it. The boys’ strong will to kill shows their fear of the beast and it disables the connection that they once had with civilization. As the savagery of the boys continues, the beast becomes looked upon as a leader, and they begin to make sacrifices. The erratic behavior expressed by the boys is what brings the beast out of their imaginations and portrays it as something that actually exists. The more devilish the boys become, the more the beast seems to be real.
Along with the conch, the next symbol, the signal fire, was also present at the beginning of the novel. This symbol, representing life, was one of the only chances the boys had for reconnecting with society. Two signal fires were made on the island. One was built on the mountain in hope that a plane would see it, and the other was built on the beach, in hope that a ship would see it. In the first few chapters, the boys strived hard to keep the fire going, except for Jack. Instead of focusing on the fire, Jack was more excited about hunting for pigs. “There was a ship. Out there. You said you’d keep the fire going and you let it out!” (Golding 70). This shows how much the fire meant. Knowing that the boys may only have one chance at being saved, Ralph was furious at Jack when he found out that he let the fire burn out. The fire was so important to the boys on the island because it represented the small amount of...
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