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The Use of Symbolism in Lord of the Flies

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The Use of Symbolism in Lord of the Flies


William Golding`s, Lord of the Flies, shows the movement from order to chaos through the use of symbolism. The symbolism used in the novel supports Golding's view of human nature. He believes that "people are inherently evil...[and] corrupt"(Themes).  The author also believes that "law and order control evil, but savagery is more powerful than reason"(Themes). Golding's view of human nature is exhibited by three main symbols that foreshadow the events to occur on the island. It is appropriate for Piggy to be the owner of the specs that are used as a symbol of intelligence because the author creates the character's image as an adult-like figure. The slow deterioration of the glasses foreshadows the events of the plot. In contrast to the glasses, Jack's knife symbolizes the boys` infinite savagery and the growing antagonism among the inhabitants of the island. In Ralph's possession is the "creamy [conch which] lay among the ferny weeds"(10). The conch symbolizes the rules and boundaries that bind society to modern civilization with the democracy, order and respect which it entails. Therefore, throughout Lord of the Flies, Golding, uses inanimate objects, (the glasses, knife and the conch), as symbols to reveal his belief that "[l]aw and order control evil, but savagery is more powerful than reason [and that] people are inherently evil"(Themes).

Golding uses the specs as a symbol of intelligence, rationality and common sense - all qualities possessed by a civilized human being who functions in a society bound by rules, laws and taboos. The glasses symbolize many ideals on the island and within the boys. The glasses evidently show "intelligence [that is] traceable to Piggy"(19) because of his adult-like appearance and his ability to rationalize and assess the conflicts on the island very thoroughly. Because of the reason and rationality symbolized by the specs, they portray the wearer as an adult; one who is intelligent, rational and sensible.  The glasses are one of two man-made objects on the island, which demonstrates a symbol of intelligence through the technology needed to create such an object. Although, because the boys continuously ignore and exclude Piggy from daily activities, they are also removing the rational thought to which they are accustomed to: "everyone but Piggy [is] busy" (38). Throughout the novel, the specs become soiled with dirt, or the sins and extremities of the boys. When he speaks in front of the assembly, Piggy often finds himself "tak[ing] off his glasses and wip[ing]"(03) them in attempt to remove the blur of sins from the falling society. Evidently, the specs are frequently used for the wrong purpose. The boys "use them as burning glasses"(40) to start the fire on top of Castle Rock. Ironically, the item which symbolizes intelligence and reason is the object which starts the decent into savagery during the spreading of the fire; this proves Golding's theory that "savagery is more powerful than reason"(Themes). The savage boys are beginning an inescapable decent into anarchy and evil by the slow deterioration of the glasses. After Jack slaps Piggy, the glasses "[fly] off and [tinkle] on the rockso]ne sides broken"(75-6); the lens is demolished. As Piggy`s vision begins to diminish and he becomes literally blind, the boys are metaphorically blinded to reason, common sense, and rationality. At the beginning of the novel, the rules made by Ralph slowly diminish, along with a civilization. This is shown by the crime committed by the savages upon another human being: the death of Simon. One night, Jack and his savages "c[o]me for somethingPiggy's broken glasses"(186). They steal Piggy's specs for the use of lighting the fire; the initial event which begins the boys decent to savagery. The stealing of Piggy's glasses symbolizes the loss of intellectualism to a savage. The final stage of the glasses occurs when Roger bluntly murders Piggy. When "Piggy [falls] forty feet and land[s] on his back"(201) the "island of adventure" has now surrendered  into savagery. A total deterioration of society, intellectualism and rational thought has occurred. Therefore, the specs are used throughout the novel to foreshadow events and as a symbol of intelligence, rationality and common sense. The entire purpose of the specs is destroyed by savages, proving Golding`s belief that "savagery is more powerful then evil"(Themes).  

The "creamy [conch which] lay among the ferny weeds"(10) is a symbol of democracy, order, respect and authority, and as the novel progresses, it illustrates its relationship to Golding's view of human nature. Golding shows the conch as a symbol of democracy and order through the rules made by the boys. "We'll have rules"(32), ones which must be continuously followed, even though they will continue having fun. The rules are made in the form of laws, therefore, the conch is used as a symbol of authority because in a structured and orderly civilization rules and laws are respected and enforced by authority. The conch also allows the boys to make democratic decisions by "having a vote"(18) for a leader.  Golding shows throughout the novel that the respect for the conch is deteriorating. The respect for the conch is exhibited by the laws and rules fabricated by the boys. Whenever one boy wants to speak at an assembly, "he won't be interrupted"(31) when holding the conch. Although, as the boys begin their decent into savagery respect for the conch and its authority is abolished. The loss of respect for the conch shows the movement from order to chaos; as order dissipates. But as "Ralph lift[s] the conch"(36) the boys fall to silence, as if the symbol of authority is respected as is a teacher or other authority figure. The symbol of authority is further defined by Ralph when he "finishe[s] blowing the conch [and] the platform is crowded"(15). This occurrence symbolizes the boys  attraction civilized society, in relation to a bell from school of a buzzer in parliament. The respect for the sound (that the conch produces), attracts the boys to a civilization dominated by authority and respect. In comparison, after most of the boys on the island join Jack's band of savages, Ralph "calls an assembly"(194) and "(s)ilence"(194) falls upon the boys. The symbol of respect and authority is still an influence upon the boys. They continue to have respect for an authority figure that is democratic, not a dictator (as their society appears to be evolving to with Jack as a leader). Even as Jack orders the savages to "(g)rab them(and)no one moved"(198) the respect for a democratic society is still fondling within their once innocent souls. The final act of the conch strongly emphasizes the desire for democracy and order, which is expressed by Piggy. Jack decides "they don't need the conch anymore"(111). All democracy, order and authority is lost to a society of dictatorship and savagery, as Golding's view imposes (that all man is inherently evil). The savages have no respect for authority, and order has been lost. This is shown by Jack's statement that "[w]e know who ought to say things"(111). When the "conch explode[s] into a thousand white fragments and ceases to exist"(200) the significance of the conch is destroyed. The shattered conch symbolizes the end of reason and a once known civilization with all of its structure and ideals pertaining to it. In correlation to the view of the author, after authority is destroyed on the island, the boys succumb to savagery. The savages' "images refuse to blend with the ancient picture of a boy in shorts and shirt"(203). The boys have turned away all known civilization, which entailed authority and order. Therefore, the conch is a symbol of authority, order, democracy and respect. The symbols are depicted to support and portray Golding's view of human nature by the shattering of the conch and the boys succumbing to savagery. Yet again, "savagery is more powerful than reason"(Themes), and is shown by the conch as authority and respect diminish towards authority figures.  

The knife symbolizes the boys' infinite savagery and growing antagonism. In relation to Golding's view of human nature, the knife is a symbol of evil, intimidation, control, violence and power; all qualities of a savage society. The symbolism of the knife is demonstrated by the actions of Jack, the chief of the savages. As Jack and the others begin to accept the dominating savagery, the knife is used as a weapon to show an endless source of power, control and intimidation through the negative connotation which the knife provokes. The knife is one of two man-made objects on the island, it also relates to Golding's view of human nature because only an internally corrupt society could create such an object used for a weapon. As the boys first venture through the island, Jack, Simon and Ralph come upon a pig. As "Jack [draws] his knife with a flourish [and] pause[s] long enough for them to understand the enormity of the downward stroke"(28) portrays  the boys initial movement from structured civilization to savagery. As well, the context emphasizes the powerful intimidation that the knife possesses and imposes upon the other boys; it is a symbol of destruction and death. As the novel proceeds, the violence on the island increases as well. Jack "snatche[s] his knife out of the sheath and slam[s] it into a tree trunk"(29) creates the powerful imagery of intimidation through the context. Jack attempts to enforce intimidating pressure upon the other boys by exhibiting his brutal strength. As Jack begins a hunt, he wears nothing but "shorts held up by his knife belt"(74). This symbolizes (and supports Golding's belief) that an inherently evil savage needs no more then to slaughter the unsuspecting prey of the hunters. With the "bloodied knife in his hand"(75) and a painted face, Jack realizes the "fierce exhilaration"(75) of killing, being violent, ultimately, being a savage. As the boys accept their savage chief, Jack, a metaphorical symbol appears. The knife has violently sliced their once innocent souls by intimidating them with power and control. Violence is symbolized by the knife when Jack "stab[s] downward with his knife"(149)and the boys discover that they enjoy killing an innocent beast, yet they are not powerful enough to realize the beast plaguing the tribe. The final use of the knife in the novel summarizes the symbolic nature it possesses. After Jack finishes sharpening the spear, he "ram[s] one end into the earth"(150) as if violently slaughtering an animal and attempting to kill the small traces of the forgotten world (civilization). As he "jam[s] the soft throat"(150) onto the spear, it "pierce[s] through its mouth"(150), symbolizing Jack's  developed savage and violent nature. Although their failing society is "demented but partly secure"(167), the knife is used as a negative symbol to support Golding's belief that "humans are inherently evil and corrupt"(Themes). Jack's knife is a symbol of power, violence, intimidation and control. But most of all, it is a symbol of the boys` overruling savagery. The actions of Jack with the knife relates to Golding's view of human nature by Jack's savage behaviour and desire to destroy his civilized past.

Throughout Lord of the Flies, William Golding exhibits his belief that "human nature corrupts all society"(Themes) and "(p)eople are inherently evil"(Themes). This belief is illustrated by the use of three symbols: the glasses, conch and the knife. The glasses are used as a symbol of intelligence. However, as they slowly deteriorate, so does the social structure of a civilized society with a movement from structure to savagery. Likewise, the conch symbolizes the rules and boundaries which bind society to civilization through democracy, order, respect and authority. Although, when the conch is destroyed, the symbol of the loss of intellectualism is illustrated. The knife, which enables a group of English schoolboys to develop into corrupt savages, symbolizes growing antagonism, violence and savagery among the group. These three symbols support Golding's view that "[h]uman nature is corrupt and law and order control evil, but savagery is more powerful then evil"(Themes) in the novel Lord of the Flies.

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