Lord of the Flies: The Symbolism of the Clothing


The novel, Lord of the Flies, written by William Golding, is a very symbolic piece of literature. Most of the symbols are easy to identify and explain. One exception, however, is the clothing, which is mainly overlooked, because in our society, clothing is a part of our everyday lives. Consequently, when we read, we sometimes dismiss clothing symbolization. In the novel, clothes symbolize order, rules, and democracy. The clothing is a symbol of society that becomes extinct. Since the boys are from boarding school, they all come in uniforms, which illustrate the rules and order of their society. The disappearances of their clothing represent a mirroring of their discarding of civilization and a descent into barbarity. The choir robes and preparatory school uniforms also serve to highlight the “angelic” innocence of the boys before the barbarous nature, only a little below the surface in most of us, begins to emerge. As the boys’ clothing turns to rags, their order turns to chaos, and their rules are disregarded, and their system of democracy is overthrown and replaced with a fascist leader.

First, when the boys arrive on the island, they realize there are no adults to tell them what to do or how to behave. Most of the boys remove some or all of their clothing to go swimming or because of the heat. This shows right off that when clothes are removed so are the rules. Ralph calls an assembly by blowing the conch, and the boys come dressed “in school uniforms: grey, blue, fawn, jacketed and jerseyed. There are badges, mottoes, strips of color in stockings and pullovers” (19). The last to arrive at the assembly were Jack and his choir boys. Each boy in the choir group is wearing a square black cap with a silver badge on it. Their bodies from neck to ankle are hidden by black cloaks, which bare a long silver cross on the left breast, and each neck is finished with a hambone frill. Jack, the boy who controls the group, is dressed the same way, except his cap’s badge is golden (21). The symbol of the golden badge on the clothing shows the authority that Jack has in the group. Since the boys are dressed in their school uniforms, they are orderly. They show this by listening and sitting quietly. At this assembly Ralph is voted to be chief, which shows democracy is established.

Second, as the boys clothes start to wear away to rags, their rules start to fade. As the rules and responsibilities are handed out by Ralph, the disregards to these rules are clearly, seen. The boys clothing becomes extremely filthy. They are dirty, not with the filth of boys who have fallen into the mud, but with filth of the environment. Not one of the boys are subject to a bath, and yet---- hair, too long, tangled here and there, knotted round a dead leaf or a twig; faces cleaned fairly well by the process of eating and sweating, but marked in the less accessible angles with a kind of shadow; clothes, worn away, stiff like his own with sweat, put on not for decorum or comfort but out of custom (121). The boys did not see themselves as dirty; they grew accustomed to the way they looked and smelled; which shows their descent into savagery. Jack is the first boy to become savage. When he is at his most savage moments, he is described as having little clothing on. For instance, when he is hunting, “except for a pair of tattered shorts held up by his knife-belt, he is naked” (52), when Jack’s tribe raids Ralph’s, he is, “stark naked save for paint and a belt” (155), and when he is beating Wilfred for no apparent reason, he is, “naked to the waist” (176). All these describe Jack and the way he dresses, when he is most savagery. The paint that he wears as clothing represents wildness, beastness, and savageness. Jack is the one, who replaces Ralph’s democratic system with his own fascist one by gaining control of the majority of the boys. He gains control of the boys for reason of either by the boys having the desire to survive or by the terror and fear they have of the beast and Jack. Ralph is the least savage of the boys after Simon is killed. He tries to restore order within his own tribe. Ralph’s major point is that they need to be clean. Ralph states, “Supposing we go looking like we used to wash and hair brushed---after all we are not savages really” (189). He clearly associates being orderly with being clean and properly dressed.

Finally, the boys are rescued by a naval officer. The naval officer is dressed in “a huge peaked cap. It is white—topped cap, and above the green shade of the peak was a crown, an anchor, and a golden foliage.” The officer apparel is described as having a white drill,epaulettes, revolver, and a row of gilt buttons down the front of his uniform” (221). As soon as the boys see this clean uniformed man, order is restored. The officer takes the boys back to civilization, clean clothes and rules, only after they have a good cry.

In conclusion, we can see the more clothing the boys lost the more savage they became. People in everyday situations, but with little clothing act similar to the boys in the story, although they are not as savage. For instance, look at the way children take off their fancy or church clothes to go out and play. Subconsciously, they see clothing as order and rules. Even when we are wearing comfortable and flattering clothes, as opposed, to fancy clothing that are not comfortable and/or unflattering, people act accordingly. The clothes we wear or do not wear dictates our willingness to follow rules and indicates whether or not we are able of to be part of society.

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