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In “Lord of the Flies” by William Golding, the use of symbolism is revealed through thoughts and feelings the boys have while being marooned on the island. The use of symbols such as the pig’s head, the beast, Piggy’s specs, the island and the use of masks, allows the author to reveal how humans allow their ability for evil to take over and control their life.
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The pig’s head is one key symbol in “Lord of the Flies” that is involved in the naming of the novel. Descriptions of the slaughtered animals head on a spear is graphic and frightening. The pig’s head is described as “dim-eyed, grinning faintly, blood blackening between the teeth,” and is covered with a “black blob of flies” that “tickled under his nostrils” (138). The reader becomes aware of the evil and darkness symbolized by the Lord of the Flies with this image. When Simon speaks with the lifeless, devil-like object, the source of evil is revealed. Simon learns that the beast, that frightened the other boys on the island, is not an outside force. The head of the slain pig tells him, “Fancy thinking the beast was something you could hunt and kill!… You knew, didn’t you? I’m part of you?” (p. 143). The evil is symbolized by the pig’s head. Simon faints after looking at the pig and seeing “blackness within, a blackness that spread” (p. 144). Evil had taken over, it was everywhere.
The beast is used as a main symbol in this novel. In the imaginations of many of the boys, the beast is the source of evil on the island. Life on the island got worse as the evil there within each one of them became stronger. Simon realizes this before his meeting with the Lord of the Flies. During an argument over the reality of a beast, he shares his belief with the others. Simon tells them, “Maybe, maybe there is a beastâ€¦ maybe it’s only us” (p. 89). The other boys immediately begin to argue more fiercely in response to Simon’s thoughts. The crowd gives a “wild whoop” when Jack scolds Ralph, saying “If there’s a beast, we’ll hunt it down! We’ll close in and beat and beat and beat!” (p. 91). Their fear of the beast and desire to kill it shows how strong the hold society’s rules once had over them has been lost during their time on the island.
The evil within the boys has more effect on their survival as they spend more time on the island, and this decline is reflected by Piggy’s specs. Piggy represents civilization and the rules, from which the other boys have been separated. As Piggy loses his ability to see, the other boys also lose their vision of that civilization. Piggy can clearly see with both lenses of his spectacles intact, and the boys are still fairly civilized at the start of the story. An example, at the first meeting, the boys decide that they “can’t have everybody talking at once” they “have to have ‘hands up’ like at school” (p. 33). After some time passes, the hunters become more concerned with slaughtering a pig than with being rescued. They return from a successful hunt in the jungle chanting “Kill the pig. Cut her throat. Spill her blood,” (p. 69). Piggy and Ralph attempt to explain to the hunters that having meat to eat is not as important as keeping the signal fire burning. During a fight, Jack purposely knocks Piggy’s specs from his face, smashing one of the lenses greatly diminishing his vision.
After Jack forms his own tribe of savages, he and two of his followers ambush Ralph, Piggy, and Samneric. In the middle of this ambush Piggy’s specs are stolen, leaving him virtually blind. In the mean time, Jack goes back to Castle Rock, “trotting steadily, exulting in his achievement” (p. 168), as he has discarded all ties to civilized life. Jack’s ruthless nature and attitude cause his lapse into complete savagery. He enjoys the feeling of being feared by those around him. It was like he fed off of it and it made him even more evil.
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The island is taken up by the jungle, which shows the decline of civilization. Since the jungle is the home of the beast, it also symbolizes the darkness present in humans that is capable of ruling their lives. This evil spreads to almost every boy on the island, just as in the jungle, “darkness poured out, submerging the ways between the trees till they were dim and strange as the bottom of the sea” (p. 57). The experiences the boys undergo on the island expose them to the evil that lies beneath their civilized surface. The experiences affect them mentally and physically to the point where they lose their identities.
The symbolic use of masks demonstrates the collapse of the boy’s way of life. When covered by masks the hunters have different personalities. They forget the civilized behaviors that once controlled them and now they have given in to their natural desires and urges. Jack paints his face to his liking and suddenly becomes a savage. “He began to dance and his laughter became a bloodthirsty snarling” (p. 64). At home, Jack would not have behaved in this manner, but behind the mask, Jack feels free to behave like the devil.
“Lord of the Flies” reflects the darkness that has the ability to awaken the evil beast from within. The author uses symbols that illustrate this theme of darkness throughout the novel. In “Lord of the Flies”, the symbols are important to the story’s ideas and theme.
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