The Scar in Lord of the Flies

Instructor: Vivian Davis

Vivian has a PhD in English literature.

This lesson provides an analysis of the scar in William Golding's The Lord of the Flies. We will discuss both the literal and figurative meaning of the scar. A short quiz follows.

Importance of the Scar

William Golding's Lord of the Flies is a bloody tale about a group of British schoolboys who crash land on a desert island; free from the watchful eyes of their parents, the boys soon devolve into violence and murder. The image of a giant scar, the long gash in the jungle's landscape left by the boys' crashing airplane, is one of the book's most powerful symbols. The scar appears periodically throughout the novel and reinforces many of the novel's overarching themes.

Lord of the Flies Book Cover

A Crash Site

On a very basic level, the scar is the path that the boys' wrecked plane has cut across the island. Literally, it is the plane's crash site. As chapter one begins, we meet our protagonist, Ralph, and the novel describes the scene as follows: 'All round him the long scar smashed into the jungle was a bath of heat.' The next line tells us that Ralph 'was clambering heavily among the creepers and broken trunks,' so we can assume that the scar is the damage wrought upon the island by the plane.

Wounding the Island

Besides its literal (actual) meaning, the scar is also a symbol, and we can interpret the scar figuratively (symbolically). For example, the word 'scar' brings to mind bodily trauma: deep cuts and bloody gashes. Scars typically refer to wounds on humans or animals, but in Lord of the Flies, the injury appears on the island itself. In this sense, the novel attributes human characteristics to the natural world. In literary studies, we call this technique personification.

But what purpose does this personification serve? Well, by personifying the island, the novel asks us to think of the island as something that lives and breathes. This puts us in a position to recognize the extent of the damage done to the island (and, by extension, the natural world) by humans. Humans have the capacity to wound - and scar -- nature, much like they wound each other.

The island's wound connects to the book's larger themes. Think, for example, of the post-war setting; in the first chapter, Piggy says that the pilot of the plane mentioned an atomic bomb. From this, we can assume that the boys are fleeing a world that has been ravaged by war; clearly, humans have done a great deal of damage to the natural world.

A Paradise Lost

We can also interpret the scar as an allusion to original sin and mankind's fall in the Bible. An allusion is an indirect reference to another work, author, or idea. In the Book of Genesis, Adam and Eve are cast out of their paradise when Satan tempts Eve with fruit from the tree of knowledge; Eve then offers the fruit to Adam, who similarly succumbs. Having broken the sole rule that governed the garden, the two are cast out. The story of mankind's fall has been retold repeatedly throughout literary history, from John Milton's Paradise Lost to Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials series.

The scar is an ugly mar on the jungle paradise, and as a symbol of original sin, it anticipates the boys' fall from grace. Like Adam and Eve, the boys begin the novel as children in a seeming state of innocence, but by the novel's conclusion, they have fallen into a world of sin. They taste forbidden knowledge when they wound others, spilling the blood of innocents such as Simon and Piggy.

In a larger sense, we might also recognize that the boys are in the midst of being cast out of paradise before the book even begins. We know they were being evacuated from their homes by plane because of war and a possible atomic explosion. Mankind has already scarred the world, and the boys must pay the price.

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