Lord of the Flies: Symbolism
Literature brings with it the gift of immortalizing our ideas and imagination into a form that can be easily presented for other people across generations to read and appreciate. Lord of the Flies is no exception.’Lord of the Flies’ is a moral allegory where the characters within the novel are symbols in their own way. By placing them all together in one setting, these young boys get to live out their own arcs through the progressive plotting. It is a moral allegory because the plot points in the novel, regardless of the chapter, are grounded on human nature – whether or not man is inherently evil.
As the plot thickens, boys try to adapt to their surroundings, the tension intensifies into what would naturally these three main characters represent. Ralph, from the get-go, is presented as the protagonist or the hero that represents civilization, rank. Piggy, his right hand, signifies intellect, wisdom, and science. Jack is the clear antagonist with his strong tendencies for violence and rowdiness.
It would be safe to assume that William Golding created these characters to represent human characteristics. This is predicated on the fact that he participated in World War II during his time and it was here where his view on a man as a social being changed. He first believed that man, in his ideal state and environment, was social, and thus, would be as good-natured and refined when thrown in as so. However, after his deployment in the navy, he found out that all of his musings were untrue. War changed his perceptions. He then thought that man when left to his devices is savage, and would do anything for self-preservation.
Loosely based off a similar work ‘The Coral Island,’ it has been mentioned by scholars of literature that The Lord of the Flies is a “novel of ideas.” What is common with these types of novels is that they are written for basically their ideas, or the idea they represent. In this case, the charm of ‘The Lord of the Flies’ is that it celebrates being a novel of ideas because it sets off from such a basic, plain setting—that is a deserted island. The author describes it as one that is capable of sustaining its characters so no additional work is applied in order to integrate it into the conversation. In this way, the focus is given mostly on the playing off of the characters inside the novel, and in this case, the revelation of the ideas that they represent.
From the outside looking in, the novel can be seen as a social experiment. This is very much thrown into the latter part of the 20th century because psychology was still fighting to be recognized as a legitimate branch of science. These are young British boys that are put into a controlled environment where they have to either work for or against each other in order to be rescued or if being rescued is even a possibility. What the setting does is that it breaks these boys down to their instincts, left to their own devices, all in order to survive.
Golding’s use of boys ages 6 through 12 was because, at this age, humans are old enough to know what they want but young enough to stop at nothing to get whatever it is that they want. It is quite dark for an author to decide on this, however, that is another story. Early into the novel, Ralph happens himself a conch shell which Piggy tells him can be sounded when blown into. He does so and makes it a signal to call all boys onto the beach. When all together, the person who holds the conch gets to speak out and voice his concerns. The conch shell then transforms into another symbol for order, for civilization. For without it, everyone would just be talking over each other and chaos will ensue. This was how things were done until certain situations called for firm decision-making.
It is in the nature of man, especially kids, to question authority. This does not have to be justified but it is just how things are—perhaps because there arises a conflict within themselves of what they want and what has to be done. They still lack that level of maturity to realize the ability to reconcile both. This is not to their discredit, of course. This conflict has carried itself over to what I believe is the turning point of the story, and where these representations of real-life ideas go against each other mano a mano.
The island is teeming with fruits, fish, and what they later discover, pigs. It was all fun and games at first because there were no adults to tell them what to do. Later on, there was a difference in priority as Ralph suggested the kids work on a signal-fire to call for help and several shelters to keep them warm at night. The kids who formed a group to be hunters attempted to catch pigs but Jack became too preoccupied with it that at one instance, they left the signal-fire unattended. That same instance was when they saw a shipped passing by. Ralph was filled with rage but since the hunters arrived with their first pig, nobody seemed to remember that their priority was to get to safety. Jack and his group go into some kind of frenzy where they have created a dance that simulated the hunt. Ralph blows on the conch and calls a meeting. It was here that the littlest boys voice out their concern about a beast in the forest. Ralph doesn’t believe it, but Jack reassures everyone that they will find it and kill it.
The gap between reason and instinct has been widened during these parts of the novel because presented before the whole group are two kids, older than the others, and much more assertive. They both are grounded on ideas that could not be more different. Golding less subtly tries to present his audience with ways of addressing his thesis. Is man inherently evil? Or does man seek reason? The kids are presented with a choice, just as how we all are in reality given the circumstances.
What followed is relatively difficult to speak about because chaos ensues and the kids become less and less themselves. Some of them slipped away to join Jack’s group after a meeting was held where Jack failed to dethrone Ralph. Jack’s group of hunters decapitate a pig and place its head on a pike as a way of celebration. Ralph and Piggy join the group and when they recreate the pig’s killing by dancing, Simon just came out of the jungle where he saw the body of the dead parachutist, the one they all thought was the monster. Just when he was about to tell the group, the hunters came upon him and killed him with their bare hands. The next morning, it was Piggy who was dropped with a boulder, breaking the conch shell.
For when it best suits yourselves, it is deeply rooted in human nature where outside of social or real restraints, instinct would point us to the things that we want to have or want to do. Jack best captured that. Ralph was everything they hated back when they weren’t on the island. He was a grown-up with rules and laws. For kids, that is not fun at all. Piggy is the one that tries to better himself, the superego. He is neither primitive instinct nor pure logic. He compromises because instinct will not give you the gifts of the undiscovered, nor will logic reward you with the incomprehensible.
Yet still, when presented with what we ought to do, it still is a challenge taking that first step. It was for all of them. Simon had a vision in the words where the pig’s head on the pike spoke to him about how the real monster was not something they were to find in the forest, it was in themselves. That still rings true to this day.
All these symbols in The Lord of the Flies only represent the conflicts that we ourselves face every day inside our heads. It is that same challenge of compromising between the things that we want to do and the things that we ought to do. Is man inherently evil? It takes so much more to know but man is a work in progress and it takes one day at a time.