Symbolism in “Lord of the Flies” by William Golding


There can be little doubt as to the fact that the theme of civilization vs. savagery defines the overall semantic meaning of William Golding’s novel “Lord of the Flies. In it, the author strived for nothing less than exposing the actual mechanics of the process of civilized young boys yielding to their primeval instincts, after being stranded on an inhabited island, while implying that the “beast of savagery” lives within even those who profess civilizational values as the integral part of their existential mode. However, while being well aware of the fact that promoting a particular philosophical idea in the work of literature can only have a desired effect for as long as readers are being implicitly exposed to it, during the course of reading, Golding had made a point in instilling his novel with strongly defined allegorical and symbolical motifs. In this paper, we will aim to reveal the actual meaning of novel’s symbolism, while referring to it as such that significantly increases this work’s literary value.

Main part

In her article “The Symbolism of a Conch Shell in Lord of the Flies”, Abby Johns makes a good point when she suggests that the understanding of “Lord of the Flies” is only possible within a symbolical context: “Method of subliminal messages through inanimate objects is symbolism, a technique that is used countless times in the novel ‘Lord of the Flies by William Golding” (Johns 2007). We can only agree with the author – even the initial chapter of Golding’s novel provides readers with the insight on origins of civilization as such that derive out of the notion of authority. This authority is symbolized by a conch shell, which was used by Ralph as the horn, in order to summon boys, scattered throughout the island: “We can use this to call the others. Have a meeting. They’ll come when they hear us” (Golding 7). In other words, Golding’s interpretation of conch shell (horn) as such that represents the “voice of authority”, actually reveals the actual technique of how the concept of law and order begins to affect social dynamics, within a particular society – it only takes someone with enough courage to declare: “I am in charge”, to set such society on the path of progress. Chairman Mao once said: “Power comes from the barrel of a gun”. In Golding’s novel, it is being described as such that comes out of conch shell.

As practice shows, the continuous existence of law and order in a society eventually triggers the beginning of scientific progress. Nowadays, the very notion of such progress is being described as “euro-centric” and therefore – “evil”, with crazed promoters of political correctness going as far as suggesting that primitive savage tribes, in countries of Third World, which were never able to evolve beyond the Stone Age, over the course of millennia, were superior to White colonists, because they were “highly spiritual” and remained in “close touch with nature”. However, given the fact that “Lord of the Flies” was written before the rise of politically correct censorship, it points out the objective worth of a society as such as directly corresponds to such society’s ability to sustain scientific and cultural progress. This is the reason why, after having established an authority among the boys, Ralph realizes that Piggy’s glasses can be used to ignite a fire: “Ralph moved the lenses back and forth, this way and that, till a glossy white image of the declining sun lay on a piece of rotten wood. Almost at once a thin trickle of smoke rose up and made him cough” (Golding 20). By utilizing lenses to ignite fire, Ralph refused to rely on nature’s good graces, while trying to survive the elements. Therefore, there can be no doubt that Piggy’s glasses symbolize science and progress, not as simply some abstract concepts, but as practical instruments that allow people to take destiny into their own hands. In his article “Piggy: A Pathetic Everyman and His Symbol in Golding’s Lord of the Flies”, John Merridew suggests that Piggy’s glasses do not simply symbolize individual’s rationale, but also the fact that such rationale needs to be continuously nurtured, in order not to succumb to animalistic urges, on the part of the same individual: “Piggy’s glasses provide a symbol of both vision and weakness, thus identifying the Everyman… Without him (Piggy), however, the civilized leader has no counsel, no vision, and no glasses by which to see a solution, leaving only the strongest to dominate and to survive” (Merridew 2001). We can say that the fact that Piggy was able to ignite fire by utilizing his classes’ lenses and also the fact that Jack was able to easily knock these glasses off Piggy’s face and to break them, correspond rather well to human society’s existential realities – the smartest people are always the best ones, but the strongest people are always the ones who have a final word. Therefore, the character of Piggy represents a typical White intellectual of modern times, endowed with strong intellectual powers, but totally deprived of physical strength and willpower. As in his article “Golding and Huxley: The Fables of Demonic Possession”, James Baker had put it: “In Golding’s island society the man of reason, the scientist, is represented in the sickly, myopic child Piggy, the butt of schoolboy gibes, which clearly lacks the ability to impose his ‘scientific authority on others” (Baker 320).

As novel’s plot unravels, boys’ primeval instincts gradually begin to take over the sense of their rationale. And the fact that everybody becomes utterly excited with the prospect of participating in pig hunt, symbolizes this process. Moreover, “hunters” begin to realize that there is something else prompting them to be continuously preoccupied with hunting. Even Jack himself admits that community’s demand for fresh meat can hardly justify his obsession with hunting: “If you’re hunting sometimes you catch yourself feeling as if— He (Jack) flushed suddenly. ‘There’s nothing in it of course. Just a feeling. But you can feel as if you’re not hunting, but – being hunted” (Golding 27). Thus, in Golding’s novel, “hunt” symbolizes the process of civilizational progress being reversed backward. When people succumb to their passion, to their urges of instant gratification and to their atavistic lust for blood, they cease to be humans, in the full sense of this word. This partially explains why, during the course of Era of Exploration, pious Europeans did not think that there was anything wrong with turning savage aboriginals into slaves – they simply never thought of them as being fully human. Therefore, it will not be an exaggeration, on our part, to suggest that in “Lord of the Flies”, the concept of “hunt” is being presented to readers as synonym to the notion of de-humanization. Apparently, author was well aware of the fact that homo sapiens is not the final product of biological evolution, but rather an intermediary link between the ape and the super-man. People’s existential mode is defined by the never-ending struggle between their primeval instincts and their ability to adjust their behavior to considerations of reason. Those individuals, who allow their animalistic urges to take over their lives, cannot be considered as the part of humanity. It is not by pure accident that Medias often refer to individuals who have committed particularly gruesome crimes, like gang-raping women or indulging in cannibalism, as “inhuman”, “beastly” or “savage”. Moreover, it also explains why savage criminals are being clearly marked by anthropological atavism – large chins and lower jaws, flattened noses, fleshy lips, little “piggish” eyes, etc.

Nevertheless, it is namely the non-existent “beast” and the “Lord of the Flies” itself, which actually serve author as symbolical channels to convey a message that the true horrors reside within the concept of bestiality. Despite the fact that initially, “beastie” was nothing but the product of boys’ imagination, this monster actually comes to life, as his omnipotent presence affect boys’ lives to ever-increasing extent: “He says in the morning it (beastie) turned into them things like ropes in the trees and hung in the branches. He says will it come back tonight” (Golding 18). In other words, “beastie” symbolizes a well-known fact that those unable to address the unknown with the mean of rationale, will eventually begin to fear such an unknown. Moreover, Golding’s novel exposes people’s irrational fear of unknown as such that prompts them to try to appease the “monster” and to even accept the idea of their oneness with such a “monster”. In his article “Desert-Island Reading”, Theodore Dalrymple points out the actual effects of members of Jack’s gang beginning to believe in the existence of “monster”: “Since there was no monster, the belief in its reality had to be reinforced by the mean of erecting the head of a hunted pig on a pole” (Dalrymple 27). Thus, it appears that by incorporating the character of “monster”, as an integral element of his novel’s plot, Golding strived to expose the counter-productive essence of religious doctrines, based on fear. For example, ancient Greeks believed in many gods, but they thought of them as essentially human beings, in possession of divine powers, which is why Greeks never feared their Gods (they thought of them rather as friends) and never tried to appease these Gods by offering them bloody sacrifices, as adherents of Semitic religions of Islam, Judaism and Christianity do. This also explains why in ancient Greece, religion never opposed science, as it continues to be the case in countries where Semitic religions dominate. In other words, Golding prompts readers to think of concept of religion based on fear and the concept of bestiality, as such that derive out of each other. This is the reason why after killing a pig, Jack cuts off its head and raises it on the pole, as both: “monster’s” deterrent and something that was meant to symbolize the fact that Jack’s hunters were just as ruthless as the “monster” itself, which in its turn, was meant to win them monster’s favor: “Jack held up the head and jammed the soft throat down on the pointed end of the stick which pierced through into the mouth. He stood back and the head hung there, a little blood dribbling down the stick… Jack spoke loudly ‘This head is for the beast. It’s a gift”. (Golding 73). Therefore, there are many reasons for us to think of novel’s “monster” as such that symbolizes Jewish tribal God Jehovah, as a bloodthirsty, jealous and omnipresent deity, which never appears directly before people, while never ceasing to demand a variety of bloody sacrificial offerings, on their part. Apparently, author was well aware of the Biblical story of Jehovah sending swarms of flies upon Pharaoh, simply because the latter forbade Jews to slaughter domestic animals in most gruesome manner, while trying to please their tribal God: “Behold, I go out from thee, and will entreat Jehovah; and the dog-flies will depart from Pharaoh, from his bondmen, and from his people, to-morrow; only let not Pharaoh deal deceitfully any more in not letting the people go to sacrifice to Jehovah” (Exodus 8:29). It is not simply a coincidence that many literary critics point out the character of Simon as endowed with Christ-like psychological traits, despite the fact that most of them clearly miss the Golding’s point to have Simon acting like a “Savior”. For example, in his article “Golding’s Lord of the Flies”,

Arnold Kruger suggests that the character of Simon serves as an allegory of Jesus’ misadventures in the land of “chosen people”: “The character of Simon in William Golding’s Lord of the Flies is an analog of Christ; Simon’s holy, saintly, self-sacrificial behavior is an exemplar of all that is most high and good in human life; that he is an epiphanic figure. And his death, a communal execution, so echoes the Crucifixion that the correspondence seems complete” (Kruger 167). Nevertheless, as it appears from reading this article, Kruger had failed to realize that Simon’s experience of communicating the with the Lord of Flies does not correspond to the story of Jesus being tempted by Devil in the desert, but to the moment when crucified “son of man” had realized that he was being tricked by his “heavenly father” to needlessly sacrifice its life, as “redeemer of humanity”. Apparently, it is only by the time Jesus exclaimed “Father, why did you abandon me?”, that it dawned on him that his “father” was nothing but a Devil himself. This is the reason why Lord of the Flies refers to Simon and “misguided” and “unwanted”: “I’m warning you. I’m going to get angry. D’you see? You’re not wanted. Understand? We are going to have fun on this island. Understand? We are going to have fun on this island! So don’t try it on, my poor misguided boy, or else” (Golding 77). Thus, we can safely conclude that in Golding’s novel, Lord of the Flies symbolizes both: Jewish tribal God Jehovah and the Devil, while the character of Simon symbolizes Jesus Christ, with his mission to “save the humanity” being exposed as essentially absurd. This is the reason why Simon ends up being killed for no apparent reason, with his death being turned into a spectacle for the crowd: “The sticks fell and the mouth of the new circle crunched and screamed. The beast (Simon) was on its knees in the center, its arms folded over its face. It was crying out against the abominable noise something about a body on the hill” (Golding 82). Such our interpretation explains why “Lord of the Flies” has been banned from Israeli’s public libraries – apparently, the hook-nosed “experts on tolerance” are being quite aware of this novel’s ideological connotation.


Therefore, even though that we cannot deny the fact that many events and even physical objects, mentioned by Golding in his novel, are being associated with strong symbolical meaning, it would be wrong to refer to this meaning as semiotically universal. This is why we cannot subscribe to the point of view that in his novel, Golding was striving to instill readers with the idea that humanity is inheritably wicked, as many critics suggest. In his article “Apocalypse Postponed: The Ending of Lord of the Flies”, Adrian Jones suggests that there is a deep sense in the fact that, despite novel’s overall gloomy sounding, Golding ends his story on a positive note: “The boys are allegorical of society as a whole, yet are “rescued” by that very society which they symbolize” (Jones 1998). This is because, throughout his life, Golding never doubted the objective value of a society ruled by reason; otherwise, he would have followed the footsteps of Colonel Kurtz, from Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”, whose active denial of rationality had brought about his ultimate demise. Therefore, the foremost contextual message, contained in “Lord of the Flies”, can be formulated as follows: When it comes to confrontation between civilization and bestiality, the representatives of civilization should not even consider the possibility of playing by bestiality’s rules. It is exactly because Ralph, while being a weak individual, began to play by Jack’s rules, which deprived him of the remains of his authority. However, had he forcibly imposed his will upon Jack from very beginning, Golding’s story would have ended up differently. Just as characters of Jules Verne’s book “Mysterious Island”, they could have easily enjoyed their stay on this island, after having “civilized” it to a certain degree – after all, they were White British boys, whose ancestors used to spread the light of civilization all over the world, in time when Britain “ruled the waves”. This is the reason why readers, who were able to retain the ability to think logically, despite being subjected to politically correct brainwashing, ever since the time of their childhood, are quite capable of recognizing the actual message, conveyed by Golding’s novel, for what it really is – every time bestiality shows up its ugly head, it must be immediately stepped upon, especially when this takes place in civilized Western society, in form of newly arrived immigrants from Third World countries beginning to “celebrate diversity” by pushing drugs, setting cars on fire at night and gang-raping White women, as it happens in today’s “multicultural” Britain.


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