Summary: Well-Developed Symbolism and Imagery in the Lord of the Flies

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In Lord of the Flies, author William Golding uses well-developed symbolism and imagery to illustrate the impact that one’s societal upbringing has on one’s actions and thinking processes.

Golding uses the clash of the characters and their differing opinions to symbolize how society shapes an individual’s mind. As the book progresses and many of the boys begin to resort to savage-like ways of living, there are still controls around the boys that many of them follow, unaware of how it affects their actions. In the midst of the book, when some boys are starting to seperate form the others, Roger throws stones at Henry. Even though Roger’s strength is evident, “there was a space around Henry...into which he dare not throw. Here..was the taboo of the old life”. Golding uses symbolism to compare the circle of protection around Henry to the taboo of the “old life”, which is the society the boys left. He demonstrates through this quote that society’s rules are invisibly mentally binding. Even though Roger represents the id, he is still bound by society, still seeing the police officers, parents, and laws that stopped him in normal life. Golding comments on the intensity of this restriction, using the word “dare”, instead of a less impactful phrase such as “didn’t want to”. This implies dire consequences if Roger were to hit the boy, even though there is no government to punish him. Golding calls to attention how mentally binding society is; to the point that it controls your actions without you even thinking about them. In our current society, not just our arms, but our minds are trained by society, leading us to favor certain opinions or objects over others, just because society has told us that is what is right. Roger’s arm is also described as being “conditioned by society” (63) when he throws the stones at Henry, Imagery is used to show the symbolism of society’s unseen values influencing Roger’s decisions. The use of the word “conditioned” emphasizes how trained Roger’s arm is, and how society has shaped his throw to always miss, even though Roger could easily hit Henry if he tried to. However, Roger is unable to hit Henry because of the conditioning of his arm to adhere to society’s moral beliefs. In our current world, where censorship is a huge debate, especially in technology and media, people are conditioned, just like Roger’s arm, to hold to certain beliefs and to read the things that they want to hear; that society has preached to them. Through the description of characters and the underlying symbolism of their actions, Golding is able to connect the thinking processes of the boys to their subconscious actions; a concept that can be applied to our current world as we grow increasingly manipulated by technology, often subconsciously.

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Golding uses symbolism of inanimate objects to emphasize the importance of your surroundings on your actions. “And the mask was a thing on its own, behind which Jack hid, liberated from shame and self-consciousness.” Through the use of the mask, Golding illustrates that one of the biggest gatekeepers of being ethical vs unethical is your own identity and place in society. Golding explains that “Jack hid, liberated from shame and self-consciousness”  behind his mask. This quote clearly shows that Jack’s face is hidden and almost distorted under a layer of what he calls “war paint”, which enables him to do what he wants to with little to no ramifications. Jack’s own identity and place in his new environment are taken away by the war paint, as he feels like he is unbound from a restricted society, even though it is only mud coating his face.. Jack’s identity is obscured, allowing him to continue on an unethical bloodhunt. After this event, Jack clearly begins to devolve into savagery, showing how the mask caused him to let go of the identity structured society had created for him in England. Jack’s role as the id in the book also helps place emphasis on the effect that society has on one’s thoughts, as the id is often moved by quick pleasures and self gain. The grip that society’s identity has on even Jack shows how far society’s influence goes. Our current world holds much power akin to Jack’s mask in social media and websites, where people say things that they would normally never say in person because they are able to hide behind the mask the Internet has created for them. People in society use usernames unrelated to themselves, fake IDs, and anonymous comments to release themselves from society and its restrictions. Another symbol that is briefly touched on in the story is the clothing the boys have on, one of their last connections to society. However, when playing on the beach, Ralph notes that the boys wore their clothes “stiff...not for decorum or comfort but out of custom” . Golding uses both symbolism and diction in this passage to paint a powerful picture of the boys, wearing clothing that hangs off their bodies, not because they are comfortable, but because that is what they are used to. The use of the word “stiff” drives the message that the clothing doesn’t fit the boys. This can also be connected to the symbol of clothing as society, as the boys wear the clothing “out of custom”, like they are used to it, but are not comfortable in it. On a remote island, clothes are not necessary, and this drives the underlying meaning that even when one may think they are out of society’s reach, they will never be fully free from societal values. In our current society, technology is such a huge part of many people’s lives that no matter where you go, you can never truly isolate yourself from it. The boys that are keeping their clothing on because of society can be compared to our dependence on technology, and how it feels like it needs to be part of our lives, no matter how much we try to diminish its presence. The final and most prevalent symbol in the book is the conch, held mainly by Ralph and Piggy, who represent the id and the superego. The conch is used as a microphone at first, but as the book progresses, begins to lose its value as the boys grow more and more distant from society. Right before his death, Piggy holds the conch up proudly in his hand, repeating the phrase “I got the conch!” . Piggy is the character with the most connect to civilization, as his role as the superego leads him to take actions that are most morally beneficial to the boys. Golding is using both imagery and repetition to emphasize the final stretch of the conch’s power. As the book progresses and Jack and his group of savages separate, Jack states that the conch is not valid on their side of the island. Seeing that Jack’s group is the group that has strayed furthest from society, the conch invalidation emphasizes how they are the opposite of the society they left behind. However, in the end of the book, when the naval officer comes to rescue the boys and questions who the leader is, Ralph steps forward, not Jack. Jack starts “forward, then his mind and ”. As the officer represents the boy’s return to society, Jack’s role has again diminished and society’s values and leaders remain the key focus. The rise of Jack’s savage actions is formidable and unstoppable, but is easily stopped by a connection back to society. This emphasizes the tight grip that society has on one’s actions, as even Jack, the most stubborn and determined character in the book, is held back by what society believes is right, which is to announce Ralph as the leader. Through the symbolism of inanimate objects, Golding is able to emphasize the grip that society will keep on you, no matter how far you isolate yourself from it, a theme repeated in today’s modern world as technology adheres to every inch of our lives, no matter how far you isolate yourself from it.

William Golding’s emphasis on rules and order, communicated through symbolism, reveals the message that the environment you grow up in is the one that shapes your decisions, a topic that is still relevant today as humans are increasingly influenced by social media. Social media conditions us to think one way or another, spreading ideas through the snowball effect and mob mentality. Golding’s emphasis on rules and order leads us to question what parts of our habitual actions are truly ours, and what parts of our minds society exercises control over through technology, often times without one fully aware. In conclusion, Golding uses symbols and powerful imagery to write a story that is prevalent today, one of the grip that law and order has on people, which is modernized through the increasing role of technology. 

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