Figurative Language in Lord of the Flies

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  • 0:00 What Is Figurative Language?
  • 0:47 Personification
  • 1:58 Symbolism
  • 2:57 Simile and Metaphor
  • 4:29 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Liz Breazeale
William Golding's 'Lord of the Flies' provides amazing tension, ridiculous violence, and some interesting figurative language to move the plot along. In this lesson, learn about the types of figurative language at play in this famous novel.

What Is Figurative Language?

When you're reading a book, do you notice how the author uses different devices to make the writing more interesting or the imagery come to life? Often, you are seeing figurative language. Figurative language is language used to communicate a meaning beyond the literal text of a work. It's a technique used by writers all over, for different reasons. Figurative language can make the text easier to understand or make an image easier to visualize. It also helps craft a mood. In William Golding's Lord of the Flies, the classic novel of what happens when twelve-year-old boys are left on an island alone, figurative language abounds. You'll learn about four types of figurative language that can be found in this work: personification, symbolism, simile, and metaphor.


Personification means giving an inhuman object human characteristics. This can be done for a few different reasons, but one of the biggest reasons is to create a more relatable, more interesting image for the reader to visualize. Here's an example from the text:

'He trotted through the sand, enduring the sun's enmity, crossed the platform, and found his scattered clothes.'

What's being personified here? The sun's glare is described here as enmity, or open hostility. Can the sun decide to be hostile or to feel badly about someone? Of course not. The sun can't feel anything, and is definitely not deciding to be the enemy of the boys in this scene. It's just doing its thing, which is shining. So why describe the sun's rays this way? Well, this description comes from very early in the book, when they boys are still trying to learn where they are and what has happened. They have no idea about this island they're stranded on, and they have no idea of their situation. It's only natural that the sun and the oppressive heat of this place be described like an enemy, something opposing the boys. Golding is crafting a mood here, a mood of opposition and strife. Also, everyone totally knows what it feels like to think of awful heat as an enemy.


Symbolism is using a specific person, place, or thing to represent a larger, more abstract idea. It's like using the color red to symbolize the abstract idea of passion and love. One of the most easily recognized symbols from the novel is probably the conch shell, which is found by Piggy and Ralph on the beach in Chapter 1. It's used to call the other boys, and later on, is used to maintain order during meetings. The conch shell, then, symbolizes civilization and order, which are two very difficult-to-explain abstract concepts. The boys use the shell to maintain a semblance of democracy in the beginning of the novel before everything unravels.

As the island descends into violence and chaos, the conch shell loses its power, much like civilization and common human decency lose their power over the boys as the novel progresses. And later in the novel when Piggy is murdered, the conch shell is crushed, which symbolizes the complete and utter failure of civilization on the island and the boys' descent into savagery.

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