The Lord of the Flies: The Symbolism of Piggy’s Glasses


William Golding’s The Lord of the Flies was first published in 1954 after being rejected by twenty publishers. The book became a bestseller in the UK and the USA and is widely regarded as a seminal work of literature that is still regularly studied as part of school curricula.

Golding spoke about how the evils of WWII and the savagery of the Nazis were the catalysts for his novel, which concerns a group of schoolboys who find themselves stranded on a desert island after their airplane crashes into the ocean.

Chapter four of the novel is a key turning point in the story, and we focus on it below, with a particular eye on the symbolism of Piggy’s glasses in this chapter and beyond.

Chapter Four: Painted Faces and Long Hair

Shifting Power Dynamics

By chapter four of the novel, the boys are beginning to settle into the rhythms of life on the island. The power dynamics have shifted as a direct consequence of the idea of electing a leader in the first chapter.

The older boys, such as Jack, Ralph, Simon, and Roger, have a higher status within the group, while the generic ‘littluns’ are almost a faceless, generic under-society, often suffering persecution at the hands of some of the crueler older children. The overweight Piggy, with his full-rim glasses and asthma, has become firmly ensconced in the role of the community outcast.

The Hunt

As chapter four progresses, Jack becomes obsessed with the idea of hunting and killing a pig. He, along with several other boys, eventually resolves to carry out this plan, entering the jungle with camouflaged faces.

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While they’re gone, Ralph and Piggy, from the beach, spot a ship in the distance but are dismayed to see that the signal fire has been allowed to go out. Jack and the hunters had been charged with maintaining it. Racing to the top of the hill, Ralph cannot rekindle the fire in time, and the boat sails over the horizon.

When the hunters return, chanting and carrying a dead pig, they are too jubilant about their success to pay much heed to Ralph’s remarks. However, when Piggy rails at Jack’s immaturity, the latter slaps the former hard, causing his glasses to fall to the ground.

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One of the lens fractures, leaving Piggy with vision in just one eye.

‘Kill the Pig, Cut her Throat’

An argument breaks out. Jack eventually apologizes to Ralph for allowing the fire to go out – but there is no apology to Piggy. When a great fire is built, Ralph goes to Piggy, taking the boy’s glasses to focus the sun’s rays through the lens to spark flames. It works.

The pig is roasted, and it seems as if Piggy will not be given any of the meat; Simon, however, takes pity on him and offers him his own slice, provoking Jack’s anger.

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After feasting, the hunters and some of the other boys dance and caper around the blaze, reenacting the hunt, excited at the inherent savagery. Ralph, troubled, calls a meeting and walks away down the mountain to the beach.

The Meaning of Piggy’s Glasses in Chapter Four

In The Lord of the Flies, Piggy’s spectacles symbolize civilization and are linked to reasoning and logical thinking, key traits of the boy’s character. As the threads that bind the boys to their previous lives begin the fray on the island, the veer of civilization peels away, too. In chapter four, the breaking of Piggy’s glasses lens indicates the fundamental snapping of one of these threads, as the boys, covered in dried blood and with painted faces, dance around the fire.

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Things are starting to fall apart, and the breaking of Piggy’s spectacles represents the defeat of intellectual thought.

The fact that at this point, one lens remains clear, however, shows that the outcome of the battle between civilization and wildness has not been decided. There are still other boys who, like Piggy, are doing their best to remain rational.

The Stealing of the Glasses

Later in the book, Jack steals Piggy’s glasses, leaving him totally sightless. This represents the final turning of the tide: Ralph and his group no longer have the power to light a fire and signal for help, and the link to civilization has been completely cut. Like Piggy, this group has no way to find its way out of the situation, while Jack’s hunters have gained power through their possession of the spectacles and what they represent.

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Savagery has triumphed over civilization.

Final Thoughts: The Beast Within

Ultimately, The Lord of the Flies is an exploration of the thinness of the line between civilization and savagery and the darkness that can lie dormant within the human heart. As the story progresses, the head of a dead pig is stuck on a stake as an offering to the ‘beast’ that most of the boys have become convinced stalks the island.

Simon, coming upon the staked head in the clearing, thinks it speaks to him: ‘Fancy thinking the Beast was something you could hunt and kill!

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… You knew, didn’t you? I’m part of you?’

Will Beaumont
Will Beaumont
Will is the Deputy Editor at EC The Hub. He previously worked as a content editor for EC The Hub and wrote articles on various topics including Entertainment, Celebrity, and  Technology News. He kick-started his career in journalism in 2013, after working for a few years as a Middle-school teacher. He is the Deputy Editor for EC The Hub for over three years now. Outside his professional work, he likes to watch movies and listen to music.

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