Symbolism in William Golding’s ‘Lord of the Flies’
Definition: A symbol is something that is itself as well as something else. In literature it means literal or objective sense coupled with abstract meaning. Symbolism refers to serious and extensive use of symbols in a work of literature.
Symbolism in Lord of the Flies: The novel is rich in symbolism. A host of different interpretations of the novel’s symbolism – political, psychological and religious – exists. We will look at some of the prominent symbols employed by Golding and try harmonizing the different interpretations. Since symbolism is an evocative device to communicate the theme of a literary piece, we must first agree on the theme of Lord of the Flies.
Theme: Evil inherent in man seems to be the central idea of the novel. It may recall the Christian notion of the ‘original sin’ or the idea of the failure of civilization as seen during the Nazi Holocaust or a general pessimistic view of human nature. It may be all the three combined. A group of boys aged 6 to 12 find themselves alone on an island, without adult supervision. At first they try to organize themselves on the pattern of the civilized world they have known. The attempt fails and most of them regress into savagery and animal existence. The novel was deliberately patterned on the children’s classic ‘The Coral Island’ by R.M.Ballantyne. Only, it turns Ballantyne’s theme on its head. Whereas Ballantyne made the children’s isolation on the island a pleasant interlude in a continued life of civilized existence, Golding shows how thin the veneer of civilization really is and how the animal nature of man breaks through in just a few weeks. It is not so much moral judgment as recognition of the essential tragedy of mankind – its intellectual and spiritual nature losing out to its animal nature again and again.
The Scar: The novel starts with the mention of a scar in the jungle. We learn (or rather, surmise) later that it is a swath cut by the falling ‘passenger tube’ in which the children were travelling. The word scar appears in the text without this preliminary information and serves to create atmosphere. The metaphor prepares us for the horrible things to come. In itself it is also the symbol of man’s disruptive influence on his world. 2.
The Conch: It makes its appearance as an accidental find of Ralph and Piggy on the beach. It soon assumes importance as Ralph, on Piggy’s advice, blows it to gather the survivors. Ralph is elected leader of the group mainly because he was the one in possession of the conch. From here onwards the conch becomes a symbol of law and order. At meetings the speaker has to hold it in his hands. It gives him the privilege of being heard uninterrupted. Order starts breaking down in the fifth chapter when Jack speaks without holding it. Later, breakdown of order is signalled by Jack snatching it from Ralph in the eighth chapter. In the tenth chapter Jack raids the shelter occupied by Ralph and Piggy to rob Piggy of his glasses. But he does not bother to take the conch away. It is no longer important. In the eleventh chapter the conch is destroyed, symbolizing the complete rout of order at the hands of chaos. 3.
The Man with the Megaphone (Grown-ups): When Piggy meets Ralph, his first question is, “Where is the man with the megaphone?” A few pages later the question is repeated by Jack, “Where is the man with the trumpet?” This, we can assume, was the man in charge of the boys in the aeroplane He stands for authority and control which has suddenly been removed by the crash. A grown-up appears again only at the end in the form of the naval officer who saves the life of Ralph without realizing the fact and brings an end to the chaos. But conversely, the adult is the cause of the boys being there in the first place. The war raging outside is nothing but the conflict on the island on a much grander scale. The appearance of the naval officer...
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