How Golding Uses Symbols in Lord of the Flies.

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How Golding Uses Symbols in Lord of the Flies

William Golding’s book, Lord of the Flies (published in 1954) tells the story of a group of boys, who are stranded on an unknown island, when their plane crashes. On the surface, it is an interesting story of how the civilised English boys, during their time on the island, gradually lose their veneer of respectability and “decent” behaviour and devolve to the basest and barest form of humanity. Eventually, the boys almost entirely shake off the civilisation of the world they once knew. If we scratch beneath that surface, what we find is a much more complicated observation of society, laden with corporeal, philosophical and religious symbols. Indeed, the superb use of symbolism in the book is one of the contributing factors to the profundity of the book.

The symbols that stand out the most are the conch; the gradual destruction of the island; Piggy’s spectacles; fire, and how it is used; and the beast, or the Lord of the Flies (another name given to the Devil), the crucial symbol, used throughout the book. All of these will be looked at into more detail, and, also, whether the beast is real or a physical manifestation of the boys’ fears, as well as the key comment that it is the evil which resides within man, will also be discussed.

First, is the conch. This is the shell, which is discovered by Ralph and Piggy, and is used to represent power, authority and rules. From the very first time it is mentioned, Golding describes it as: “pretty and a worthy plaything”. It is, like everything else on the island, a simple and innocent object: and immediately afterwards, it becomes something so precious, due to its apparent beauty. Also, in the beginning, it is a mere utility: Piggy suggests that, when blown, it would be able to “call” the other boys, scattered around the area of the crash, to have a meeting. The fact that it is used to call already highlights its importance in the book, as it has instant results. The sound is, as Jack later says, like that of a trumpet, using the metaphor of summoning the boys: it has an authority all on its own. By the time of the next meeting, in the afternoon of that same day, Ralph, now elected leader, decides that it will be used during meetings, where only the person with it may speak.

        “‘I’ll give the conch to the next person to speak. He can hold it when he’s speaking…And he won’t be interrupted. Except by me.’”

Rules have been established, and the conch is at the centre if them, so it, now, is the means of putting across one’s feelings and/or ideas. Naturally, everyone agrees, including Jack. Golding puts this into the book, commenting on man’s need for rules within a society, and a code of behaviour, thus demonstrating what the conch symbolises. As well as these, it also symbolises democracy and free speech in our modern society, one of the few positive statements on humanity within the book, in the fact that all the boys are able to say something, as opposed to rule by force, or an autocracy, as demonstrated by Jack’s leadership, later on in the book.

By chapter Five, things have already drastically changed among the boys. The threat of the beast has been lurking among them all for some time, now, and it has been left to grow to such an extent, that more and more people are behaving differently towards the island and each other. When Ralph has to call an assembly concerning these issues, he finds it difficult to get anything across, or even to be listened to, without brandishing the conch, or repeatedly reminding them that he has it. This symbolises that the power and authority of the conch is weakening, as the boys are tiring of adhering to the rules. Ralph even comments on this during his speech, when he says: -

        “things are breaking up…We began well; we were happy. And then–”.

It also makes a sly comment on rules and authority among real human societies, saying that we are unable to keep to them because of our nature as “free” beings, and therefore, the very idea of a rule, something that will confine us, is only temporarily effective, because we just cannot rigidly or lastingly keep to them. Many have argued for and against this theory, and much of it has to do with where we believe our origins as humans lie. For instance, if one believes in the Christian God, they believe that we are the way we are, because of the Original Sin; if Atheist, one may believe in evolution, and that we should, possibly each of us, create our own rules and boundaries, and not let any one person or body decide for us. It is, indeed an interesting debate.

The idea of power corrupting, and being corruptible in return, is also evident in the way that Jack speaks out openly against Ralph, repeatedly, either with or without the conch. He even says, during the assembly scene in chapter Five, “bollocks to the rules!” In chapter Eleven, by which time Jack has succeeded in taking almost complete control over the island, the idea of the conch has become a laughing stock, and it has physically become worn and faded, and less beautiful. Golding shows how everyone, including Ralph and Piggy, regards the conch. Despite them knowing, and seeing in practice, that the conch is virtually useless, Piggy still tells Ralph to call an assembly, and use it, because he is so rule-rigid and loyal to Ralph, that he refuses to undermine him by abandoning the rules; while even Ralph only uses it, under the direction of Piggy: -

        “ ‘…You call an assembly, Ralph, we got to decide what to do.’
        ‘An assembly for only us?’
        ‘It’s all we got…Blow the conch,’”

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This strict allegiance of Piggy’s, even now, to Ralph and the conch proves to be his fatal feature, as, when he, Ralph, Sam and Eric go up to the Castle Rock of Jack’s tribe, among jeers, insults and being ignored, Piggy still says: “I’ve got the conch!” This annoys Jack and Roger so much, that both he, and the conch, now having “lost its glow”, are destroyed by the boulder, the conch being: “exploded into a thousand white fragments and ceas[ing] to exist.” Although there has been no real authority or rules for some time, by now, apart from ...

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