British Novel 3293-01
1 August 2001
Piggy: A Pathetic Everyman and His Symbol in Golding’s Lord of the Flies
In the midst of the tribalism to which the boys in William Golding’s Lord of the Flies revert, the character of Piggy stands out as the most rational, reason-oriented boy on the isolated Pacific Island. And for such clear-sightedness, he suffers: first at the hands of the insensitive Ralph, and later, and by far worse, the cruel Jack Merridew and his fellow hunters. Piggy stands somewhere between inaction and action, between logic and passion. That position, I maintain, identifies Piggy as the Everyman type in Golding’s fable of a society reverting to its primitive state, which demonstrates to the reader the author’s pessimistic attitude toward the Everyman who will always suffer from a rational if ineffectual position. Reason—or perhaps a reasoned, middle position in society—the novel seems to say, cannot sustain itself in the face of passion, violence, or ignorance; all of which destroy the middle way.
Throughout the novel, the advice Piggy offers to Ralph, with his rational approach to danger, such as the non-existence of ghosts or beasties in the forest, becomes evident. The most telling scenes that suggest the price for such reason in extreme situations center upon perhaps the strongest symbol in the novel: Piggy’s glasses. Although Piggy is not the one to realize that his glasses will serve as the means to life-giving and saving fire, he quickly and rightly judges the situation once the signal fire has been lit: “there wasn’t any smoke; only flame” (Perigree ed., 42). Piggy thus becomes a clear type of society, the provider and rational observer, much to the amusement of the others, who are yielding to the savagery of Jack’s tribalism, which is not rational and provides merely for itself. Much like the conch, statement of leadership and a totem for the right to speak, Piggy knows wisely how to use the instrument but is not the finder: “he blew from down here,” says Piggy, instructing Ralph as to his observation of one he witnessed blowing a conch (17). So too, his own possession, his spectacles, offers a positive means but quickly becomes the possession of others. If the conch is a symbol of power, his glasses at this point symbolize survival.
Piggy has attained his knowledge through his failings, crediting his long lay up with asthma—“I been in bed so much I done some thinking; I know about people” (93)—as the reason for his source of knowledge as to what “grown-ups” would do: “They’d meet and have tea and discuss” (94). In a governed society, perhaps they would; but the idea seems ludicrous given the inability of the boys, now led by Jack, to speak civilly or to permit discussion: “Shut up! Shut up!” becomes the repetitive chant of Jack and his clan. Piggy remains as myopic as his sight, able to grasp the greater danger but unable to act upon it: “I’m scared of him, …and that’s why I know him; …it’s like asthma an’ you can’t breathe. I tell you what. He hates you too, Ralph” (93). Knowing of his danger in relation to Jack, he still insists on some form of social formality, when, after Jack has stolen his glasses to light his own hunter’s fire, he says
I’m going to him with this conch in my hands. I’m going to hold it out. Look, I’m goin’ to say, you’re stronger than I am and you haven’t got asthma. You can see, I’m goin’ to say, and with both eyes. But I don’t ask for my glasses back, not as a favor. I don’t ask you to be a sport, I’ll say, not because you’re
strong, but because what’s right’s right. Give me my glasses, I’m going to say—you got to! (171)
As an Everyman, Piggy places too much faith in what society should do, what rational people should do, and thus he remains at the mercy of the potential tyrants such as Jack, the sadists such as Roger, and even the opportunists, such as Ralph, who first gains favor with the group by revealing Piggy’s dislike of his nickname.
The idea of an Everyman posits the notion that there are types in society. Piggy represents the middle way, the man who has become socialized by his surroundings and veers neither into complacency nor toward anarchy. Such types, Golding suggests here, are not only the stability of society, but its victims in times of chaos as well. Piggy’s glasses provide a symbol of both vision and weakness, thus identifying the Everyman. Serving only as a means toward an end, for Ralph he represents a trusted counselor, but to Jack a victim. Indeed, he becomes the battlefield for both opposite types, when Jack derides Ralph for standing up for the helpless Piggy, and for Ralph when he battles Jack’s emerging prominence as leader on the island by calling him a thief for stealing Piggy’s glasses.
In the midst of this argument, centered upon the symbol more than the person, Piggy ceases to exist, both figuratively and literally. The boulder, intentionally dislodged, knocks Piggy off the cliff, with his body taken out to sea, suggesting that reason has been totally swept off the island. In anarchy, Everyman ceases to exist, with only hunters and the hunted remaining. Piggy’s lack of purpose becomes foreshadowed when Jack strikes him, sending his glasses off his head and breaking one of the lenses on the rocks: “now I only got one eye,” Piggy cries (72). His myopia now greater than ever, he has become pathetically disposable, good only for the means toward one end—the creation of fire, a time-honored symbol for destruction and uncontrolled emotions.
In a novel replete with social types—Jack, the tyrant whose face paint offers the quickest means to remake himself in a repressed cruelty; Simon the mystic, the sacrificial victim; Ralph the good, civilized if limited leader; or Roger, the quiet sadist seeking the most favorable situation in which to strike—Piggy’s Everyman seems destined to go it alone, to fail in his rational, social trust, leaving two polar opposites to battle for supremacy. Without him, however, the civilized leader has no counsel, no vision, and no glasses by which to see a solution, leaving only the strongest to dominate and to survive. The boys’ choice of survival, not a necessity, is in the killing of pigs, the only meat on the island, and, in itself, a symbol for the destruction of Everyman.
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