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Piggy’s Glasses, The Conch, and the Face Paint: An Exploration in Symbolism in The Lord of the Flies

This is a paper I did for my English class, so this article will not be focusing on teaching as much as I usually do in my articles.

Symbolism is a great way to enhance a story that has been used in many novels. Some have been used masterfully and have greatly improved the quality of the novel. William Golding’s novel The Lord of the Flies is a prime example of using symbols to enhance the details of the story. The symbols that William Golding uses are simple objects, but they tend to represent a lot in the novel. Golding uses the symbols in a way that they are not blatant, they are hidden within the story. Each time the reader reads his novel, they will find new bits of symbolism throughout the story. What happens to the symbols is also interesting to note as they can hint at certain things within the story. The novel, The Lord of the Flies by William Golding uses several symbols to enhance the story, including Piggy’s glasses to symbolize intelligence on the island, the conch to symbolize order and law, and the face paint symbolizing savagery.

First, Piggy’s glasses symbolize intelligence on the island. We know that they do because Piggy is an intelligent character. At the beginning of the novel, he is the first one to meet Ralph. He tries to befriend Ralph and though his efforts seem to fail, Piggy still gives him advice on what they should do. In Golding’s novel, Piggy is the one who suggests that Ralph use the conch to call the meeting together (Golding 11). Piggy is also the character who suggests several laws in the book, but they are generally ignored. Piggy is the only one who is forthcoming about laws that could benefit the group in survival, not just help the boys have fun. Howard Babb says that “Piggy is the more conscious of the adult world and of those who might have died in the plane crash” (Babb 11). This is true in the sense that Piggy is the one who is thinking about how to organize themselves since no adults have been discovered yet. All of Piggy’s motivations and actions show that he is an intelligent character, and therefore his glasses represent intelligence. His glasses are also needed to start the fire which is the only way that they know how to get home. Without the glasses, they would not be able to start the fire, and without the fire, they couldn’t send up smoke signals to ships passing by. It is interesting how the symbol of the glasses is used in this. Since Piggy is intelligent and Golding had already established that at this point in the book, they needed to use Piggy’s glasses to start the fire. This connection might not be caught at first glance, but they also seize the glasses from Piggy not letting him have a say in lighting the fire and they end up starting a large fire on the island. Then at the end of the book, the tribe steals the glasses in the middle of the night from Piggy so that they can light a fire. The other boys continuously steal the symbol of intelligence to lighting the fire. These glasses are vital to lighting the fire which is an important part of the community on the island. Then when the tribe of boys forms, they especially need the glasses. Without the glasses, they wouldn’t be able to eat the meat of the animals that they had killed. Another thing that is interesting to note is how the boys always need the glasses no matter which group it is. This shows that the boys need the intelligence to be a tribe. The glasses are most certainly a symbol of intelligence, and they are used significantly throughout the novel as a part of a plot point.

Another example of the excellent use of symbolism in The Lord of the Flies is the conch. The conch represents law and order in the book. Ralph uses it to call all the boys on the island together for their very first meeting. After the conch was blown, the children assembled on the beach and their very first meeting began. The conch was a symbol of order and law from the very first chapter! Without the conch, it most likely would have been harder for the boys to gather all the boys together for the meetings. Another rule the boys make in that first meeting is that the conch is needed to speak during the meetings. This way, the meetings are more orderly and not just the boys arguing over each other. With this rule, there is more order in the boy’s meetings. The rule does tend to be ignored by all the boys whenever Piggy is speaking, especially Jack. As the story goes on, especially towards the end of the book, the conch becomes a key point in the plot. The conch is the only way that Ralph retains control of the boys. He is able to keep his power as the leader for a little while longer as Jack begins to turn the tribe away from Ralph. Then, at the end of the book, during the final confrontation between Ralph, Piggy, and the savages, Jack shoves Piggy off the cliff smashing the conch along with Piggy. It is interesting to see that the most intelligent character, Piggy, is killed when the conch is destroyed. It is a symbol that law and order need intelligence as well. When the conch is destroyed the book seems to play out to where there is no law and order at all. Ralph is forced to flee and hide, and the tribe burns down the island. The conch emboldens the representation of law and order, and once it is destroyed, the law and order disappear.

The face paint in The Lord of the Flies is another symbol, representing savagery on the island. Jack and his hunters are the first ones to wear the face paint and as you read the book, they are the first ones to rebel against the law and order of the island, opting to hunt the pig instead of keeping the signal fire lit. If they had kept an eye out on the signal fire, they would have been able to see and signal the ship that went by the island. It is interesting to see that whenever the face paint is worn, the boys feel a need to kill. First, it was with the pig. The boys would do a chant saying “Kill the pig. Cut her throat. Spill her blood” (Golding 52). They wanted to kill the pig at first, then they needed to kill it. The need to kill is something that savages have, and these boys are savages whenever they are wearing the paint because they discover a need to kill with the paint on. The boys also wear the paint, when they kill Simon. Everyone present for the killing of Simon, except Ralph and Piggy, are wearing the paint. The need to kill comes over the boys again and they begin their chant again. Samuel Hynes notes that when the boys begin their chant this time “(it) is no longer ‘Kill the pig,” but ‘Kill the beast!’” (Hynes 19). The boys have changed every time that the paint is worn. They hunger for blood and hunger to kill, especially Jack who seems to be the ringleader of all the deaths. The face paint is also present on the tribe when the boys kill Piggy and destroy the conch. When they kill Piggy, they all are wearing face paint. It is interesting to note that every single time the face paint is present, an animal or person ends up dying. The pig dies, then Simon, and finally Piggy. Ralph would have been killed as well by the tribe of savages if the navy had not seen the smoke from the island and had arrived. The boys are changed when the wear the paint, they are changed into savages, and the symbol of the face paint makes it very clear.

The symbolism in Lord of the Flies is very prominent and enhances the story with Piggy’s glasses, the conch, and the face paint all being symbols that appear multiple times through the course of the story. These items also play many key roles in the story. Piggy’s glasses symbolize intelligence since Piggy is an intelligent character, and because without his glasses, the boys wouldn’t have an easy way to light the fire. The conch represents order and law because it is the item that was first used to call all the boys together. It also is needed to speak at the meetings that the boys hold. And finally, the face paint symbolizes the savagery with every time a death happens, the face paint is worn by the characters doing the killing. Without the symbolism in the novel, it would have been an enjoyable book, but the reader would not have these small symbols that enhance the story. Every time the novel is read, the reader is sure to find something new in the novel with each read.

WORKS CITED:

Babb, Howard. The Novels of William Golding. Ohio State University Press, 1970.

Hynes, Samuel. “William Golding’s Lord of the Flies.” Critical Essays on William Golding, Edited by Baker, James. G.K. Hall & Co., 1988, pp 13-21.

Golding, William. Lord of the Flies. Perigee, 1954.

Thanks guys for reading! Let me know what you guys think in the comments below!

From my pen to your paper, may our swords never clash.


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3 replies on “Piggy’s Glasses, The Conch, and the Face Paint: An Exploration in Symbolism in The Lord of the Flies”

Hey guys! Sorry I posted this so late today! I’ve had a crazy couple of days and didn’t get to format this article until just a few minutes ago! But here it is! Let me know what you guys think!

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I can appreciate symbolism, but it’s very hard for me to pick up on my own because I am a pretty literal thinker. It’s not something I like to put in my books, either: I definitely prefer a good story than to force symbolism. But hey, for authors like Golding who are intelligent enough to create those parallels–good job! I’ll see and appreciate them once someone else points them out, and I will not be creating them myself lol.

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This was something I’ve been learned a lot about in class because I’m the same way. I used to have a hard time with symbolism, but I’ve learned a good bit from this class! I don’t plan on putting intentional symbolism in my novels, but it was neat to see in Golding’s novel.

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