In literature, a common symbol typically arises to convey an important message. The symbol often follows the characters and changes along with them. In Lord of the Flies, by William Golding, a story following a group of boys as they are stranded on an uninhabited island in the midst of World War II. A conch shell that one of the boys finds plays an important role throughout the story, symbolizing the only sense of peace and authority. Along with this, it also demonstrates how quickly and effortlessly those senses can be lost. Over the course of the novel, the conch shell progresses from symbolizing peace and authority to loss of order and civility when the conch is shattered, demonstrating that without rules, people revert back to their primal ways.
The conch shell begins as symbolizing peace and authority among the boys. The shell conveys a sense of power as well keeping the boys together. Piggy and Ralph, the first two boys who find each other on the island, discover the conch. Piggy advises Ralph to blow into the shell to call for other boys. After a while, the shell becomes known as a fragile symbol of power: “The being that had blown that, had sat waiting for them on the platform with the delicate thing balanced on his knees, was set apart’ (Golding 22). The boy who has the conch is evidently set apart from the rest of them and gives him the defining power of a leader of conversation. To them, speaking represents authority and power.
Once more boys arrive, they universally decide that whoever holds the conch is the one who is allowed to speak at the time. Conversations begin and end with the conch: “Ceremonially, Ralph laid the conch on the trunk beside him as a sign that the speech was over” (82). The ending of a conversation following the conch being put aside represents the peace it brings among the boys. The conch’s validity is recognized among the boys and is important to them because it is the only rule that they really have. The conch is primarily important to Piggy. He was seen as an outcast because of his mannerisms.
Throughout the story, even as the other boys slowly diminish the conch’s validity, Piggy keeps it close to him and enforces the original rules set around the shell: ““Piggy sought in his mind words to convey his passionate willingness to carry the conch against all odds” (Golding 172). Piggy’s connection to the conch was so deeply rooted within him. His respect for the conch was much larger that of the rest of the boys. He loved it so much because he had always been pushing the rules surrounding the conch onto the others because he stood for order and civility. Over all, the conch signifies power and peace among the chaos.
By the end of the novel, not only is the conch shell is shattered, but so are the boys senses of peace and authority. The shell has a newfound purpose- a symbol of the lack of order and civility. As the novel progresses, the shell slowly begins to lose its validity, especially with Jack, who didn’t enjoy following the rules to begin with: “‘Conch! Conch!’ shouted Jack. ‘We don’t need the conch anymore’” (Golding 101). It is slowly losing it power and the boys are starting to disregard it. When Piggy holds up the conch to remind the boys how powerful the shell is to the boys once again, they ignore it: “Piggy held up the conch and booing sagged a little, then came up to strength again” (Golding, 179). He attempts to silence their booing, and while they slow down for a moment and question the conch, they soon begin the negative commentary again, booing and showing how they have truly lost their sense of peace and authority.
Lastly, the shell breaks in due course with Piggy’s death. Piggy is known as the softer boy among the group of them. He desires an organized civilization between them. The conch shell, which represented the order that Piggy admires, shatters when Piggy is killed: “The breaking of the conch and the deaths of Piggy and Simon lay over the island like a vapor. These painted savages would go further and further” (Golding 204). The shattering of the shell and Piggy’s demise sparks an outbreak of savagery over the island and among the boys.The change of symbolism associated with the conch shell is prominent throughout the last chapters of the novel
Without rules, the boys in the novel revert back to their primal ways. The existence of the conch shell as well as the shattering of it demonstrates this. Piggy and Ralph initially decide to create a set of rules surrounding the conch shell they find. The rules, which include one person being able to talk at a time as well as blowing through the shell to call all the boys, has given the boys a structure to follow rather than allowing them to revert to their ways in a time without rules. When the conch shell shatters into tiny fragments, it marks the end of their civilization. Soon after, Piggy is the first to experience the worst of what happens when mankind reverts to its primal instincts when he is killed by one of their own. Only a few of the boys were able to keep their morals intact. Those who didn’t had perfectly represented what the world would be like without rules to abide by in the novel by showing that they naturally succumbed to their instincts.Rules kept the band of boys civilized and controlled.
Societies need order and civility to be able to flourish. Order is established by setting rules in place and civility is retained by possession of morals. When these concepts are replaced with their contrary, mankind loses control of its senses and reverts back to its primal ways of living. The band of boys in Lord of the Flies soon diminish their sense of order and civility and become beasts. They are quick to engage in acts of savagery and barbarity, with some boys the victims of others. The order and civility the boys initially desire rests upon the conch. The shell is a perfect representation of these concepts, and when it shatters, so do the most crucial elements in keeping up a society.
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