Symbolism refers to symbols, or concrete image writers use to convey specific meanings to their readers. Different symbols are used to refer to different things, situations and circumstances that readers understand based on their contexts, environments, and situations. Symbolism in Lord of the Flies conveys various meanings to various readers according to their respective contexts, texts, and situations. Some of the significant symbols used in Lord of the Flies are discussed below.
Symbolism in Lord of the Flies
Piggy finds the conch, a shell, on the seashore and tells Ralph what it is. He also tells him an innovative idea of how and why to use it. It is then used to gather boys and call an assembly. In this connection, it becomes a symbol of authority, order, and law. It wins not only respect and obedience but also proves that the person who is holding the conch has the ultimate authority. When it is with a person, every boy is bound to pay respect and obey him. That is why Jack attacks conch to end the authority and establishes his own rule. The end of conch is an end of the era of law and order.
Piggy is handicapped and wears glasses. He also has asthma. His asthmatic disability has blessed him with rational power. On the other hand, his glasses have given him an edge to start a fire. Hence, it becomes a symbol of life which is used to prepare a fire to use as a signal for rescue. It becomes so much significant among the boys that Jack and his hunters attack Ralph and Piggy and their group to snatch the glasses to make their own fire.
The Signal Fire
The signal created by fire by the boys is actually a symbol of life and safety. It also shows that civilization is alive on the island. When the boys determine to stay alive and to return to the civilization, they instantly accept Piggy’s suggestion to light the fire, using his glasses. However, as the boys become lazy and oblivious, they ignore to keep it alive. Hence, the fire eventually dies. Even by the end, it becomes clear that the signal fire is important for the civilized behavior and helped in the safe rescue of the boys.
The beast is actually the head of the parachuting dead soldier hanging by the branches of trees. It is infested with maggots and flies. The only boy who knows the reality of this beast is Simon. However, he fails to explain it to other boys. Therefore, it has transformed into a symbol of something dreadful and terrifying. In fact, this head symbolizes the inner savagery and barbarism of the boys in specific and mankind in general.
The Lord of the Flies
This is the head of a pig that the hunters from Jack’s group impale and plant on a stick to offer a sacrifice to the beast. They believe that the beast which supposedly terrifies them will be pleased. It is a physical representation of their awe towards that beast. The phrase ‘the lord of the flies’ refer to their naming it as the lord of those flies which swarmed the head of the dead soldier. It symbolizes something that is to be presented as a gift to the beast to hold sway over the flies as it is their lord.
There are mostly young boys on the island, and they all represent innocence. Ralph, with his sensible nature, is a specific representative of civilization and order. It is he who finds the conch and calls others to form an assembly. In this sense, he represents leadership and guidance. Therefore, he is a symbol of law, order, authority and civilization on the island.
In spite of the physical disability, due to weak eyesight and asthma, Piggy has a very clear perspective on things and is also a visionary in his thoughts. He represents those sane voices that are not heard much in the crowd, but they prove true. He shares the idea of lighting the fire by using his glasses. He also gives suggestions for an assembly and formation of rules on the island. In this sense, he is a symbol of rationalism, order, and legitimacy.
Jack does not show much of his true nature at the beginning of the novel. However, he proves highly unpredictable, barbaric and savage by the end. His first posture of being a hunter and an aggressive young boy shows his wild nature. He gathers a pack of boys with painted faces. He announces that they are his hunters and that he would train them for hunting. With the passage of time, they fall into the pit of savagery during hunting and become enemy of the group led by Ralph. They kill Piggy and chase Ralph to kill him next. Hence, Jack becomes a symbol of evil and savagery. He represents the savage culture as opposed to Ralph who represents civilization.
The pig is an animal found on that island. The boys, the group of hunters, led by Jack, find the traces of a pig and start hunting other pigs. With the course of time, it becomes their practice to talk how to hunt pigs and trap them. Once Jack plants the head of a pig on a stick, calling it ‘the lord of the flies’ with the purpose to present it as a sacrificial gift to the beast. Hence, the pig symbolizes a temptation for the boys to leave humanity and turn to savagery and barbarism.
The Naval Officer
The naval officer is a British officer of the Royal Navy. He appears by the end of the novel who comes to the island after seeing the fire. He confronts Ralph who is running for his life from Jack’s hunters. When he sees the boys playing the barbaric game, he scolds them for showing dirty and rude manners unbecoming of the British boys. He asks Ralph about their game and their presence on the island over which Ralph’s eyes are filled with tears. He is hardly able to narrate the barbaric episode to the officer when other boys appear. They instantly become a pack of civilized dirty boys after seeing the officer in uniform with a pistol in his holster. In other words, the naval officer represents order, authority, and culture. His uniform and pistol are symbols of the rule of law and the tools to establish it.