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The Symbolism That Lies Behind the Murder of the Sow

In the novel, ‘Lord of the Flies’, the killing of the sow is a pivotal moment whereby the boys reach a point of no return; they have lost themselves completely and are now so immersed in savagery that there is no turning back. Golding emphasises this by ensuring this moment is symbolic in many ways. In this essay I will analyse and explore the linguistic techniques and structural elements of Golding’s writing to determine the ways in which Golding makes this such a symbolic moment in the novel.

Golding demonstrates the sheer frustration amongst the boys that is finally surfacing as a result of such a long period on the island. Golding describes how the sow was ‘in deep maternal bliss’, the power abstract noun ‘bliss’ creating a moment that is sacred and beautiful. However, this is quickly disrupted as the boys attack her, and Golding describes how they were ‘wedded in lust’. Whilst the lexis ‘lust’ has sinister and indeed immoral connotations, it seems the boys’ bloodlust at this point is a silent cry for help – it illustrates the boys’ frustration with being on the island alone, without any parental guidance or control. Golding’s choice of a sow as the victim of the boy’s hunt is deliberate and significant; the sow had been her nursing her young when she was ripped away from them and killed. In the same way, the boys were ripped away from their parents. The fate of the nursing sow is symbolic of the boys’ situation on the island. Thus it could be argued that this moment foreshadows the fate of some, if not all, of the boys on the island. Furthermore, Golding’s choice of the lexis ‘wedded’ is poignant in that it something usually associated with marriage. Here, Golding’s intention was to demonstrate the extent to which the boys have lost their innocence, as he implies that the boys are ‘in love’ with the idea of killing the sow, committed in a way that is extremely difficult to overcome. On a metaphorical level, this could be symbolic of an inescapable need to serve justice by taking something from the island, since it’s taken their safety, freedom and now their innocence.

Furthermore, in describing the killing of the sow, Golding uses language that clearly symbolises a human rape scene. Golding illustrates how ‘the sow fell and the hunters hurled themselves at her’, the violent verb ‘hurled’ indicating that the hunters do more than simply kill the pig; this sow is violated by Jack and his hunters, indeed a horrific experience for the reader, who at this point feels disgust at how immensely brutal the boys have become. This symbolic rape is another form of depravity which occurs because there are no longer any restraints on the hunters’ behaviour, Golding’s intention in choosing to symbolise rape being to create yet another example of how innate evil has surfaced amongst these boys, again defeating the good in them. The gender-specific pronoun ‘her’ is significant here because traditionally women are seen as weaker than men and historically are the most vulnerable victims of rape. Golding’s choice of a female pig is a symbol of the initial weakness or apprehension that the boys experienced when attempting to kill the pig. Now, they not only kill the pig, but do so in an extremely violent and sinister way; Golding’s intention at this point was to reveal the extent to which the boys have transcended the boundaries of good, into those of evil.

Additionally, Golding’s creates the symbol of the pig’s head, impaled on a stick, to represent temptation and evil. Jacks determines that the ‘head is for the beast. It’s a gift’, demonstrating how the boys are now totally submissive to evil, something that they now relish and indeed honour, as demonstrated by the lexis ‘gift’. Golding’s intention in choosing specifically the head of the sow as a symbol of the beast and of evil was to give this concept a clear identity. The fact that this identity was brought about by the savagery of the boys, is a subtle indication to the reader that the boys have now accepted, or even welcomed, the evil that is inside of the them. This is significant because for the duration of the novel up until this point the boys have been terrified of the beast, but now they have, albeit unconsciously, discovered that the beast is in fact themselves, they are now longer frightened – to the extent that they are honouring it with a ‘gift’. This is demonstrated also when Golding describes how ‘the sow collapsed under them and they were heavy and fulfilled upon her’, this momentous climax, with the desperate tone of the verb ‘collapsed’, mirroring that of a religious sacrifice. Golding’s intention here being to highlight that the boys didn’t kill the sow for their own satisfaction, but for that of the beast, something which, at this point, it seems they worship, rather than fear.

In conclusion, this point in the novel is pivotal in that the reader is able to truly appreciate the detrimental effects that being stranded has had on the group of boys, marking a turning point from which, in terms of the boys’ innocence, there is no return. Here, Golding creates many symbols of evil, temptation and the hopelessness of the fate of the boys on the island. Thus, it is through his successful employment of rhetorical devices that Golding is able to make this moment in the novel so symbolic.

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