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Lord of the Flies – Christian Symbolism

“The truth about man is not merely that he is, by nature, savage and afraid, but that he refuses deliverance, and murders the messenger of light”(Dick, “Criticism” 197). This view of our nature as human beings is based on the teachings of the Christian doctrine of original sin, a theory that has been used as a theme in many works of literature. One of these is William Golding’s novel, Lord of the Flies. Throughout the work, Golding conveys his faith in the theory of original sin through the use of vivid Christian symbolism.

He takes his characters, a group of British schoolboys marooned during a futuristic nuclear war, and places them on a small island, establishing a microcosm in which the reader can study and analyze the regressive and savage behavior of mankind as he returns to his primitive state. As an author who is convinced of original sin, Golding shows the gradual effacement of societal values on the island, and the change of the boys from proper, innocent schoolboys, into young savages (Baker, “Essays” 17).

Golding wrote the novel as a Christian allegory, and thus presented numerous Christian symbols including a Christ-figure, the clairvoyant Simon (Swisher 36). Through his novel Golding attempts to teach his reader a grim lesson about life and the darkness that lies within us all. Lord of the Flies is said to “open in Eden,” because the perfect and untouched nature of the island upon the boys’ arrival is comparable to that of Adam and Eve’s garden of Eden (Swisher 65). Fruit hangs from all the trees, fresh water flows abundantly from the mountain, and the tropical climate prompts the boys to take off their clothes.

They live free of all constraints of the modern adult world. Like Adam and Eve, the boys are not aware of the capacity for evil that lies within them. As upper-class British schoolboys, their initial reaction to being on the island is one of excitement at the absence of adults, as well as one of faith that they will be able to establish a civilized society like the one to which they are accustomed (Oldsey 29). It is shortly after the arrival that the “littluns,” the younger boys on the island, begin to complain about “snake things,” and become fearful (Meitcke 34).

From this point on, fear is a major theme of the novel. The snakes succeed in instilling fear in the littluns and, shortly after, are destroyed in the fire. The disappearance of the snakes is analogous to the Devil tempting Adam and Eve to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and once causing them to fall, disappearing from view and entering the heart of man (Dicken-Fuller 16). Once the stage is set, Golding shows the slow regression of the boys’ society, as fear prevails over innocence. Golding uses the “beast” as a means of developing this destructive fear.

When one of the littluns mentions this beast early in the novel, the other boys are skeptical and shrug it off as a figment of a child’s imagination. However, as the novel progresses, fear of this unknown entity drives the boys almost to insanity (Baker, “Golding” 10). The littluns scream in the night due to nightmares about the beast, and although Ralph adamantly denies its existence, many of the older boys discuss its presence as well. Golding monitors the development of this fear to show how it affects the boys and leads to the downfall of their society.

Once fear overtakes the rational thinking that initially exists on the island, the effects are noticeable in the way the society is run. Ralph recognizes what is happening to the society, and makes his statement on the platform: “Things are breaking up. I don’t understand why. We began well; we were happy and then — people started getting frightened” (82). The boys begin to subtly undermine Ralph’s authority as appointed chief, and as their respect for him falters, so does the stability of the community. Ralph is annoyed by the littluns disregard for the rule of what locations on the island can be used as lavatories.

He realizes that if they continue to “use anywhere,” then eventually the island will be covered in filth (80). This is symbolic of how a disregard for appointed authority could cause a growth of evil on the island. In addition, the fact that eating fruit causes the boys’ diarrhea mirrors the experience of Adam and Eve in the Garden. Eating the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge was, according to Dick, the first sin, ” whose effects the boys, like all humanity, have inherited. The excrement they leave behind is a vestige of the primal sin” (Dick, “Golding” 28).

Hunting, which is initially a difficult task for the boys, eventually becomes an invigorating experience. Jack’s first time hunting causes him humiliation because he cannot bring himself to lower the knife and kill the pig. He becomes angry and frustrated with himself and promises “next time. ” However, by the end of the novel he shows no hesitation in killing whatsoever (Kinkead-Weekes 51). This transformation is even more terrifying when the reader realizes that this savage inhuman creature was present all along, hidden beneath the choir robes and proper English breeding.

Only one of the boys on the island recognizes how “the shape of the society they evolve is conditioned by their diseased, fallen natures” (Swisher 34). Simon, a “visionary lover of mankind,” understands what is happening in regards to the transformation of the boys, and recognizes the root of their societal problems in human nature. While we first see Jack marching his choirboys with military precision in full uniform, Simon first appears fainting face down in the sand and breaking up Jack’s parade lines. He is always “throwing a faint,” he is smaller than the other boys, and very different (20).

Simon’s epilepsy, which causes his fainting spells, is central to his character. In ancient times many thought that the epileptic seizure was an indication that a person had great spiritual powers and was favored by communications from the gods (Meitcke 13). In many early tribes, epileptics, the retarded, and the insane were held in religious reverence and given great respect and honor (Whitley 29). We are to notice that what is considered by the other boys to be a disability, is, in fact, what Golding intended as a symbol of Simon’s exceptional spiritual presence.

Simon says little, but when he does speak it is usually intended to be helpful or in defense of others. When Jack criticizes Piggy for not helping to make the fire, Simon comes to his defense; “We used his specs. He helped that way” (42). This unending compassion for others is one of the early signs of Simon’s Christ-like persona. At the end of the third chapter we get our first extended description of Simon and a description of an event that leaves no doubt in the reader’s mind as to Simon’s nature.

Flower and fruit grew together on the same tree and everywhere was the scent of ripeness and the booming of a million bees at pasture. Here the littluns who had run after him caught up with him. They talked, cried out unintelligibly, lugged him towards the trees. Then, amid the roar of bees in the afternoon sunlight, Simon found for them the fruit that they could not reach, pulled off the choicest from up in the foliage, passed them back down to the endless outstretched hands. When he had satisfied them he paused and looked round.

The littluns watched him inscrutably over double handfuls of ripe fruit (56). This is a clearly a reflection of Jesus’s blessing of the children, “Let the children come to me and do not stop them, because the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Luke 18. 15). It also brings to mind the miracle of the loaves and the fishes, where Jesus fed the multitudes who had come to hear him. Other examples of Simon’s compassion are common. At one point in the novel, he offers his meat to Piggy without being asked, a simple act of charity that Piggy accepts gratefully.

Another example of Simon’s merciful nature occurs shortly before his death when he goes up on the mountain top to view the “beast,” and finds a dead parachutist hanging from a tree. Although repulsed by this sight, he frees the parachutist, ultimately allowing the corpse to fly out to the sea. Simon sees that no man is an island. He is, in a sense, the dead airman, and, therefore, relates to him and feels for him (Whitley 49). This willingness to set aside his personal needs and feelings to take care of others shows his Christ-like nature.

Although physically meager and unimposing, Simon’s intuition and common sense are unsurpassed by any of the other boys. While Ralph sees Simon as “queer,” and “funny,” he recognizes his importance on the island. Ralph notices that Simon is the only one that helps to build shelters on the island at the beginning of the novel, a significant symbol of his willingness to protect his fellow man. Simon and Ralph are dedicated to constructing the huts, and their attempts always end in failure. These repeated failures are symbolic of the futility of trying to build shelters for protection, when, indeed, the boys need protection only from themselves.

Although Simon recognizes this fact, he commits himself to helping as a way of establishing a feeling of safety, and putting a stop to the terror that the others experience. Simon’s love of nature is also frequently noted as a way of reflecting his similarities to Jesus Christ. Simon, like Christ, possesses an “awe for the wilderness,” and often ventures into the woods to meditate (Meitcke 37). The other boys fear the more obscure parts of the island and do not dare to go to them. Because Simon trusts and connects to the world around him, he is unafraid, and, therefore, is set apart from the other boys.

Golding has called the secret place to which Simon retreats his “church,” and describes it with the colors, sounds, and smells of nature (Swisher 43). Butterflies follow him, a way of showing the mutuality of his communion with nature. His love of nature and his desire to be alone in the wilderness is what leads him to his encounter with the Lord of the Flies. Arguably the most pivotal scene in the novel is that of Simon’s “conversation” with the Lord of the Flies, a pig’s head on a stick, and one form of the “beast.

When Simon returns to his place of contemplation, he witnesses Jack’s tribe killing the sow and watches them place the head on the stick as an offering to the beast. The boys leave the offering close to Simon’s “church,” and although he tries to look away, “his gaze is held by that ancient, inescapable recognition” (138). The creature is referred to as the Lord of the Flies, which translates to the Hebrew Ba’al zebub and the Greek Beelzebub, which are names for the Devil. This is another blatant attempt from Golding to convey his Christian theme (Johnston 13).

Having Simon as the only boy in the novel to encounter this Devil further emphasizes the importance of his role as a Christ-figure. The Lord of the Flies chides Simon by saying, “Fancy thinking the beast was something you could hunt and kill! You knewI’m the reason whythings are the way they are” (143). Simon may have had this knowledge of the nature of the beast before, but this interaction proves it to both him and the reader. The Lord of the Flies has, “invaded Simon’s forest sanctuary to preach an age-old sermon; evil lies within man whose nature is inherently depraved” (Swisher 81).

He tells Simon that “you’ll only meet me down thereso don’t try to escape. ” It is through this statement that the Lord of the Flies clearly makes his point that he is, in fact, the beast. Due to his source in man’s nature, it is inevitable that Simon will meet him again. While this does not imply that Satan overpowers Christ’s message, it does show how good intentions can be lost in evil. The pig’s head, crawling with flies, may well be the most important symbol in the book as it encompasses so many features and aspects of the beast.

It is the beast, the head of the beast, the offering to the beast, left by the boys whose bestiality is marked by the head on a stick” (Whitley 48). It is the beast because it reflects the evil present in the boys’ natures. The beast is a reflection of the boys’ inherent evil, characterized by their blood lust. They perform a beastly act in order to appease the beast and, thus, reinforce their own savagery. It is significant that Simon encounters the Lord of the Flies while he is alone, as Christ encountered Satan while alone in the wilderness.

While Satan taunted Jesus to prove his divinity by turning stones into bread or hurling himself from the top of the Temple, the pig’s head taunts Simon by telling him that the beast is a part of him, “I’m part of you? Close, close, close! ” (143). The beast wants Simon to realize that he is as human and naturally evil as the rest of the boys. He cannot escape the evil through hiding in the wilderness, because he cannot hide from himself. Simon spends the day unconscious in the presence of the pig’s head and ritual blood is spilled when a blood vessel bursts in his nose.

The flies left him alone, “preferring the pigs high flavor” (145). This blood letting could be seen as a representation of the Last Supper, when Christ symbolically offers his body and blood to his disciples. In this case, though, the only disciples present are the flies, and they prefer the body of their Lord. After his confrontation with the beast, Simon comes down the mountain to impart his new knowledge to the others. This is in itself another symbolic occurrence, significant to the depth of the allegory.

Simon’s descent can bring to mind Moses coming down from Mount Sinai with the covenant. Just as Moses found the Israelites worshipping a golden calf, Simon finds the hunters reliving the pig hunt (Dick, “Golding” 24). It can also be interpreted as him coming down the mountain “as Christ after the transfiguration” (Swisher 36). He is unable to deliver his news, however, as upon his arrival he is caught up in the boys savage reenactment of the killing of the pig and is mistaken for the beast. Simon is killed in this tribe-like dance, a fate that is as “ironic as it is inevitable”(Swisher 71).

He is killed as the beast, while trying to impart that there is no beast. “Kill the beast! Cut his throat! Spill his blood! ” The sticks fell and the mouth of the new circle crunched and screamed. The beast was on its knees in the center, its arms folded over its face. It was crying out against the abominable noise something about a body on the hill (152). The most gentle, compassionate, and unbeastly of the boys is mistaken for the beast and killed by a frenzied crowd, as Christ was killed by the Jews who thought him to be a blasphemer and a false prophet.

This reenactment of Christ’s crucifixion by Christian boys in a sense defeats the purpose of Christ’s sacrifice. Christ’s suffering was in vain if his followers turn to evil and fail to recognize goodness. (This is further evidence that the beast exists within the boys themselves and not as an independent entity. ) At the moment of Simon’s death, the wind lifts the body of the parachutist and carries him across the beach and out to sea, terrifying the boys. The Bible describes the terrifying events that occurred when Christ died.

Then the curtain hanging in the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split apart, the graves broke open and many of God’s people who had died were raised to life” (Matthew 27. 51). The wind carrying the dead parachutist out to sea, symbolizing the dead rising from their graves, is a miraculous event. While the boys left Simon’s body unattended on the beach, Joseph of Arimathea carefully prepared Jesus’s body, wrapped him in a linen sheet, and placed him in a tomb. In Simon’s case it was nature, or perhaps the supernatural, that filled the role of Joseph of Arimathea.

Along the shoreward edge of the shallows the advancing clearness was full of strange, moonbeam-bodied creatures with fiery eyes. Here and there a larger pebble clung to its own air and was covered with a coat of pearls. The tide swelled over the rain-pitted sand and smoothed everything with a layer of silver. Now it touched the first of the stains that seeped from the broken body and the creatures made a moving patch of light as they gathered at the edge. The water rose further and dressed Simon’s ‘coarse hair with brightness.

The line of his cheek silvered and the turn of his shoulders became sculptured marble. The strange attendant creatures, with their fiery eyes and trailing vapors, busied themselves round his head. The body lifted a fraction of an inch from the sand and a bubble of air escaped from the mouth with a wet plop. . . Softly, surrounded by a fringe of inquisitive bright creatures, itself a silver shape beneath the steadfast constellations, Simon’s dead body moved out towards the open sea (154). With this beautiful and moving passage, Golding emphasizes Simon’s importance and the significance of his death.

The moon-beamed bodied creatures are the waves, gently washing the body of Simon and wrapping him not in linen, but symbolically, as Nelson says, “in pearls, silver and marble in token of the richness of his love for the other children” (Nelson 86). In death, Simon’s body is transformed and recreated as a work of art with the forces of nature acting as the sculptor, according to Reilly, “to confer what the artist has always claimed to be able to confer: immortality upon otherwise condemned flesh” (Reilly 121).

With this symbolic transformation, Simon has become immortal and unchanging. His body floating out to sea untouched by human hands and surrounded by symbolic angels (the “inquisitive bright creatures”) reminds one of Christ’s ascension into heaven. Carried bodily into heaven, Simon is free of the corruption and the decay that awaits mere mortals; he has escaped the Lord of the Flies. Despite the hope of the early Christians, Jesus’s coming and crucifixion has not led to a heaven on earth. There is still war and death; famine and disease are still with us.

Likewise, Simon’s death did not end the troubles on the island (Boyd 17). Piggy, blind symbolically as well as literally, is killed when he tries to retrieve the conch from the evil Jack. To Piggy, the myth of the conch’s power is very real even though the boys created the myth (Reilly123). He retrieves the conch, thinking it will protect him and give him power. It is no protection, though, from the boulder that crushes his body. Piggy’s corpse is also carried away by the sea, but it is a different sea then that that claimed Simon.

Then the sea breathed again in a long slow sigh, the water boiled white and pink over the rock; and when it went, sucking back again, the body of Piggy was gone” (181). The mystical Simon was transfigured, but Piggy, a vulgar product of society, is simply sucked away (Reilly 124). Ralph, who understood Simon better than any of the other boys, can be seen as Simon’s disciple. Like the early Christians, he is hunted and probably would have been martyred if not for the arrival of the rescuers. Lord of the Flies, full of Christian imagery and symbolism, in the end has a very humanistic lesson: if the beast is within us we can contain him.

Rather than being under the influence of a supernatural devil, we are confronted with our own original sin and depravity. Once removed from the bounds and rules of civilization we have a strong tendency to revert to uncaring and self-centered animalism. As Golding illustrates with Simon, though, there is goodness within us as well. If that goodness is reinforced, as it is in the more enlightened societies of the world, we have hope of overcoming the evil. Still, the darkness is there and we ignore it at our peril.

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