The Evil Inside Us: Symbolism In Lord Of The Flies

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“There was blackness within, a blackness that spread.” In his novel Lord of the Flies, William Golding uses symbolism to demonstrate the innate potential for evil and savagery that all humans possess. Lord of the Flies is about a group of schoolboys who find themselves stranded on an island without adult supervision. Initially, the boys celebrate their newfound freedom and set up a social structure revolving around the elected chief and the conch. However, throughout the story, the boys gradually develop a fear of the “beast,” which is nothing but a product of their imaginations. Their fear of the “beast” eventually overwhelms the order and society they built as they descend into madness and savagery. Golding uses the “beast,” the Lord of the Flies, and the shattering of the conchas symbols to convey the evil nature of humans.

The “beast” is a symbol of the boys’ fear that looms over them throughout the novel, and Golding utilizes it to demonstrate how the potential for evil can be coaxed out of anyone. When Simon appears at the feast to inform the boys of the truth about the “beast” they saw, he is mistaken for the “beast” and Jack’s newly formed tribe “leaped onto the beast, screamed, struck, bit, tore” (Golding 153). Golding’s use of the words “screamed,” “struck,” “bit,” and “tore” highlights the animal-like and savage behavior of the boys. Simon’s death illustrates how fear of the “beast” could provoke evil and savagery from the boys. By using the “beast” as a symbol of the boys’ developing fear, Golding demonstrates the potential for evil and savagery within all humans.

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Golding also uses the Lord of the Flies, a symbol of evil, chaos, and deterioration of order and society, to convey the natural evil of humans. The Lord of the Flies is a pig’s head on a stick, overrun with flies thirsty for blood, physically representing the decay of order and descent into chaos.

As Simon speaks to the pig’s head in his mind, the Lord of the Flies retorts, “Fancy thinking the Beast was something you could hunt and kill! … You knew, didn’t you? I’m part of you?” (Golding 143). During this conversation, Simon learns that the beast is a natural part of the boys; it is the potential for evil, chaos, and savagery stirring within the boys. Through Simon’s symbolic interaction with the Lord of the Flies, Golding conveys to the reader that humans naturally possess a potential for evil and chaos.

Golding expresses the natural evil of humans through the shattering of the conch, which symbolizes total destruction of social order and the final step of the descent to savagery. The conch is a symbol of order and society, but ironically it contributes to rising tensions among the boys. When Ralph, Piggy, and Samneric confront the tribe about stealing Piggy’s glasses, Piggy attempts to bring the tribe back to order using the conch, but instead, he is crushed to death by a rock, and “the conch exploded into a thousand white fragments and ceased to exist” (Golding 181). The use of the phrase “cease to exist” conveys that not only is the conch physically gone, but the order and society that it represents have also been symbolically destroyed. Through his depiction of the shattering of the conch, Golding illustrates the natural tendency of humans to break down order and allow chaos to reign.

Through his use of symbols throughout the story, Golding effectively conveys to the reader that all humans possess a potential for evil, chaos, and savagery. The “beast” represented the fear of the boys, which overwhelmed their society and tapped into their evil potentials, and the Lord of the Flies made clear that all the fear, evil, and chaos were a natural part of the boys. Finally, the destruction of the conch illustrated the natural tendency of humans to break down society and order in favor of chaos and savagery. Thus, Golding leaves the question open to the reader: how strong is the potential for evil concealed within them, and what would it take to tap into that savagery? 

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