Civilization vs. Savagery What do symbols illustrate in novels? In William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, symbols are illustrated through people, objects, and colors. In this novel, a group of children are faced with the difficulty of living isolated from society after their plane crashes on a deserted island. With no formal civilization, parents, or rules, the kids have the freedom to do as they choose. Throughout the novel, the boys find and use objects on the island that symbolize something of different importance.
In Lord of the Flies, William Golding uses different objects to symbolize the difference between civilization and savagery.
One of the first symbols presented in the Lord of the Flies is the conch shell. After the boys’ plane has crashed on the island, Ralph and Piggy, two of the main characters, find the conch lying in the sand on the beach. Ralph immediately recognizes the conch as being a possible way “to call the children to assemblies.
” (Cox 170). The conch soon becomes one of the most powerful symbols of civilization in the novel. “He can hold it, when he’s speaking. ” (Golding 33). This quote refers to the idea that, whoever has possession of the shell, may speak. It soon becomes a symbol of democratic power, proactively governing the boys.
With Ralph being the leader, and Piggy by his side, the conch shell serves as an equivalent to the executive branch of government. He who holds the shell is superior, at that time. When savagery begins to take control of the boys as the novel progresses, the conch shell begins to lose power.
After innocent Ralph is involved with the murdering of Simon, he holds onto the conch tightly, remembering the sense of graciousness that he once had. The conch shell ends up getting smashed during the scene of Piggy’s death, when Roger kills him with ‘the rock,’ another symbol in the book.
Another symbol presented in Lord of the Flies is the beast. The beast, representing horror, is the most intricate of all the symbols. It is unique because it is not an actual object, but instead it is the imagination of the boys. It shows the inclination toward evil that all human beings are faced with in a time of great disaster. Simon, a character of human goodness rather than savage, comes up with the conclusion that the beast was not actually an object or figure, but instead it was the boys themselves. “Maybe it’s only us. ” (Golding 89). After Simon speaks of this, the boys erupt in anger.
Jack and the rest of his savage boys fall into chaos. Jack promises that there is a beast and they will find and kill it. The boys’ strong will to kill shows their fear of the beast and it disables the connection that they once had with civilization. As the savagery of the boys continues, the beast becomes looked upon as a leader, and they begin to make sacrifices. The erratic behavior expressed by the boys is what brings the beast out of their imaginations and portrays it as something that actually exists. The more devilish the boys become, the more the beast seems to be real.
Along with the conch, the next symbol, the signal fire, was also present at the beginning of the novel. This symbol, representing life, was one of the only chances the boys had for reconnecting with society. Two signal fires were made on the island. One was built on the mountain in hope that a plane would see it, and the other was built on the beach, in hope that a ship would see it. In the first few chapters, the boys strived hard to keep the fire going, except for Jack. Instead of focusing on the fire, Jack was more excited about hunting for pigs. “There was a ship.
Out there. You said you’d keep the fire going and you let it out! ” (Golding 70). This shows how much the fire meant. Knowing that the boys may only have one chance at being saved, Ralph was furious at Jack when he found out that he let the fire burn out. The fire was so important to the boys on the island because it represented the small amount of civilization still left inside of them. When the fire burnt out and the ship did not see them, the boys ultimately gave up. They recognized the fact that they weren’t going to be saved and they would have to live lives of savages.
Oddly enough however, at the end of the story the boys are saved because a ship sees a fire on the island; not the signal fire, but a fire made from the destruction caused by the savage boys. Another symbol is presented through the disability of one of the characters, Piggy, whose vision is much below average. He has glasses and these glasses play an important role throughout the book. Piggy is the smartest and most intellectual out of all the boys. From the very beginning of the novel Piggy’s intellect is shown when he uses his glasses to start the first ignal fire. He uses the lenses to reflect the sun’s light on a piece of wood. Piggy’s glasses play a key role in keeping the boys’ minds focused on being rescued. As long as they had a signal fire lit, the chances of being rescued were still probable. The boys’ chances of being returned to society vanish after an altercation between Ralph and Jack, where Jack steals Piggy’s glasses from his face. Ralph and Piggy are now left abandoned after Jack, now with the glasses, moves to the other side of the island with a few of the other boys.
Piggy, without his glasses, cannot see. This represents the change from civilization to savagery. At the start of the novel, when Piggy first has his glasses, the boys on the island remain civilized, making attempts to keep the signal fire strong. As the novel progresses, and Piggy looses his glasses, the decline of civilization toward savagery is present. The collapse of the boys is also revealed through the symbolic masks that the boys design. These masks, which are used by Jacks followers called ‘the hunters,’ are made of clay paint.
The evilness of the boys is clearly shown when they wear the masks. It is almost as if an infectious disease is spread upon them; they lose all sense of civilization. After Jack paints the mask on his face for the first time, it is clear what it does to him. “He began to dance and his laughter became a blood thirsty snarling. “He capered toward Bill, and the mask was a thing of its own, behind which Jack hid, liberated from shame and self-consciousness. ” (Golding 64). This not only shows the cruelty of the mask, but it also shows how it opens Jack into the world of being a savage.
Also, Golding mentions the colors of Jack’s first mask as being Red, White, and Black. These colors symbolize “violence, terror, and evil. ” (Golding). The darkest and most violent symbol on the island is the rock. Roger, one of the savage boys, uses the rock to kill Piggy. Comparable to the mask, the rock is red representing violence. “High overhead, Roger with a sense of delirium abandonment, leaned all of his weight on the lever. ” (Golding 180). This describes the scene when Roger, standing on a cliff, pushes the rock down on Piggy.
The scene in the story when Roger kills Piggy represents more than just the death of one of the protagonists. Not only does the rock smash Piggy, but it also shatters the conch. The conch and Piggy were a few of the only figures of civilization left on the island. At this point, almost all the boys become savages and feel no sympathy towards the death of Piggy. In Lord of the Flies, the main characters are used to signify important thoughts and concepts. Piggy represents “prudence, logic, science, and the process on thought, which he uses throughout the story to remain civilized. ” (Taylor).
Piggy is the thinker behind Ralph, the leader, who comes up with ideas such as starting the fire with his glasses. His intellect represents the world of civilization that the boys once lived in. Simon has been given the characteristic of a mystic, or someone that is supernatural. He signifies “the Christ-figure. ” (Spitz). In an Interview, William Golding even refers to Simon as “a saint. ” (Kermode 219). He is shy and incomplete, yet he uses the intellect that he has to help others. Ralph, who has been the leader from early in the novel, is the most important representation of civilization on the island.
Even though he loses his best friend Piggy, his friend Simon, and the conch, he still remains civilized. Like Simon, he learns that savagery is present among all humans. Jack, being the first of two main antagonists, is the number one exemplary of savagery on the island. His lust for power and his rampant terror among the boys sets him far apart from the civilized. This is present at the very beginning of the novel when Jack becomes upset about loosing the top leadership position to Ralph. The second antagonist is Roger. Roger shows the cruelty and bloodthirstiness of the savages at their climax.
Roger, being one of Jack’s main followers, ends up murdering Piggy with the rock. The most significant and most apparent symbol in the story is the Lord of the Flies. The Lord of the Flies, which gives the book its title, is a slaughtered pig’s head that is placed onto a spear. The head, seen by Simon, is described as gruesome and terrifying. When Simon stumbles upon it in the Jungle, it seems to talk to him, telling him about the evil that lies within all humans. The dead pig’s head also tells Simon that he is going to have some “fun” with him, which foreshadows Simon’s death.
The Lord of the Flies is ultimately a symbol of terror, but more importantly a symbol of the devil. The evil shown through the pig’s head is the same evil that has been causing the civility of the boys to decline. In Lord of the Flies, William Golding uses different objects to symbolize the difference between civilization and savagery. From the beginning of the novel to the end, the decline of civilization toward savagery is present among the boys. At the start, the boys tried hard to remain civilized by using objects such as the signal fire and Piggy’s glasses.
As the novel progressed, the turn from civilization to savagery began to take place after Jack lets his lust for savagery get the best of him when he steals Piggy’s glasses. Lastly, at the end of the novel, the domination of savagery is present with the masks, the Lord of the Flies, and the rock. Once all hope of returning to civilization is lost, the boys accept their lives as savages. The symbolism that Golding employs in Lord of the Flies shows the difference between the civilization that the boys’ once knew and the savagery that fell upon them. Works Cited Cox, C. B. A review of ‘Lord of the Flies. ’ ” Critical Quarterly 2. 2 (Summer 1960): 112-17. Contemporary Literary Criticism. Ed. Roger Matuz. Vol. 58. Detroit: Gale, 1990. 170-72. Dunn, Daisy, “Book Blog| The Spectator. ” Spectator Magazine| World Politics & Current Events, News, and Discussion. The Spectator. 17 Nov. 2011. Web. 25 Nov. 2011. Golding, William. Lord of the Flies. New York: Penguin, 2006. Print. Golding, William. “Lord of the Flies Themes| Gradesaver. ” Study Guides & Essay Editing| Gradesaver. Gradesaver LLC, 1999. Web. 9. Nov. 2011. Kermode, Frank. “The Meaning of It All. ” Lord of the Flies: Casebook Edition. Ed. James R. Baker & Arthur P. Ziegler, Jr. New York: Penguin Group, 1988. Spitz, David. “Power And Authority: An Interpretation of Golding’s ‘Lord of the Flies. ’ ” The Antioch Review 30. 1 (Spring 1970): 21-33. Contemporary Literary Criticism. Ed. Sharon R. Gunton. Vol. 17. Detroit: Gale, 1981. 172-73. Taylor H. Harry. Rev. of The Case Against William Golding’s Simon-Piggy. (2004): 65-67. Bloom, Harold. “Bloom’s Guides: Comprehensive Research & Study Guides. ” Print.