The conch - The conch is a tool to build up a civilisation on the island. Through the power of the conch Ralph is able to make meetings. Without the conch it would have been very difficult to get things organized and to get to know who is on the island. It is even a symbol of the group outside the choir because Ralph is the owner of the conch, a means of power. Then there is also the choir, which represents the other group. The boys make use of the conch to elect a leader. Therefore the conch also stands for democracy. Ralph is chosen on account of most votes, but compromises with Jack, the leader of the choir, by power-sharing. The conch even stands for justice and equality because everybody has the right to state his opinion through the conch. Soon their meetings can be regarded as a kind of “Parliament” in which they talk about problems and discuss possible improvements. They boys come from an English school and now attempt to continue their ideals of law and order on the island. But soon things are deteriorating. Jack is not satisfied with his position and wants to dominate all the children. He is the one longing for the conch to fulfill his will. Principles like justice and equality become blurred more and more (e.g. Piggy is not allowed to use the conch).
The sea - The sea is the barrier between civilisation and the seclusion on the island. In the poetic depiction of Simon’s death, it also represents an almost supernatural power far beyond the limited scope of the island community.
The island - The island represents good and evil. It stands for a new independent life without any adults who rule the childrens’ life. So it is like treasure island at first glance. The island is full of life - there are animals and lots of fruits to make food of. It has an idyllic effect which, however, is deceptive. - The fruits cause diarrhoea and stomach-aches. There is also the heat which is overwhelming. Some “littluns” are afraid of the island because of its alleged beasties, and therefore have nightmares. One part of the island is the jungle which shows the dangerous side of the island. The “boy with a mark”, presumably the first dead corpse, goes missing after he wa last seen entering it. - The “good” and the “evil” sides of the island are representative of human beings. Golding’s intention is “to reveal the potentiality of evil in any society and to show the end of innocence and the darkness of man’s heart.” - The island shows that besides mankind, nature can also change its face. But often changes in nature are caused by mankind. They boys make a fire in order to be rescued, but they do not notice that they destroy nature. Only Piggy is aware of the importance of nature and its relationship with human beings. - The island can also be seen as a location of an experiment. The children have to build up a society without adults, so they are dependent on themselves. But the experiment fails. Jack, once chapter chorister in the choir, becomes a cruel murderer with features which are similar to a dictator’s.
The fire - The fire is the most important thing on the island. It is a possibilty to be rescued, and therefore a medium to communicate, and represents at the same time the origin of mankind. The fire is even a tool to prepare food, and gives protection and comfort at night. But there is also something negative about the fire. It shows the intention of humans to control nature by destroying it. Through harming the island surrounding, they destroy their own habitat (no fruits, animals,…) and cause damage to themselves.
The dazzle painting - By the use of the dazzle painting, Jack’s change of character becomes obvious. From now on he is wearing a mask to lay down Jacks Merridew’s responsibility for all the things which happen. The painting is called “war-paint” by Ralph and shows the warrior-like status of the choir group. Like soldiers, Jack’s supporters have to be obedient, respect their leader’s law, and maintain discipline and order. There is no individuality anymore, the boys are only contracted as hunters - “the boys with the stick”. Everybody has to look and to act the same way.
The pig - The pig is a recurring motive in “Lord of the Flies”. It illustrates the line of aggression which becomes more and more dominant in the course of events. So it is a symbol of Jack’s leadership. The pig-runs and the dances around the fire show the upcoming madness which leads to the slaying of innocents in the boys’ mystic rituals. It even anticipates Piggy’s death. His nickname Piggy contains the syllable “pig” and apparently bears symbolic meaning. He is killed by the hunters like a pig in one of their cruel “feasts”.
The beast - The extreme unusual situation on the island leads the boys to fear and terror of the beast. Simon’s recognition that there is no real beast means that there is only the power of the boys’ fear. Jack makes use of this fear to gain more and more supporters. In truth he is the one being a beast by building up a reign of terror. His behaviour has to be regarded as the evil in every mankind, the “beasty side”.
The Lord of the Flies - The Lord of the Flies is connected with the symbol of the pig (or rather, the head of a pig). It is the prince of the devils and a symbolic dramatisation of human evil. The head is called “Lord of the Flies” which is a translation of the word Beelzebub (name of the devil in the Bible). In its “speech” in front of Simon it says: “You knew, didn’t you? I’m part of you? Close, close, close! I’m the reason why it’s no go?…” So it is probably Golding’s intention to emphasize the existence of evil inside man and its part in the human condition. He describes the fight between good and evil which is inside every human being. Therefore he puts Simon, the good one, and the Lord of the Flies, the evil one, together in this mystical scene.
Golding’s intention - William Golding wrote “Lord of the Flies” after the events of the Second World War. He wanted to show that it is wrong to believe that evil only lives in other nations. Many believe that after a war everything bad is destroyed. But Golding points out the existence of evil in all of us. He thinks about the events in Germany and is sure that it can happen in any country. - That is the reason why every symbol in “Lord of the Flies” has a good and an evil side (e.g. the island). The struggle between good and evil still goes on, and will continue to do so…
The first symbol in the novel is the island itself on which the boys strand. It is uninhabited and therefore has no social structures or orders given by grown-ups. This is an opportunity for the boys to decide how to build up a new community which is not biased by their parents’ views. After the boys’ first meeting Ralph is elected leader. This vote is proof of democratical order. But throughout the novel, especially towards its close, the situation escalates and everything develops into anarchy, mostly caused by Jack’s cruelty and greed for power. The island is surrounded by the sea which stands for a barrier between civilisation/order and anarchy/cruelty. At the beginning everything seems idyllic and nature makes the boys feel free like on a treasure island without any adults on which they can play and enjoy their stay. But soon they have to realize that this idyll is deceptive and that they need fixed laws to survive. The interesting jungle becomes a dangerous adventure, the exotic fruits make them feel sick and their liberty develops into a feeling of lonliness and homesickness.
Another material symbol is the conch which is found by Ralph and Piggy at the beginning of the novel. It immediately becomes a synonym for democracy, order, justice and equality because the person holding the shell is allowed to speak and nobody has the right to interrupt him. But its influence becomes unstable because of the escalating arguments between Ralph and Jack. This tool of civilisation is then alienated by Ralph’s and Jack’s scramble for power and leadership. - The conch is also a symbol of a united community. Especially Jack restricts the conch’s importance because he wants to be elected as leader instead of Ralph. This greed causes a division on the island: on the one hand there are Ralph and his followers (Piggy and a few littluns) and on the other hand there is Jack and his tribe (the choir = the hunters, the rest of the boys).
One more symbol is Piggy’s glasses. They express intelligence and education, and therefore produce a certain balance between Piggy’s physical weakness and clumsiness, and his mental strength. Piggy’s spectacles are also used to light the fire on the top of the mountain so that the boys can take two advantages of that: They can be rescued when someone discovers/notices the fire burning and furthermore they can prepare their meat and can survive and live on the island as long as necessary.
The boys start to paint their faces which reminds the reader of savages. The action becomes a ritual and gives them the chance to hide their “real” faces (and personalities) behind a mask, or even to change their characters temporary.
But there is one more ritual established by the boys: their dancing and chanting. This singing becomes more and more important for the boys, especially the littluns, and gives them the feeling of belonging together, and is also a familiar situation which reminds them of home. Their singing gives them a temporary chance to forget their fears and problems, and lets them be children again.
The worst symbol of the novel “Lord of the Flies” is the beast. The beast personifies the fear that every human being on earth feels. This strong belief in a beast makes it possible for Jack to extend his power by promising to purchase and kill it with the help of his hunters. This shows that his running the island would be based on “military” strength and cruelty. Even Ralph can’t help it and is desperate so that he decides to have a vote whether there is a beast or not, but this his tactical strategy has to be questioned as it utterly fails to calm the boys’ fears.
Another symbol on the island is an animal: the pig. Primarily, pigs provide the boys with the meat they need to survive on the isolated island. But it also is of symbolic importance. It can be compared to Piggy (resonance of word and name) and his situation. Jack and his group of hunters start to kill pigs as well as they start to mock Piggy and disrespect him. The killing of the first pig is therefore a foreshadowing of Piggy’s murder.
Golding turns out to be a pessimistic author who deals with the dark side of human nature (cf. Hobbes, Leviathan). In his novels, especially “Lord of the Flies,” mass hysteria, hatred and fear become apparent by the use of symbols and metaphors. These stylistic devices give the novel an allegorical note and help to understand the author’s message.
At the beginning of the novel the conch plays a central role in the group’s living together. With the shell the boys summon the meetings, where they discuss and organize their plans to survive on the island. The one who blows the conch is the only person who is allowed to speak in front of the group, the others have to listen. In this case the conch becomes a symbol of democracy and rationality. It is representative of freedom of speech and opinion. Therefore the shell is an analogy of rituals and symbols of the adult world, which are deeply rooted in society. ”No community can exist without symbols and rituals” (p. 202, ll. 15-21).
The signal fire serves the purpose of helping the group to be recognized by passing ships, and thus eventually being rescued. But in the course of the novel the fire gets out of control and threatens the boys’ lives. Consequently, the signal fire is a symbol of the boys’ diminishing hope. Furthermore, the signal fire is the island society’s only link to civilization.
In first few pages of “Lord of the Flies” it becomes obvious that Piggy is the mastermind of this group of very young boys. His glasses can be also seen as a key for his intellect and cleverness. In the novel Piggy is the one who acts rationally and who helps the group with his brilliant ideas in the most critical situation of their lives. After Jack hits Piggy and breaks his glasses, insecurity spreads and the boys lose themselves in chaos. At first glance Piggy seems to be the perfect leader. He is clever and knows how to react in difficult situations. But he is not the kind of leader represented by Thomas Hobbes. The boys’ loyalty towards a leader can only develop in connection with his ability to protect them (p. 201, ll. 21-24), which is not Piggy’s natural talent.
William Golding is an author who addresses an adult audience, but why did he use the presence of children to communicate his views? On the one hand childhood can be seen as a state of innocence. But on the other hand the children try to copy and adopt the behaviour of the adult world in their own situation. In “Lord of the Flies” many comparisons can be drawn between the life on the island and the adult, “civlized” world. For example, the painted faces of Jack and his group of hunters, which are used as camouflage and as a separation from the other boys, and the adoption of real soldiers’ rituals is an obvious allusion to the real military. Jack and his hunters act like adult soldiers. This fact shows that the more the young boys show barbarian behaviour, the more they become similar to the adult world which seems to be civilized (for the reader).
We can say that with his novel “Lord of the Flies” William Golding wants to critizise the society in which he grew up. He realized that the values which are important for a democratic system were at risk, or even in danger of getting lost. In his Nobel Prize Lecture he appeals to his audience for “more humanity, more care, more love.”
William Golding has implemented several themes in “Lord of the Flies” to animate the reader to be more self-critical. His time as a Royal Navy soldier in WWII (biography) taught him one thing: not to believe in the good side of a human being. This fact is reflected clearly in the novel. Golding appeals to his readers to fight for the important values, which separate the human being from animals.
One important theme is the need to build up a civilizated society. In “Lord of the Flies” Ralph is the chosen one who is responsible to realize it. But he fails because he “is ineffective as leader, he is displaced by the more ruthless figure of Jack” (The Political Philosophy of the Novel, p. 201, ll. 20-21). William Golding refers to the thesis of the famous political theorist Thomas Hobbes (Leviathan). His pessimistic view of the human being says that man is in fact an egoistic creature and not a “social being” (Aristotle). He proves that people’s loyalty to their leader is in place just as long as he is able to protect them (p. 201, ll. 21-24). - Ralph and Piggy try to copy a part of the adult world and adopt it to the situation on island. They try to make rules, restore order and to create a democratic system. But in their aim they forget one important aspect: people only take orders under the pressure of an institution (police) or laws. But there is nobody on the island who has the authority to live up to this important job. For this reason Jack is not worried about being punished for his cruel tyranny.
Another important aspect in Golding’s novel is the power of fear. Jack uses fear to control the other boys and to manipulate people to his own advantage. He knows that the beast does not really exist but uses its existence to make the other boys willing followers of his commands. - Fear is the source of Jack’s power. The boys do not love him, or see him as a good leader, he only promises them protection from the beast. As Hobbes says, man has not the ability “to do good or to feel loyalty or to defend his friend. When this things occur it can only be as an act of self-interest. The leader [...] cannot presume on the support or love of anyone” (p. 201, ll. 25-28).
In “Lord of the Flies” William Golding obviously tries to put nature into the foreground. The reader is astonished about the author’s extensive description of the nature that surrounds the boys. This depiction adopts a neutral position in the novel and sometimes foreshadows the following events (stormy night anticipating murder of Simon). Nature does not care about the boys or their actions, but the boys are dependent on it. This fact Golding wants to communicate in his Nobel Prize Lecture. - He criticizes that man rips nature without thinking about the consequences (p. 206, ll. 22-25). To his mind the world needs more people who take responsibility for their behaviour towards nature, which cannot defend itself. “We need more humanity, more care, more love” (pp. 206-207, ll. 30-31).
Sources: Diesterweg edition of “Lord of the Flies” - The Political Philosophy of the Novel (pp. 201-202) & Golding’s Nobel Lecture (pp. 206-207)