Symbolism in Lord of the Flies

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: The Conch in Lord of the Flies: Analysis & Quotes

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:05 Symbolism in Lord of the Flies
  • 0:52 The Island and the Ocean
  • 2:52 The Conch Shell and…
  • 4:36 The Lord of the Flies…
  • 5:28 Lesson Summary
Save Save Save

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Log in or Sign up

Speed Speed

Recommended Lessons and Courses for You

Lesson Transcript
Judith Dunkerly-Bean

Judith has taught university literacy and teacher education courses and holds a Ph.D. in Curriculum & Instruction.

Expert Contributor
Ginna Wilkerson

Ginna earned M.Ed. degrees in Curriculum and Development and Mental Health Counseling, followed by a Ph.D. in English. She has over 30 years of teaching experience.

This lesson explores some of the predominant uses of symbolism in William Golding's classic novel, Lord of the Flies. Symbols reinforce the author's theme by conveying messages to the reader. In Lord of the Flies, Golding uses the island, the ocean, the conch shell, Piggy's glasses, and the Lord of the Flies as symbols.

Symbolism in Lord of the Flies

The skull and crossbones. Yin and Yang. The smiley face. As soon as you heard these descriptions, it is likely an image popped into your mind. It is just as likely that the meaning that is generally associated with them also came to mind. That is how symbols work. They are not just arbitrary objects or designs, they represent a larger idea, ideal or concept. The same is true in literature. An author will use symbolism to convey important ideas and messages in the text. In William Golding's classic novel, The Lord of the Flies, symbolic images and objects carry greater meaning than their surface appearance. Let's look at a few of them and think about how the author uses symbolism to support and reinforce the theme of the novel.

The Island and the Ocean

As an uncharted, untouched location, the island symbolizes paradise. It is away literally and figuratively, from the destructive nature of humanity. It also symbolizes a Garden of Eden, a pristine and bountiful place where the boys can begin anew. However, much like the biblical Garden of Eden, paradise can be suddenly lost when man is tempted by evil. As the setting of the novel, the symbol of the island is central to the theme that the brutal nature of man destroys what is good. By the end of the novel, this pristine paradise has been set ablaze by the destructive hunters. Ironically, it is only by the island's destruction that the boys are saved. A passing warship sees the fire, comes to investigate and rescues the survivors.

In many texts, the ocean represents two seemingly opposing ideas. It can represent the fathomless and endless nature of life, where calm can turn to chaos. However, as the site of the beginning of life, it can also represent strength, tranquility and stability, as it has remained largely unchanged throughout time. Given the endless nature of the ocean, it may also represent the possibility for getting lost and then finding one's way in life's journey. In the Lord of the Flies, many of these symbolic representations are present. In the beginning of the novel, the ocean is the vast space separating the boys from all they once knew. Yet, they happily play in its edges, delighted that there are no adults to tell them not to. Later, however, after Simon is killed and his body washes out to sea, the ocean receives him and what he represents: the loss of good to evil impulses.

Golding writes, 'The water rose farther and dressed Simon's coarse hair with brightness. The line of his cheek silvered and the turn of his shoulder became sculptured marble.' Here we see a striking similarity to the description of a conventional gravestone, while the symbolism of the ocean represents the end of Simon's journey.

The Conch Shell & Piggy's Glasses

Of all of the symbols in Lord of the Flies, the conch shell plays a recurrent and important role in reinforcing the theme of savagery versus civilization. From the first chapter through the end of the novel, the conch shell symbolizes civilization and a respect for law and order. It is used to call the boys to their meetings and whoever holds the conch shell is granted the right to speak. Although the conch holds less influence over the boys as they descend deeper into barbarism, Simon, Ralph and Piggy still cling to it as a symbol of order. It is only when Piggy is killed and the conch shell smashed that total anarchy ensues.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Additional Activities

Lord of the Flies - Questions to Consider

Critical Thinking:

1. As you learned in the lesson, symbols give deeper meaning to a narrative by drawing attention to elements of the story relating to theme. The way that symbols work is that an object represents a larger concept or idea. The object, like the conch shell, is the symbol and the concept is the symbolized. Whatever happens to the symbol operates on the symbolized as well. This process is called symbolic action. Choose one of the symbols in the lesson and discuss how the process of symbolic action operates.

2. Piggy's glasses are used as a symbol of intelligence and reason in Lord of the Flies. Choose another of the characters in the novel to describe. Is there anything about this character that might work in a symbolic way similarly to Piggy's glasses?

3. One key message or theme in this novel is that there are parts in every person representing both good and evil. We might also think of this dichotomy as light versus dark. What are some symbols of good and what are some symbols of evil? How might these symbols help the reader to understand the overall theme?

4. Places or settings can also serve as symbols. Think about the various places on the island and what happens in those places. Do any of the specific locations carry symbolic significance in the plot? Explain your answer by considering the process of symbolic action.

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account