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Lord of the Flies as a Symbol
The title "Lord of the Flies" already refers to the most important and central symbol of the book. It is the key to understand the context of the novel. That is why it is so hard to give an exact definition of the symbol, also because there are many different ways and levels of interpreting it. The interpretation of the title is dependent on the reader's inner attitude, his living-conditions and his own experiences in life. On the following pages we are going to try to give a general interpretation of this symbol referring to religious, historical and social aspects.
A group of boys has been dropped on a tropical, uninhabited island somewhere in the Pacific Ocean, their plane having been shot down. A nuclear war has taken place, civilization has been destroyed. They have to build up their own system without the help of any authoritative persons. To fight against their fear of the unknown beast they slay a pig and place the head on a stick. This event leads us to the final climax of the book: Alone in the woods, Simon talks to the pig's head and imagines it to become the "Lord of the Flies", another name for "Beelzebub", the "prince of devils" who is responsible for one of the seven deadly sins, gluttony. It says to him that he has the power to hunt and kill the beast on his own. In the course of the novel, civilisation breaks down and Simon is slain like the pig by the others. They don't recognize him to be Simon, they mistake him for the beast, that happens in their unconsciousness without being aware of what that means.
The following extract deals with the pig's hunt and its execution by raising the dead pig to a totem (p. 166-170). The author does not spare the reader the details of the killing. We see Jack at the full height of his powers. His regression to an animalistic state thrills the other hunters. This scene also contains many sexual references: At first the sow is seen with her piglets, then the hunters throw themselves on her ("wedded to her in lust", p. 167 l. 18). Like someone being raped, the sow "squealed and bucked and the air was full of sweat and noise and blood and terror" (p.167, ll. 27-29). Roger unleashes the final cruelty by shoving his spear deep inside the pig. He boasts, "Right up her ass!" (p. 168, ll. 15/18). Jack rubs pig blood on Maurice, because he is pleased with his mastery (p. 168, ll. 11/12). This is like a baptism, they are all part of something like a religious community now. The boys feel relieved and Jack even makes plans for a feast while cutting up the pig. He gives orders for a stick to be sharpened at both ends. Silence enters as the pig's head is mounted on the stick as a gift for the beast ("The silence accepted the gift", p. 170, l. 3). All boys leave quickly, they honour the presence of evil, whether it's theirs or the beast's.
The fear of the boys of the unknown beast is unfounded: It's just a parachutist who has fallen from sky and died some days before. In the novel the parachutist symbolises the boy's fear. Because of this fear they place the pig's head on a stick: It's kind of a sacrifice for the beast, to let them live in peace and free from fear until their final rescue.
For their own protection they make a present, the pig's head, to the beast. It has the function of a totem, an idea and practice based on the belief in kinship or a mystical relationship between men and natural objects, such as animals and plants. The term "totem" derives from the Ojibwa (Algonkian Indian) word ototeman, signifying a brother-sister blood relationship. Totemism refers to a wide variety of relationships, including the reverential and genealogical, between social groups or individual persons and animals or other natural objects, the so-called totems. It has been centrally important in the religion and social organization of many primitive peoples. The designation "totemism" was initially restricted by anthropologists to the association of a group of persons with the totem object. A totem was not to be confused with an animal but associated only with one person, whether as guardian spirit, animal, familiar, or source of supernatural power. A totem may be a feared, emulated, or dangerous hunted animal; an edible plant; or any staple food, in this case the pig's head. Very commonly connected with origin legends and with instituted morality, the totem is almost invariably hedged about with taboos of avoidance or of strictly ritualized contact.1 The story shows that laws and rules, policemen and schools are necessary to keep the darker side of human nature under control. At the beginning of the novel the boys try to build up their own democratic system with one leader ("Seems to me we ought to have a chief to decide things ", p. 29, l. 24). But in this extract the boys are falling back into their more primitive nature. Civilization breaks down when the boys use masks to cover their faces and at the same time their identity. You can see that, when they kill the pig in such a bestial habit, they lose their respect for life and allow themselves to kill (Simon) and later to murder (Piggy) similar to the pig. In this society created by the hunters there is neither order nor choice; there is only power over others, the force of one's own will pitted against another living creature. Civilization separates human beings from the animals by teaching them to think and make choices. Man needs civilization, it is important that he is also aware of his more primitive instincts.
Fear of the unknown on the island revolves around the boys' terror of the beast. Fear is allowed to grow because they play with the idea of it. That's also the reason why civilization finally breaks down. The boys cannot fully accept that there is a beast, nor can they let go of it. They fly into hysteria, and their attempts to resolve their fears are too weak to decide for one way or the other. The recognition that no real beast exists, that there is only the power of fear, is one of the deepest meanings of the story, but Simon is the only one who is able to fully recognize that. When he imagines speaking to the mounted pig's head, now called the "Lord of the Flies", it tells him, "You knew, didn't you? I'm part of you? Close, close, close! I'm the reason why it's no go? Why things are what they are?" (p. 177, ll. 29-31). "Lord of the Flies" is a translation of the word Beelzebub, another name for the devil. Beelzebub, also called Baalzebub, is the prince of the devils in the Bible. In the Old Testament, in the form Baalzebub, it is the name given to the god of the Philistine city of Ekron (II. Kings 1: 1-18). Neither name is found elsewhere in the Old Testament, and there is only one reference to it in other Jewish literature. Ekron was a Philistine stronghold at David's time (I. Samuel 17: 52), during the time of King Ahoziah of Israel, it was associated with the worship of the deity Baalzebub (Baal of the Flies), though some would read instead Baal- zebul, or Baal of the Abode (II. Kings 1: 2-18). In the New Testament, Jesus speaks of Beelzebub as the chief of demons and equates him to Satan. In the European Middle Ages and the Reformation period, various hierarchies of demons were developed, such as that associated with the seven deadly sins [Lucifer (pride), Mammon (avarice), Asmodeus (lechery), Satan (anger), Beelze-bub (gluttony), Leviathan (envy), and Belphegor (sloth)]. In postbiblical Judaism and in Christianity, however, Satan has become known as the "prince of devils" and assumed various names: Beelzebub (the Lord of Flies) in Matt. 12: 24-27, often cited as Beelzebul (Lord of Dung), and Lucifer (the fallen angel of Light).1
Here is the very core of the story and the answer to Ralph's question about why things break down. What Simon realizes is that evil does not exist outside man's nature. There is no beast in the jungle, evil comes from within man's heart. We ourselves generate the evil in the world. We are what is in the jungle. We are the beast. The other boys do not see the full picture. Each for his own reasons can't understand the true nature of evil, so the Lord of the Flies warns Simon not to bother telling them because they will never understand. At the beginning of the story Ralph says, "Until the grown-ups come to fetch us we'll have fun." (p. 45, ll. 27/28). In this scene the "Lord of the Flies" says, ironically echoing Ralph's words, "We are going to have fun on this island. Understand? We are going to have fun on this island!" (p. 178, ll. 15- 17). Then the "Lord of the Flies" finally says to Simon, "We shall do you. See? Jack and Roger and Maurice and Robert and Bill and Piggy and Ralph. Do you. See?" (p. 178, ll. 21- 23). The Lord of the Flies names them all and foreshadows Simon's inevitable end. After this scene Simon climbs on top of the mountain where the parachutist, the feared beast, is. When Simon sees the dead parachutist covered with flies, he understands that the beast they feared is nothing but a rotting body ("He crawled forward and soon he understood. [...] He saw how pitilessly the layers of rubber and canvas held together the poor body that should be rotting away.", p. 181, ll. 7-12). Now Simon realizes that he has to search for the other boys to tell them what the very feared beast really is ("The beast was harmless and horrible; and the news must reach the others as soon as possible.", p. 181, ll. 27/28). The other boys, celebrating a feast while eating pig's meat, are miming the terror of the pig's hunting (compare p. 187/188). Chanting the same verse again and again ("Kill the beast! Cut his throat! Spill his blood!", p. 187/188), they mistake Simon for the beast and slay him like a pig. Being in trance the boys are celebrating a dance of death around Simon. At the end of this scene Simon's body is carried away by the ocean waves. This scene is the book's most lyrical and most beautiful passage, nature seems to pay tribute to Simon ("The water rose further and dressed Simon's coarse hair with brightness. The line of his cheek silvered and the turn of his shoulder became sculptured marble.", p. 190, ll. 9-11, compare also p. 190, ll. 17-24). Simon is the character that more than anyone represents Christianity in the book. He is different and does not fit in among the other boys, but if you go deeper into the book, it becomes more and more obvious that Simon's life on the island is strikingly similar to the life of another person that did not fit in. A person that lived twothousand years ago in Israel. Just like Jesus Christ Simon cared about the small and vulnerable, he loved nature and all living. Simon is also a prophet. He knows that Ralph will come back to civilization alive. He does not say anything about himself or Piggy ("You'll get back to where you came from.", p. 137, l. 24; "All the same. You'll get back all right. I think so, anyway.", p. 137, ll. 31/32). Neither Simon nor Jesus are ever scared because they are certain that what is meant to happen will prevail. They were both able to challenge the unknown and conquer it. Jesus won over death and Simon faced the beast and came back alive. Jesus did it for all the people living on earth, Simon for the all of the other boys. What is so puzzling and sad is that they were both killed when they tried to share what they had found out. They were both killed in anger and in the belief that they were evil.
After the conch has been destroyed by the "hunters", Ralph wants to look for the other boys, because he's totally left alone and searches for community. Accidentally he sees the pig's head, a skull resting on a stick. He recognizes it as a talisman, but a more sinister one than the conch. The "Lord of the Flies" does not speak to Ralph as it did to Simon, but something of its evil nature "prickles" (p. 227, l. 32) at the edges of Ralph's understanding. Ralph will never understand what Simon learned on the mountain. His fear causes him to break the skull, and he takes the stick the skull was mounted on. He tries to pretend they are "still boys, schoolboys" (p.228, l. 29). But he already knows that even if he could believe it by day, he couldn't at night. Now he has become "an outcast" (p.228, l. 32), the beast, the thing Jack will hunt.
The "Lord of the Flies" could also be compared to Ralph and at the same time to God. At first when the flies are still at the pig's head, the smaller boys stay at Ralph's side. Nobody of them can imagine going to Jack. But then, when the flies leave their "Lord" to go to the "beast", the feared parachutist, the boys also decide going to Jack and become hunters. They somehow turn to animals and kill their friend Simon. Jack and the beast are somehow a seducer like in the Garden of Eden. In this case, the devil takes the role of Jack and the beast. Comparing
Ralph to the Lord of the Flies you can also say that when Ralph finally destroys the Lord of the Flies he somehow destroys himself. He destroys his inner values, he gives up hope, but doesn't really realize this in that scene. More likely he does this unconsciously ("A sick fear and rage swept him", p. 228, l. 7). In this situation Ralph only destroys the skull because it "regarded Ralph like one who knows all the answers and won't tell." (p. 228, ll. 6/7)
The Lord of the Flies represents the beast's danger and power. In the story the panic and decay that takes place is symbolized by this pig's head. In its "talk" with Simon it explains what the beast really is. The beast is the evil that resides within man. The children were all aware that such a beast exists, but none of them realized, except Simon, that it lies within them. Manifested in three forms (air, water, earth) throughout the story, the beast constantly plagues the littluns, the least conditioned by society ( compare Britannica).
- Quote paper
- Heike Barkawitz (Author), 2000, William Golding - Lord of the Flies as a Symbol, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/98369