Nature Settings: Symbolism and Shaping Perception
Natural occurrences are often portrayed in literature as accurate reflections of mankind’s actions. In William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, the weather patterns frequently correspond to the happenings on the island. Upon the arrival of the schoolboys, the island is plagued by destruction caused by their irresponsible actions. On various other occasions, the weather predicts coming incidents, including death and rescue. Natural occurrences often serve as visual representations of how the boys feel. However, the first evident connection between the boys and the natural setting is the destruction that the characters inflict on the island.
The instant the boys arrive, they immediately disturb the bliss on the island and begin to destroy the natural and pristine setting. Upon the children’s arrival, they create “the scar” which is the location where the plane crashed. This event is the first form of damage they inflict on the island. Shortly after their arrival the boys begin to adapt to their surroundings; Ralph creates the idea of a signal fire, which the boys quickly agree to. Despite the good sense behind this new feature, their placement of it was thoughtless. This lack of judgement leads to the first forest fire: “Beneath the dark canopy of leaves and smoke the fire laid hold on the forest and began to gnaw. Acres of black and yellow smoke rolled steadily toward the sea” (44). Because this idea was not well thought through, it contributed to the destruction of the island. And this was not the only occasion when fire caused havoc on an isolated location as a result of their actions. Later, the savage boys on the island are overpowered by the need to kill Ralph and almost kill themselves in the process. In the attempt to assassinate him, a forest is set on fire once again, but far more severely this time: “Now the fire was nearer; those volleying shots were great limbs, trunks even, bursting. The fools!” (198). The absent-minded decisions the boys have made have further pushed the island toward complete ruin. In addition to setting the fires, the boys also affect the well-being of the island through their shifts of attitude. The boys quickly become lazy and ignore the rules put in place in order to help maintain the purity of the land, leading them to contaminate the island with man-made waste: “We chose those rocks right along the bathing pool as a lavatory. That was sensible too.” (80). Specifically here, the younger characters are becoming careless of the rules, corrupting the cleanliness of the island with their own pollution.
The next key reason that will establish the connection between nature and the boys is the foreshadowing created by the depictions of weather. As the island is quickly established as a Utopian paradise, any change of weather is easy to notice, further showing the change of the proper school boys into savages. The first significant alteration in the weather involves the clouds forming above the land: “Over the island the buildup of clouds continued” (145). Due to the fact that the island sky is consistently clear, the clouds become more meaningful when presented in this scenario. The darkness that forms over the island enhances Simon’s terrible position, and the negative energy around him foreshadows more doom to come. During the final battle between the savages and Ralph, the sun appears once again, adding hope to the sense of doom within the situation: “He could see the sun-splashed ground over an area of perhaps fifty yards from where he lay, and as he watched, the sunlight in every patch blinked at him” (197). Since the sun is a symbolic representation of a hero and light symbolically represents hope, the shining of sunlight foreshadows the near rescue from the Navy officers.
The collective emotional state of the boys is also reflected by the natural settings on more than one occasion. At the time that the boys arrive, the setting is bright and beautiful: “The shore was fledged with palm trees. These stood or leaned or reclined against the light and their green feathers were a hundred feet up in the air” (9). When the boys enter this location, they become overjoyed with their new-found freedom and with the absence of adult authority. The overwhelming euphoria in this situation is expressed by the surroundings. Although the weather often reflects the optimism and joy in certain situations, it can have a negative association as well. When the boys kill Simon, the weather changes to mirror the savage action they have just completed: “Then the clouds opened and let down the rain like a waterfall. The water bounded from the mountain top, tore leaves and branches from the trees, poured like a cold shower” (153). The rain in this instant is used to encompass a variety of emotions. Sorrow, an impulse commonly associated with rain, is present in this situation due to the loss of an innocent child. The guilt in this scenario is only felt by those who have remained civilized; the rain symbolizes the overcoming rush of emotions perceived by those in grief. Yet violence is demonstrated by the savages in this scene as they attack Simon viciously: “At once the crowd surged after it, poured down the rock, leapt on to the beast, screamed, struck, bit, tore” (153). The description of the boys murdering Simon is represented by how violently the rain is striking the island, hence giving the same uncontrollable characteristic to both savage and civilized. As the physical deterioration of the island occurs, the mental deterioration of the boys is also occurring, further creating the connection between the settings and the characters.
Within Golding’s narrative, the connection between the young boys and natural setting is significant due to the effects that these two aspects of the narrative exert on one another. As the boys destroy their temporary home with reckless ideas, they are leaving a physical impact on the island that reflects their inner feelings. The environment not only parallels the past actions of the boys, but also predicts the boys’ future actions as well. Essentially, the weather and setting act as mirrors–and frighteningly lucid ones–for many of the children’s emotions.
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