In the novel Lord of the Flies, William Golding explores the savagery and bloodlust in humanity. Written right after the end of World War II, this narrative depicts roughly 40 children as they try to stay alive on a desert island in the middle of a new war. As the story progresses, the children turn to violence and fear to solve their problems, and in the midst of all the chaos and death, there is always the presence of water, like a beast lurking in the shadows. On the other hand, water enlightens and preservers life around the island, like a motherly figure. In Lord of the Flies, the prevalent water imagery expresses the theme that duality exists in everyone and everything.
Water, like humanity, can quickly change from a placid and nurturing force to an agent of destruction. As Ralph and Jack, two 14-year-old boys who lead the rest of the boys, look for the beast, they stumble across a lagoon. They search for the beast in order to find and kill it to ensure the comfort and safety of the other kids. Golding says, “Then the sleeping leviathan breathed out the waters rose, the weed streamed, and the water boiled over the table rock with a roar. There was no sense of the passage of waves’ only this minute-long fall and rise and fall,” (Golding, 105). By describing the lagoon as a “sleeping leviathan”, Golding shows the immense power contained in the water. Leviathan is an ancient sea monster, and just like any monster, it has the ability to change the entire landscape in a minute. The sleeping leviathan represents everyday society as we go through our daily lives. The breathing in and out of water serves as a metaphor for the beginning and end of each day. Golding writes, “There was no sense of the passage of waves,” just like we lose our sense of the passage of time as we go throughout our day. The “minute-long fall and rise” shows the repetition of societal life. On the other hand, this sleeping leviathan can wake up and suddenly let out its anger, just as humanity lets out its anger during national or international crisis. In the middle of the night, Simon, a 12-year old kid, finds out that the beast is a pig head on a stick. He decides to run and tell the others, but they mistaken him as the beast and brutally rip him apart. Immediately afterwards, rain starts destroying the island. Golding says, “Then the clouds opened and let down the rain like a waterfall. The water bounded from the mountaintop, tore leaves and branches from the trees, poured like a cold shower over the struggling heap on the sand,” (Golding, 153). The rain represents the anger and destruction brought on by the children as they kill Simon. The rain is so powerful that it “tore leaves and branches from the trees”. In contrast to the sleeping giant, this leviathan is fully awake. Ironically, the children cause the immense rain to fall because they slaughter Simon. Their anger leads to their own demise and death. These actions relate to World War 2 because the Nazis’ anger and hatred only lead to the destruction of their empire in the end. The Allies of the war are the raindrops that break the life of the island, similar to the bombings in Germany. Golding suggests that when something as bad as the death of innocent life happens, moral society will take a stand and fight for its rights.
Water calls into contrast a grievous death, and a shocking death, similar to those of World War II. As the other children walk away from the scene of the crime, Simon lies dead on the beach. Golding describes the movement of his body like a funeral progression. He writes, “…the advancing clearness was full of strange, moonbeam-bodied creatures with fiery eyes… 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 toward the open sea,” (Golding, 154). Golding describes Simon’s death similar to death of a war hero. Additionally, the “moonbeam-bodied creatures” represent the honoring of this hero; they honor him by taking him back to the sea, identical to the funeral progression of a war hero as other soldiers put the hero in a casket. On the other hand, the creatures cannot show their anger during this ceremony and must contain their anger in their “fiery eyes.” While Simon’s death symbolizes a funeral, Piggy’s death shows the quick and surprising death on the battlefield. After Jack takes control of the rest of the children, Ralph decides to confront him and reestablish peace. However, in doing so, Jack becomes angry and throws a rock at Ralph. Jack misses, but he hits Piggy instead. Golding says, “Piggy fell forty feet and landed on his back across the square red rock in the sea…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,” (Golding, 181). The “long, slow sigh” of the sea represents the immediate grief felt as Piggy dies. Also, unlike Simon’s death where there were creatures to help him, Piggy just gets swept away. This quick death symbolizes the death on the battlefield; during World War II, many soldiers were similarly killed and quickly forgotten, because there were too many to count.
Water becomes the struggle between the future and the present. As Ralph, walks across the beaches of the island, he thinks to himself. Golding writes, “Suddenly, pacing by the water, he was overcome with astonishment. He found himself understanding the wearisomeness of this life, where every path was an improvisation and a considerable part of one’s waking life was spent watching one’s feet,” (Golding, 76). Just like the continuous change of the ocean, Ralph must change his outlook on life in order to survive on the island. He sees his own future in the sand as it shifts back and forth by the tidal waves. Ralph also realizes the unpredictability of life and how, since it is always changing, is impossible to anticipate. Additionally, the “improvisation” of each path symbolizes the quick adjustments he must make. Just like improvisation in art or music, he cannot prepare for the distant future, and can only adapt to the present. This statement also explains why Golding believes so much time is, “spent watching one’s feet.” By spending so much time looking down at one’s own feet, Golding suggests that people can only prepare for the present because the future is constantly changing. Ralph represents our everyday journey through life, and each path ahead is the future. Moreover, the waves illustrate the unexpected shifts in each path ahead.
Within everything, there is a balance. In times of war, this balance can quickly shift to one side as countries cry out for hope and soldiers pile up. Golding expresses the fluidity of war, and, like the tides, the constant changes of the war. However, he still illustrates the consistent adjustments we make in our everyday lives. Water not only symbolizes the duality of life, but it also shows its fluid and ever-changing nature.