What Does It Mean
In William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, there are many key characters, settings, objects and events that symbolise ideas much deeper than what is first perceived. It is these important symbols that make Lord of the Flies an allegorical novel. It is the constant struggle to maintain civilization and resist complying with the savage urges that rages within each human individual that plays a central theme throughout the novel.
Significant objects like the conch and signal fire; plot events such as the pig hunts; the main characters and even Ralph’s hair are all symbols that have a grander meaning and transform this story into an allegorical novel. Throughout Lord of the Flies, the conch acts as a vessel of political legitimacy and democratic power. In the course of the novel, it is used to call the boys to order. No boy may speak unless he is holding the conch, and once it is in his possession, he is spared of any interruptions. It is the initiative of the boys that created this “rule of the conch”, thus representing the speech, rules and politics of society.
However, in later chapters this symbol of structured civilization is over thrown by instinctual savagery when Rogers thundering boulder kills piggy and destroys the conch. This is when Jack runs forward claiming that he can now be chief. Jacks quick jump for power, based on the fact of the conch breaking, implies that his rise to leadership was being held back by the democratic power that Piggy and Ralph held in the conch. When piggy and Ralph blew into the conch, the younger boys would still listen. But once the conch was shattered, so was all form of law and order on the island.
The purpose of the signal fire varies during Lord of the Flies, but ultimately becomes a key representation of the boys’ connection to civilization. The initial idea of the fire was to keep it burning strong in order to attract any passing ships. This was a solid plan until the simple signal fire turned into an uncontrollable blaze, rendering one of the younger boys missing. In this scene the signal fire turned into a paradox of both hope of rescue and destruction. The strength of the fire was in sync with the boys’ willingness to return to society.
There is a notable contrast in the early parts of the novel, were the boys maintain the fire as a sign that they want to be rescued and return to society, compared to when the fire burns low or goes out. Which is when we realize that the boys have lost sight of their desire to be rescued and have accepted their savage lives on the island. Ironically, it is the savagery of the inferno that Jack lights at the end of the novel, in his attempt to hunt and kill Ralph, that the boys are rescued. The combination of these different symbolic meanings suggest that if the boys’ world is an allegory for the real world, they are not being rescued at all.
They are simply falling into a larger scale of violence and destruction. Consequently meaning that within a civilized rescue still lives malicious destruction. The pig hunts are used throughout Lord of the Flies to symbolize not only man’s capacity for destruction and violence, but also the basic idea of bloodlust, mass hysteria, and ritual. The earliest pig hunts were failures due to the boys’ childlike innocence and lack of skill. However, in the later and most important pig hunt scene, we are given a vivid description of the slaughter of a mother pig, and we see that the boys have taken on a new viciousness in their desire to hunt.
At this stage, survival on the island has become imperative to Jack and the hunters where as maintaining civilisation has become no more than a discarded thought. It is no longer about remaining civil or doing what is necessary to survive but rather conforming to the compelling urge that comes from the power and excitement of a helpless animals blood spilling over their hands. Once again, we find that savage human instinct has won out against their well-mannered, civilised upbringing. The idea of growing savagery could be seen in Ralph’s hair. What would have been a neatly trimmed style turned into a scrappy, unruly mop.
Golding always makes a point to explain the inconvenience that Ralph’s hair gave him, whether it is in his eyes or simply complaining about the length. Getting a haircut is one of the advantages of civilization, many of which Ralph and the others have had to give up. It also reminds us that the boys have been on the island for a long time. The way that Golding writes about Ralphs hair gives the impression that it just keeps growing and growing, continuing to get even more matted and tangled. Much like the boys’ growing violence and the increasingly savage occurrences on the island. The main characters represent humanity as a whole.
The island is the entire world and whilst the younger boys may be seen as the common people, the older boys represent the ruling classes and political leaders. Ralph represents order, leadership, and civilization. Piggy represents the scientific and intellectual aspects of civilization. Jack represents unbridled savagery and the hunger for power. Simon represents natural human goodness. Roger represents brutality and bloodlust at their most extreme. The bonds that form between the older boys and the younger ones highlight the different connections to either the civilized or the savage instinct.
Civilized boys like Ralph and Simon use their power to protect the younger boys and advance the good of the group, where as savage boys like Jack and Roger use their power to gratify their own desires, treating the younger boys as objects for their own amusement. The boys’ fighting is then equivalent to a war. Just like in modern day society, the contrasting views of how things should be done create conflict between the opposing parties. Ralph thinks that shelters for the littluns and the signal fire are more important whilst Jack feels as though hunting should be a priority.
This caused tension within the tribe, which lead to an uprising on Jacks part. Parting as enemies and unable to resolve things in a civilized manner, this lead to a division in the tribe that resulted in a war not to different to the ones we experience in modern society. Overall, it is through the key symbols like the conch and signal fire; plot events such as the pig hunts; the main characters and even Ralph’s hair that we see the constant struggle to maintain civilization and resist complying with the savage urges that rages within everyone. Thus making William Golding’s Lord of the Flies an allegorical novel.