Throughout everyday life people use certain symbols, or images, to relate their feelings and unconscious thoughts to something more tangible and concrete. To a young child, a special blanket might provide them with a sense of security and comfort; furthermore, said blanket may include the ability to calm the child in a state of distress. Someone who had recently lost a loved one, might use objects that contain a degree of sentimental value in order to better hold onto the memories of the lost relationship.
The symbol of the maple leaf, to Canadians, represents a sense of belonging and acceptance, a sense of pride and loyalty to a society and culture unique to that of Canada. In his novel Lord of the Flies, Golding provides his audience with endless amounts of symbolism and imagery. Some of the more prominent ones demonstrated in his novel include that of the Conch; representing order and democracy, the Fire; representing hope and rescue, and lastly, but possibly most importantly, that of the Beast; representing Fear and uncertainty.
As the novel progresses and evolves, so too, do the symbols of the conch, fire, and beast. Through the use of his symbols, Golding challenges his audience’s pre-societal-conceived views, provides an overall commentary about the devolvement of mankind, and emphasizes his grander ideas about humanity and the mounting savagery that exists on the island. In the earliest stages of the novel, the symbol of the conch holds an inexplicably awe-inspiring compulsion over the boys. Piggy, being the first to point it out among the creepers, is amazed by its beauty and intricacies.
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Described as “glistening” and “delicate” the conch demands attention, not only in description but as well as sound. “Gosh! ” Ralph had whispered in a sense of wonder following the initial sounding of the booming horn. As the children gather from all corners of the island they are immediately drawn to Ralph; “But there was stillness about Ralph as he sat that marked him out: there was his size, his appearance, and most obscurely, yet most powerfully, there was the conch. ”(Golding 19). Through electing Ralph as their chosen leader, the boys make the unconscious decision of emocracy, clinging to their traditions of society and, in turn, their civility and, what could arguably be, their inner “goodness. ” As one of his first roles as Chief, Ralph establishes what is known as the “Rule of the Conch”: if one wishes to speak, they must hold the conch and cannot be interrupted, except by Ralph thus creating a divide between himself and the average individual of the island civilization- Sufficiently furthering the theory that the conch stands for democratic rule and society.
After all, what is society other than rules and regulations made by those in a position of authority meant for the common man to fallow? As the concept of time, both natural (day and night) and well as artistic (plot development), progresses the conch’s power, and, in turn, Ralphs’, start to diminish. Jacks presence and the evil he represents grow increasingly more powerful and dominant; “Jack broke in, contemptuously. ‘You’re always scared’ ‘I got the conch. ’ ‘Conch! Conch! Shouted Jack, ‘We don’t need the conch anymore. ”(Golding, 37) indicates that the power of democratic society is crumbling under the weight of the growing savagery on the island. Jack begins to outwardly and publicly undermine and oppose Ralph, the rule of the conch and, more largely, society and civility itself. He speaks out of turn, accuses Ralph of being a coward and takes over leadership on multiple occasions; demonstrated in their hunt for the Beast in chapters six and seven- Jack continuously takes the lead while Ralph strays behind to ponder inwardly and with Simon. The conch’s symbolic meaning depends on the state of the children’s minds. Once power becomes more real to Jack than rules, the conch is meaningless. ” (Kinkead-Weekes and Gregor, 7) illustrates that there is no real, physical power to the conch; it is simply a shell- that power is in what society, and individuals within society, allow it to be. In chapter eleven, Castle Rock, Piggy is brutally murdered by Roger while clinging desperately to the conch in his last stand against Jack, his tribe, and, ultimately, barbarity. The rock struck Piggy a glancing blow from chin to knee; the conch exploded into a thousand white fragments and ceased to exist. ” (Golding, 200) through the destruction of the conch in such a violent manner Golding extinguishes any lingering hope for Ralph and civility. The audience experiences a complete and utter sense of loss and hopelessness at this point, they mourn not only for the death of Piggy but the realization that their pre-conceived optimistic views on society have been challenged and finally shattered; both literally and metaphorically. The shell, whose sound began as a summons to society, ends as a murderous explosion on the rocks” (Kinkead-Weekes and Gregor, 4) adequately demonstrating that society, like humanity is ultimately flawed, and will collapse when confronted with an opposing force of darkness or even the slightest hint of a barbaric nature and tendency. The symbol of the fire is similar to that of the conch in the respect that it develops thoughout the course of the novel, but differs in the fact that it does not so much devolve, but rather changes shape and takes on two meanings.
The fire in fact, becomes a “double-edged” sword. When one is asked; “what are the first three things you would do if stranded on an island? ” Most would reply with; “find food, water, and shelter, of course. ” Ralphs main priority on the island, after his adventurous exploration with Jack and Simon, is to be rescued. In the beginning he is dead set on the notion that sooner or later a ship will come by the island and when it does, that the “grown-ups” will coincidentally pass by, he wants to be ready; “We can help them to find us. If a ship comes near the island they may not notice us.
So we must make smoke on top of the mountain. We must make a fire. ”(Golding, 37) indicates that the boys, and Ralph in particular, are mainly focused and devoted to the concept of rescue. All the children go charging up the mountain in eager abandonment to create a fire in the hope that it will increase their chances of salvage; suitably emphasizing the remaining touches of society present within the boys and on the island. Once the fire is made and lit, through the use of Piggy’s glasses, the boys quickly realize that if not controlled and kept in check, the fire can become rapidly dark and dangerous. On ones side the air was cool, but on the other the fire thrust out a savage arm of heat that crinkled hair on the instant” (Golding, 41) through the use of imagery Golding depicts the fire as something “savage” and threatening, effectively foreshadowing the boys’ barbaric decline. The destructiveness of the fire could also be used as a symbol to parallel the outside world’s perils of atomic warfare; “A tree exploded in the fire like a bomb. ” (47) The loss and assumed death of the boy with the mulberry mark parallels the deaths of thousands of innocent bystanders at the mercy of manmade creations i. e. the fire and the atomic bomb. The chaos and destruction that the fire evolves into corresponds with that of the uncontrolled mass chaos that is warfare. The vigorous importance with which Ralph views the fire becomes the bone of contention that eventually drives him and Jack apart. While Ralph holds steadfast to the importance of the fire , Jack, and most of the other boys, abandon it and allot all their time and energy to hunting, regressing into their base instincts of savagery, emphasizing Golding’s theory about humanity that, if given the choice, man will always choose to resort to their barbaric nature.
Ironically, by the end of the novel, Ralph is driven from hiding and hunted through the use of the fire. Jacks tribe sets an all-consuming raging fire that envelops the island and destroys all life within it; “meant as a signal fire for passing ships of planes it becomes, though misuse, a wild beast with a life of its own which invades the whole place… What happens accidentally in the second chapter is done deliberately at the end by the boys turned savages. ” (Delbaere-Grant, 78). Golding illustrates the boys making the conscious and all too thought out decision to resort to this act of barbarism.
And only through said acts, were they able to achieve a smoke signal large enough to attract the attention of a passing ship; “We saw your smoke. What have you been doing? Having a war or something? ” (Golding, 223) Ralph replies with a sincere nod of the head, but the naval officer continues to treat it all as a joke. The officers’ naivety and complete lack of seriousness pertaining to the events taken place on the island is a symbolic reference to mankind as a whole and it’s propensity for violent ignorance.
He could not see that the events taken place on the island were a direct reenactment of the war he himself had participated in and an example that even the most “civilized” of men are capable of the horrors of murder. No one of Golding’s symbols is more prominently demonstrated than that of the Beast, he allots multiple chapters in the novel to the concept of the Beast. In the first stages of its evolution, there is much speculation as to what the beast actually is. The children contemplate that the “Beastie” is a “snake-thing” which then evolves to the imaginary form a ghost and then to that of a children’s-fable concept of the squid.
They use their imaginations to justify and explain the fear and uncertainty that is becoming predominately present with the ever evolving concept of “the Beast. ” Like children anywhere they experience nightmares and illusions about the Beast; they take the unknown component of its existence and turn into something more relatable in order to justify their fear. “The thing is- Fear can’t hurt you anymore than a dream. There aren’t any beasts to be afraid of on this island. ”(88) at this point in the novel all the evidence pertaining to that of the beast is based on imagination and fear. There is no physical manifestation of the beast.
Simon is the only who begins to speculate that “maybe it’s just us” In chapter six, Beast form Air, a dead parachutist falls from the sky to land on the top of the mountain where Samneric are maintaining the fire. Due to the fear already instilled in them by the groups’ speculations of the beast, they immediately become frightened and run away. This physical manifestation and the illustration that it is, indeed, human, greatly contributes to Golding’s intentions regarding the Beast; “ The tangle of lines showed him the mechanics of this parody; he examined the white nasal bones, the teeth, the colors of corruption” (162).
The figure that had fallen from the sky, thought to be the beast, is human and, ironically, Beast all in once- furthering Golding’s overall proposition that within all mankind, there holds the innate capacity and propensity towards evil and our own, personal, inner beast. In addition, the manner in which the parachutist is introduced, through the act of falling, is a theme that repeatedly occurs throughout the novel both literally; the planes fall from the sky after it is shot down and Piggy’s fall to his death on the rock protruding from the sea, and metaphorically; the fall of mankind.
The fall of the parachutist parallels that of the fall of Lucifer which, discussed in Dantes inferno, is “neither angelic nor demonic, but profoundly a human reality. ” The fall of Lucifer, which theologists describe as the fall from grace, and, in turn, a loss of civility is the result of hubris, otherwise known as excessive pride. The boys, and most in particular, Jack demonstrate pride in the way they view their new society in the beginning.
The boys’ view that they are “proper English boys” and somehow superiorly unflawed, leads to the ultimate downfall of their humanity and lead them straight into the grasp of their barbaric roots. At a key point in chapter nine, A Gift for Darkness, Simon speaks to the lord of the flies, but rather his inner beast; “You knew, didn’t you? I’m apart of you! Close, close, close! ”(158) confirms what he had been thinking all along, that the beast is something that dwells within, there is no externalization of a beast, simply the evils we see within ourselves and our companions.
Through Simon and his foreboding chat with the pig head, Golding demonstrates most sufficiently and prominently the nature of mankind, and externalizes the inner conflict that humanity is sure to face, pertaining to the certain devolvement they face when left to their own devices, stripped of societal law. Golding also states in contrast that the beast is both “harmless and horrible” (162) meaning that unless confronted and accepted it will take siege.
The boys, in their persistent and vigorous denial of fact that “maybe it’s just us” give fuel to the ever-growing and present fire that is the beast. By fighting so hard to deny their inner beasts the boy unconsciously become beasts themselves; “Their defense against an imagined external beast allows the beast within them to gain absolute and transform them into murders” (Boyd, 16). As the Beast changes and evolves, gaining speed and momentum, the boys’ civil nature diminishes, allowing them to commit terrible and unimaginable horrors ill thought of by society.
By regarding the Beast as God-like, offering a ritualistic sacrifice, the boys completely give in to their base instincts and tendencies for barbarism and savagery. They become awed by the power of the Beast and the possibilities it withholds. By the end of his novel, Lord of the Flies, and through his careful use of symbolism and imagery, Golding challenges his audiences view on society, thoroughly and sufficiently enforcing his comments about to the issues pertaining to the devolvement of mankind.
He methodically emphasizes his theories regarding humanity and the increasing savagery that exists on the island. Golding demonstrates the conch’s transformation from order and democracy to that of chaos and dictatorship. The symbol of the fire goes from that of hope and rescue to that of danger and destruction. The Beast, on the other hand, transforms symbolically from that of fear and uncertainty to awe and reverence.
Through closer observation of Golding’s uses of symbolism and imagery, no matter how diverse and complex the said symbol may be, there is always a reoccurring theme and connection present; savagery. Every path of every symbol leads back to one root, one destination; the savagery in which the boys ultimately resort to on the island, as well as the common link they all have regarding the outside “real” world. Golding’s symbols do an exceptional job in helping his audience grasp the larger picture that is his novel; mankind’s certain devolvement into savagery.
- Golding, William. Lord of the Flies. London: Faber and Faber Limited, 1954. Print
- Boyd, S. J. “The Nature of the Beast” The Novels of William Golding. Sussex, UK. University of St Andrew Press. 1988.
- Delbaere-Grant, Jeanne. “Rhythm and Expansion in Lord of the Flies” William Golding: Some Critical Considerations. Ed. Jack Biles & Robert Evask. University of Kentucky Press. Lexington, 1975. Print.
- Kinkead-Weekes, Mark. Gregor, Ian. William Golding: A Critical Study of the Novels. Faber and Faber Press, 1984. Print.
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