Piggy and Ralph spot a conch and decide to use it to call a meeting. All right! Island society is off to a good start. The boys impose a "rule of the conch" on themselves, deciding that no one can speak unless he's holding the conch. As a representative of law and order, the conch helps Ralph get elected: "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" (1.240).
Even Jack respects the conch. After he fails to stage a coup, he "laid the conch with great care in the grass at his feet" (8.74). He doesn't throw it or smash it; he sets it down carefully. He may not want to play by the rules, but he still respects the rules.
At the same time, the conch reminds us that the tools of power are, well, fake. Crowns and flags are no more meaningful than this random shell that Ralph spots in the grass. It's the meaning people give them that matters. Rules are only powerful if people agree on them, and that's why Ralph refuses to blow the conch when he knows that things are starting to break down: "If I blow the conch and they don't come back; then we've had it. We shan't keep the fire going. We'll be like animals. We'll never be rescued" (5). Because he doesn't blow the conch, its power holds.
But finally, the conch is broken. Surprise, surprise: it's broken when the brutal Roger pushes a rock over a cliff. (And we mean brutal; check out his "Character Analysis.") When the conch is broken, Jack runs forward screaming that now he can be chief. With no conch, power is once again up for grabs—and Jack is feeling grabby.
One last thing: the conch is definitely associated with Ralph, but it's also associated with Piggy. Piggy's the one who recognizes it and knows how to blow it; he's the one who keeps returning to its power; and they both die at the same time. Weird, right? Any ideas?
(Click the symbolism infographic to download.)
The Symbolism Of The Conch In Lord Of The Flies, By Golding
In William Golding's Lord of the Flies the Conch represents power and order. Power is represented by the fact that you have to be holding it to speak, and Order is displayed by the meetings or gatherings that its used to call and hold.
The Conch's power is presented in the very beginning on pg 22 as the children vote for Ralph to be chief just because he was the one with the Conch. ' 'Him with the shell.' 'Ralph! Ralph!' 'Let him be chief with the trumpet thing' ' this excerpt from pg 22 shows how everybody seems to think that power, responsibility and leadership skills comes from the Conch. Another Example of the Conch's Power is the fact that through out the book the conch is the only tool that can call a meeting and wherever the Conch is thats where the meeting is. No other symbol in Lord of the Flies holds so much power. This is one of the reasons that Jack Merridew disrespects the Conch. He wants to break the spell the symbol has on everybody. He wants to prove that he is the rightful leader.
The Conch also displays order through the rule that you must have the Conch to Speak in an assembly or meeting. 'And another thing. We can't have everybody talking at once. We'll have to have 'hands up' like at school.' At first everyone thinks that this is the best method to maintain order but soon they find out how quickly the power of the conch is abused by Ralph and Jack. On pg 89...
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