Lord of the Flies Literary Criticism

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  • 0:03 Allegories in ''Lord…
  • 1:32 Literary Devices in the Novel
  • 4:56 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Lauren Posey

Lauren has taught intermediate reading in an English Language Institute, and she has her Master's degree in Linguistics.

William Golding's 'Lord of the Flies' has more going on than meets the eye. In this lesson, you'll look at some literary criticism of the novel and some of its literary devices.

Allegories in Lord of the Flies

Sometimes when you read a novel, it's like an iceberg. You can see what's going on on the surface, but there is also a lot more to it underneath. This is particularly true of allegories. Allegories are stories that have a hidden meaning, usually moral or political. One example of an allegory is William Golding's Lord of the Flies.

The surface story of Lord of the Flies is a group of boys stranded on the island. However, through their actions and the literary devices Golding uses, we can see that it is also a commentary of what Golding saw as the inherent savagery of mankind. As the novel goes on, the boys' society devolves further and further. Three boys are killed, and only one was truly an accident. They turn on each other, and by the end of the book they are even hunting Ralph, their former leader.

It's important to note that this savagery does not come out of a need for survival. The boys are not fighting over food or water or shelter. They have plenty of those. Golding's novel is designed to show that the savagery they fall into comes purely out of their own human nature.

Golding emphasizes this by drawing parallels to the outside world. The boys mention on a few occasions the war that's happening. Through this parallel, Golding shows that even in the more civilized society, the savagery is still evident as people drop atomic bombs on each other.

Literary Devices

Symbolism

Golding uses a number of literary devices to make his commentary about human nature clear. One of these is symbolism, which is when an object or person stands in for an abstract concept. The most prominent symbol in the novel is the conch shell that Ralph finds at the beginning. The conch is used to call assemblies and establish order. It represents civilization and organization. Ralph, the wielder of the conch, stands for democratic leadership, since he was elected. Together the two are a symbol of the civilization that the boys originally came from.

As the boys devolve further into savagery, the symbol of the conch suffers accordingly. It is used less and less, and the boys begin to ignore it even when it's used. The final blow comes when Piggy is killed, crushed by a large rock, and the conch, representative of civilization and order, is smashed. This event symbolizes the boys' complete devolution in savagery, as they give in to the darker side of their human natures.

A slightly weaker symbol is a cave called Castle Rock. It gains prestige as the conch loses it, and stands directly in contrast to what the conch represents. Castle Rock is the seat of Jack's power and stands for the boys' move away from civilization and order. This is shown especially in the fact that it is on Castle Rock that Piggy is killed and the conch smashed. Castle Rock is the site of the destruction of civilization and order and stands for the savagery and chaos that takes its place.

Allusion

Another literary device Golding makes good use of is allusion. Allusion is when something mentioned in the story stands for or hints at something outside the story. In the case of Lord of the Flies, many of the allusions are biblical. One pervading instance of this is the beast in the forest. Though the reader knows the beast is not real, the boys believe it is, and the way they react to it holds many allusions.

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