Essay on Symbolism in the Lord of the Flies by William Golding

Symbolism is defined as symbolic meaning attributed to natural objects or facts. People use symbols to explain an overall idea or thought as a identifiable being. Symbolism is often a big part of literature to help define the themes of a book. Lord of the Flies by William Golding is about a group of schoolboys in the time of World War Two, who are stranded on an island after their plane crashes. With no rules or supervision, they’re waiting for rescue. While on the island, they encounter an unknown “beast.” The inquiry is, what is this monster? The beast is portrayed symbolically as being the fear the boys have that manifests itself into a figure, the lingering evidence of the time of the current war, and the evil nature of the boys themselves, that is evolving while on the island. 

As the book begins, the concept of the creature is created. The beast is first portrayed as the fear the schoolboys have in the beginning weeks on the island, that is externalized and manifested into a figure that they can visualize. The vast, uninhabited and beautiful island in the day slowly becomes an unknown dark and eerie place that nightmares can lurk at night. According to Document A, “…there are no comforting mothers to dispel the terrors of the unknown.” The boys are now realizing that no adults isn’t as pleasant as they thought it would be. As stated in Document B, one of the unnamed little boys during an assembly asks what they’re going to do about the beastie, described as a snake thing that comes out at night. In the day, it looks like ropes in the trees hung on the branches. The creature was never really there, it was just the outcome of a bad dream that the little kids had. The dread and anxiety they felt simply clouded their ability to tell what was real and what wasn’t. They had begun to exteriorize their feelings, to put their emotion into a visual. If they weren’t fearful at first, the fear eventually got to them and made the boys believe in the possibility of a beast, being the beastie the boys claimed to have seen.

As the story develops, so does the presence on the island. The beast then evolved into an embodiment of war. According to Document D, “…a figure dropped swiftly beneath a parachute, a figure that hung with dangling limbs.” While the boys were asleep, war planes were battling in the sky, and a pilot was shot down. He fell from the sky with his parachute and landed on the mountain side, his strings tangling him to the boulders. When the wind blew, the strings pulled, and pulled his body with it. He appeared to be moving around, like a ventriloquist doll. The boys later see him moving and say they saw the beast. This was the tangible figure of war. Regarding Document C, “war is not the mere occasion of the novel, but rather the off stage protagonist in this drama of evil, determining the behavior of the boys on the marooned island.” The Document later questions where the Second World War came from. Was it made by something inhuman or was it made by regular men and their nature? The book shows evidence that war is made by men and what they’re capable of. War was embodied on the island by the deceased pilot.

As the novel comes to a close, the darkness is revealed. The beast finally was accepted by the reader as the evil nature inside the boys and what they were capable of. According to Document E, “the meaning of the book depends on the meaning of the beast.” One of the boys on the island, Simon, discovered that the beast on top of the mountain was actually the dead pilot, and that the figure was human. Earlier in the book when the boys were discussing the possibilities of the identity of the beast, Simon suggested that it was “us,” meaning themselves. As reported in Document F, when Simon had come down the mountain, the children had mistaken him for the beast on top of the mountain which Simon discovered was the pilot, and he was coming to tell them about it.

They savagely beat, tore, bit, and scratched at him, and when scared, they ran and left him to die there. Their excuse was that it was dark, they couldn’t see, they were scared. But in reality, they had known it was Simon, they could hear him calling out to them, but still continued. Their willingness allowed them to continue. Throughout the book, the boys had shown acts of cruelty. One of the “hunters”, Rodger, killed another boy, Piggy, all on his own with no remorse. He had been corrupted, and murder was in his capabilities. The island exposed the evil nature they had inside themselves and how de-individualized they had become since the beginning of the book.

Symbolism showed itself throughout the book as the beast by being the fear the boys had felt in the beginning through the beastie, the dead pilot who was an effect from the war, and the evil that had been inside them the whole time, that had evolved and showed their true capabilities throughout the novel. The beastie, the pilot, and themselves were all externalized and conveyed fragments of evidence of a monster lurking around them. But the beast was never as simple as something tangible that they could see and feel. What is the beast, and what had it developed into? The beast was fear, war, and evil nature, that they had to deal with. The island shaped them into savages with no humanity or civilization left. Their environment warped them into the individual they had been scared of the entire time. An unexpected outcome, they had become the beast.



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