An Analysis of Symbols used in Lord of the Flies, a Novel by William Golding

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “The end of the human race will be that it will eventually die of civilization.” Lord of the Flies by William Golding tells the story of a group of boys stranded on an abandoned island. The boys start off working well together, though their savagery begins to be apparent later on in the novel. The island soon becomes very war-like, as the boys become less civilized, and it becomes a dog-eat-dog world. The symbols in Lord of the Flies, such as the conch shell, Simon’s existence, and Piggy’s glasses, diminished throughout the course of the novel, symbolizing the boys’ disconnection from civilization.

In the beginning of the novel, the conch shell, once representing power, order, authority, is broken, representing the boys’ignorance to authority. “I bet if I blew the conch this minute, they’d come running,” Ralph said (p. 51) If Ralph were to blow the conch at that moment, the boys would come running in.

The conch shell is giving the one possessing it, power over the other boys, representing their connection to civilization at the beginning of the story, when order on the island is still existent. In this part of the novel, the conch shell also symbolizes the boys’ respect for authority, as they would come running in at the sound of the conch. Civilization is still intact and the conch still has power within it. “See? see? That’s what you’ll get! I meant that! There isn’t a tribe for you any more! The conch is gone-” Jack screamed wildly to Ralph.

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(p. 181) The conch shell that died with Piggy, once represented power, order, and authority: Jack has formed his tribe, the rivals against Ralph’s tribe, representing the loss of order on the island, as there once was one unified group: Ralph’s tribe. As the conch shell ceased to exist, the power and civilization associated with it, is gone. Simon’s existence on the island represents goodness. Although, once Simon is murdered, the goodness that Simon brought onto the island, is dead as well. “Simon found for them (the littluns] the fruit they could not reach, pulled off the choicest from up in the foliage, passed them back down to the endless, outstretched hands.” (p. 56) In an environment such as a deserted island, people tend to become arrogant and only care for themselves, making it a dog-eat-dog world. Simon, however, represents goodness on the island, as he is caring for the littluns, the younger boys on the island, who can’t reach the good fruit of the tree. “Kill the beast! Cut his throat! Spill his blood! Do him in!’ …

The beast (which was actually Simon, but he was mistaken for the beast] struggled forwards, broke the ring and fell over the steep edge of the rock to the sand by the water. At once the crowd surged after it, poured down the rock, lept on to the beast, screamed, struck, bit, tore. There were no words, and no movements, but the tearing of teeth and claws.” (p. 153) As Simon is warning the boys of the beast’s arrival, he is mistaken as the beast and is murdered. The boys’ savagery on the island increases as they are in the process of murdering Simon. “Kill the beast! Cut his throat! Spill his blood! Do him in!” As Simon’s existence diminishes, so does his goodness on the island and the impact on the boys. Piggy’s glasses, once a symbol of intuition, logic, and perception, are destroyed, representing the boys’ disconnection from civilization. “His specs-use them as burning glasses!”…The flame flopped higher and the boys broke into a cheer…”Give me my specs! Jus’ blurs, thats all. Hardly see my hand.” Piggy exclaims (p. 41) Piggy’s glasses are used as burning glasses, providing fire, which symbolizes civilization, providing food and warmth. If the glasses are taken away, there is no more fire, and the boys are disconnected from civilization. The glasses are meant to help Piggy see, as a symbol of intuition, logic, and perception. These traits are necessary in order to be connected to civilization. “I can’t see no more and I got to get my glasses back. Awful things has been done on this island.” Piggy says to Ralph (p. 170)

After Jack forms a tribe that becomes the enemy of Ralph’s tribe, Jack’s tribe steals Piggy’s glasses in order to create fire. As Piggy’s glasses are taken away from Ralph’s tribe, they have no more access to fire: the symbol of civilization. Piggy, the symbol of intuition, logic, and perception on the island, can hardly see anything after his glasses are taken away. Once Piggy’s glasses are taken, civilization is taken from the boys. In Lord of the Flies by William Golding, the theme of civilization diminishes as the symbols on the island diminish. When the symbol of the conch shell, Simon’s existence, and Piggy’s glasses wane, the boys lose their connection to civilization. Golding conveys the behavior of the boys on the island, and how it changes over time. Human nature is also being portrayed, as it shows that when conditions are rough, it becomes every man for himself. As someone once said, “civilizations die from suicide.

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An Analysis of Symbols used in Lord of the Flies, a Novel by William Golding. (2022, Sep 27). Retrieved from

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