Lesson Plans: Grades 6-8

Lesson 2: Symbolism in “Lord of the Flies”

Created July 15, 2015


The Lesson


In this lesson students first work with the general concept of symbolism. They then focus on four of the most dominant symbols that permeate Lord of the Flies: the island; the conch; the Lord of the Flies effigy; fire.

The island itself is a microcosm of planet Earth, alone in a vast surrounding universe with the capacity to sustain humanity, but also prone to destructive storms. From the start, the conch is associated with order and democratic government; by the end, like the group, it has faded and is shattered. The pig head on a stick is an effigy referred to as the Lord of the Flies, which becomes associated with fear, evil, and mindless destruction by mob mentality. Fire is a powerful force, containing both positive and negative archetypal associations; it provides heat and light, but it is also powerfully destructive.

Even the boys on the island can be viewed as symbols of various types of humankind, potentially destructive of the environment and to one another. Worksheet 4 extends the discussion to consider ways the boys themselves serve as symbols of different sorts of individuals. The teacher version of the worksheet presents sample material on this subject.

To complete this lesson, students need to have read the entire novel. Part of a three lesson unit on Lord of the Flies, it may be taught in sequence or stand on its own. Teachers may link to the full unit with Guiding Questions, Background and summative Assessment. Lesson 2 aligns with CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.8.1.

Learning Objectives

  • To define the literary term symbol and to analyze William Golding’s use of symbolism in Lord of the Flies

Lesson Activities

Activity 1. Major Symbols and Characters as Symbols

Have partners or individuals create visual images of the island, the conch, the Lord of the Flies effigy, and fire as it appears in Lord of the Flies. Post the images around the classroom, and allow a “gallery walk” for students to peruse them. In order for this to be a quick introductory activity, teachers may want to provide a page or chapter reference to guide students to specific sections of the text. Teachers may require students to write words, phrases, and quotations from the text to support their designs. A structured question for the gallery walk may provide focus for the class (e.g.: What emotional response does this symbol raise for the characters in the novel? Does this visual representation convey that? If so, how?)

Use familiar items to review and/or explain the nature of symbolism. (Refer to the EDSITEment glossary for a definition of symbol.) Offer and elicit examples of commonly understood symbols to illustrate the term. For example:

  • The United States flag is on one level a piece of colorful cloth decorated with stars and stripes; however, it signifies a number of commonly held national values such as unity, patriotism, and love of country. The flag can also be used to represent the ultimate sacrifice of one’s life for one’s country and/or to depict the American homeland itself.
  • A wedding ring is simply a piece of jewelry, but it is also an object laden with emotional connotations, religious meaning, and traditional values such as unending love, union of two partners, and life-long commitment to fidelity.

To extend this topic, have students devise and/or bring in examples of symbols that represent themselves or aspects of their lives. If they are comfortable with it, have them explain their choices to the class as a whole (For example, a roller coaster, full of dramatic ups and downs, can symbolize a teenager’s life. A caterpillar gradually metamorphosing into a butterfly can symbolize a young person moving from childhood into adulthood.)

Point out that Lord of the Flies presents many important and powerful symbols, including those represented by the images created by the class. Distribute Worksheet 3 and have small groups complete the exercise. Follow with whole-class discussion. Worksheet 3 (teacher version) provides suggested answers.

Explain that just as the island can be viewed as a symbol for the whole world, each character also can be seen to have symbolic dimensions representing diverse types of human individuals. If students seem to need clarification, provide Henry as an example. As Roger pelts the beach with stones, Henry can symbolize people surrounded and bewildered by hostile and potentially dangerous forces. As necessary, provide additional examples for the class.

Distribute Worksheet 4, and use it to guide discussion. Worksheet 4 (teacher version) provides sample responses.

Follow-up questions

Sometimes symbols are quite specific; at other times, they can be diffuse and hard to pin down. How specific are the symbols in the novel?

Suggested Answer: The symbols in this novel are not very obscure. Perhaps the most elusive is the Lord of the Flies effigy; despite its redolence of evil, it is really just an innocent animal’s head on a stick.

Why do the boys themselves make the conch a symbol of order and authority?

Suggested Answer: Conchs have traditionally been used to call gatherings of people. It stands to reason, those who have the power to convene such gatherings would also wield some authority over the collective tribe. As the conch in this novel is passed around to those with the right to speak, then it also takes on the aspect of bringing order to the gathering.

In a real-life catastrophe, who would be a Ralph? A Jack? A Percival? Why? In a real-life situation, who would be the naval officer at the end? Why?

Answers will vary.


Select another image in the novel (e.g., the pigs, Piggy’s glasses, the dead pilot, the lagoon, the ocean, the huts, or the storm.) Write several paragraphs discussing how that image can also be seen as a symbol. Provide evidence within the text to back up the statement.

Note: You may want to ask students to avoid looking for ideas in outside sources that deal with the novel. Emphasize that you are interested in the ideas they develop independently or as a result of conversations with one another.

The Basics

Time Required

1 class periods

Subject Areas
  • Literature and Language Arts > Genre > Common Core
  • Literature and Language Arts > Place > British
  • Literature and Language Arts > Genre > Novels
  • Critical analysis
  • Discussion
  • Expository writing
  • Literary analysis
  • Mary Anne Kovacs