Struggle & Symbols of Power- LOTF Essay

Michal Czapla

Ms. Pahomov

English 2

25 March 2019

Struggle And Symbols Of Power

How is a leader chosen? In most scenarios, people in a society analyze their potential candidates based off of their credibility and vote for who will actually make a difference. However, when people are in desperate times, their way of deciding who is in charge is less logical and more based off of characteristics they think resemble success. In the novel Lord of the Flies, William Golding tells the story of a group of boys who are stranded on a deserted island. They need to build their own civilization, and successfully do so, but ultimately destroy that same functioning society. During this time, the boys were in need of an “adult figure” to look up to for leadership, and placed power in the hands of those who represented authority. This demonstrates that when people find themselves in times of struggle, they follow people with symbolic power rather than logic and reasoning.

In the beginning of the novel, a boy named Ralph blows a conch in order to signal for anyone else on the island to meet up. When the rest of the boys eventually meet up, they decide that an election of a leader is needed to better themselves in this desperate survival situation. The boys gather around in a circle, where they consider their options and notice, But there was a stillness about Ralph as he sat that marked him out: there was his size, and attractive appearance; and most obscurely, yet most powerfully, there was the conch(Golding 22). The fact that they are viewing aspects of Ralph, such as his “size, and attractive appearance”, as a way of deciding that he should be their chief shows that they associate those things with leadership. They also believe that since Ralph is the one that holds the conch, an item that is regarded as a symbol of power throughout the book, he is the one whose voice should be listened to. Those are symbols of leadership to the boys, which give them hope and lead them to believe that Ralph will, therefore, get them out of this struggle of surviving on the island. They are not taking credentials into account, such as Jack being in charge of the choir, which is told later in the scene. One may infer that this could be due immaturity, but their ability to carry out an actual election and organize a meeting challenges that, so the boys are capable of using logic. However, since logic is no longer a factor anymore, their view of leadership and struggle thus go hand in hand.

Former President Barack Obama’s 2008 election was successful for a couple of reasons. Voters and citizens generally found themselves in distress after the Bush administration and were in need of someone to look up to who could give them hope. Obama’s election was largely powered by the symbols evident throughout his 2007 campaign. One of those symbols was his tone and speech-making, which is described by Matt Taibbi when he stated on ,"I've been on the fence about Obama for more than two years now, ever since his breakout performance at the Democratic convention in '04. When I saw that speech -- an iconic piece of inspired nonsense/political showmanship, one that set flashbulbs popping like Michael Jordan's virtuoso 1988 dunk contest performance -- I knew right away that he would be the Democratic presidential nominee someday, perhaps even in the next election cycle.” Matt Taibbi is showing the idea of symbolism swaying his decision. He first states how he was “on the fence” about Obama, meaning he wasn’t sure if he was a sound candidate credentially. However, his mind changed about him when he saw his speech, which caught his attention. The flashy nature of the speech described by Taibbi that “set flashbulbs popping like Michael Jordan's virtuoso 1988 dunk contest performance” acted as a symbol that he would bring fresh and new ideas, which made him come to the conclusion that he would become America’s new leader. This links back to the election of Ralph because this power of symbolism is crucial when swaying the people, or voters, one way or the other. He never talks about the actual points that Obama promised to make or how possible his ideas are because he’s drawn towards him based off of his symbolic power only.

Even after an election occurs, people refuse to then analyze the leader using logic and continue to look up to the symbols. Later in the story, the boys on the island have gotten past the election, having already selected Ralph as leader, and are all attempting to fit into their new environment. The littluns, or younger boys, struggle in this new place as they suffer untold terrors from the dark and cry for their mothers. In the book Golding writes, “They obeyed the summons of the conch, partly because Ralph blew it, and he was big enough to be a link with the adult world of authority; and partly because they enjoyed the entertainment of the assemblies” (59). After continuously struggling with things like nightmares and loss of their family, the boys need a person to look up to and trust. They continue to obey their elected leader Ralph because of the symbolic power they see in him. The conch is still being used as a key symbol of power that the boys are drawn towards. Also, Ralph’s large appearance and beauty previously described in the book comes into play here as the boys find that as a symbol or “link with the adult world of authority”, making him the best person to follow. Since Ralph is big and resembles an adult, the boys use that as a symbol and believe that he is able to create the same effect that an adult would in terms of comforting them from their terrors and such.

This connects back to Obama’s campaign since people continued to recognize his symbolic power as a reason to support him even after he was elected as leader, just like Ralph. On the day of his presidency announced, American voters were head over heels as they talked about what this meant for America’s future. Brian Braddy from Chicago told CNN reporters, "I believe in [Obama] because he's younger, so he sees things differently, I hope" (Quijano). This idea of Obama bringing in fresh ideas because of his youthfulness continued to be a reason for voters to come to the conclusion that he will make new changes to the country. In comparison to the Lord of the Flies, Ralph’s physical appearance and the conch persisted as symbols of maturity and power, which were reasons for the boys to believe he would lead them out of their struggle by being a comforting adult figure. Brian Braddy, in particular, highlights the connection between Obama being “younger” and “seeing things differently” compared to George Bush during his presidency. He even adds the “I hope” at the end of his sentence, which further provides evidence that there is no actual logic behind the choice but rather that they’re hoping that this symbol associated with Obama will actually solve the country’s issues.

In conclusion, desperate times can cause people to feel lost and distraught, and their judgment in choosing a leader is altered from logic and reasoning to using symbols they find in people. Ralph’s leadership in Lord of the Flies was successful for as long as it lasted largely in part of the symbolism of power from his size, attractive appearance, and possession of the conch. This is similar to the success of Barack Obama’s 2007 campaign and 2008 election as American voters saw his speechmaking and young appearance as symbols of power as well, which also drew them closer to him. In both instances, the followers thought that the symbolic power of these people were good enough to help them out of the turmoil that they found themselves in. However, this type of decision-making can be detrimental as people who aren’t qualified to be leaders can be chosen and hurt society.

Works Cited

Golding, William. Lord of the Flies. Penguin Books, 2006.

Taibbi, Matt. “Obama Is the Best BS Artist Since Bill Clinton.”, Rolling Stone, 24 July 2012,

Quijano, Elaine, et al. “Obama Win Sparks Celebrations Outside White House.” CNN, Cable News Network, 0 Nov. 2008, 8:48 a.m.,