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In chapter one of William Golding's Lord of the Flies, Ralph and Piggy discover a conch shell. This is not a particularly startling find, as they are on a tropical island; however, unlike Ralph, Piggy immediately recognizes that this shell can become a symbol of power among the boys on the island.
The conch is powerful, for as soon as Ralph blows it, the boys all begin to gather for the first time. When Jack and his choir arrive, Jack assumes an adult blew a trumpet, an indication that already the one who holds the conch has power. When Ralph wants to quiet the group, he holds up the shell and calls for an election; immediately the younger boys all clamor for "the one with the shell" to be their leader.
None of the boys could have found good reason for this; what intelligence had been shown was traceable to Piggy while the most obvious leader was Jack. 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. 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.
The boys vote for Ralph without much cause, but clearly it is his possession of the conch which sways them most.
Soon the group decides that whoever holds the conch is free to speak interrupted; thus the conch becomes a symbol of order and civility. As shells do, the actual conch begins to disintegrate in the salt, sand, and sun of the island; so also has the civility and order of the island begun to disintegrate into savagery.
Finally, when Piggy is killed and the conch is smashed, all semblance of order and civility are gone.
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