How far can we push the shell's symbolism?Okay, as I was thinking about this book, I started to wonder, how far can we push the symbolism of the shell? (Or how far should we?). It is beauty in...

How far can we push the shell's symbolism?

Okay, as I was thinking about this book, I started to wonder, how far can we push the symbolism of the shell? (Or how far should we?). It is beauty in itself, and order, and a symbol of authority and ordered authority. When it is found it helps shape the community; when it is destroyed it symbolizes the downfall of the island society.

 

However, can we be more specific? The shell is beautiful, but it is already the sign of a something that's dead. It is relatively fragile. The thing that lived in it was soft and vulnerable. Can we say the boys are any of these things? Civilization is any of these things? And so on.


Thanks!
Greg

Asked on by gbeatty

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e-martin | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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The shell, in my reading, represents the arbitrary structures of power and authority. It is the symbol of power, but it is only a symbol. It was pulled out of the lagoon, like any stone might be, and literally assigned its meaning by the boys.

In the water it meant nothing. In their hands it means a lot. But there is nothing about the conch itself to justify the symbol, there is only the boys' symbolically oriented way of viewing authority which lends the conch importance. 

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Jamie Wheeler | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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Jaime wrote, "I think the boys definitely have to develop an exoskeleton to protect their soft English interiors."

Would they, then, be parallel with hermit crabs? Is Golding saying, "This is their real nature"? Or is it more, "There is no real human nature--the shell shapes the man"?

 

I like the points about pre-civilized behavior.

 Greg

Your comparison of the boys to crabs reminds me of a couple of observations by Steinbeck, first in a letter and then inThe Log from the Sea of Cortez, written shortly after WWII began.

"So we go into this happy new year, knowing that our species has leaned nothing, can as a race learn nothing--that the expeirence of ten thousand years has made no impression on the insticts of millions of years that preceded."

"And perhaps our species is not likely to forego war without some psychic mutation which at present, at least, does not seem imminent...We have what we are.  Perhpahs the crayfish feels the itch of jealousy or pehaps he is sexually insecure.  The effect is that he fights...So far the murder trait of our species is as regular and as observable as our sexual habits."

 

gbeatty's profile pic

gbeatty | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

Jaime wrote, "I think the boys definitely have to develop an exoskeleton to protect their soft English interiors."

Would they, then, be parallel with hermit crabs? Is Golding saying, "This is their real nature"? Or is it more, "There is no real human nature--the shell shapes the man"?

 

I like the points about pre-civilized behavior.

 Greg

jamie-wheeler's profile pic

Jamie Wheeler | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted on

How far can we push the shell's symbolism?

Okay, as I was thinking about this book, I started to wonder, how far can we push the symbolism of the shell? (Or how far should we?). It is beauty in itself, and order, and a symbol of authority and ordered authority. When it is found it helps shape the community; when it is destroyed it symbolizes the downfall of the island society.

 

However, can we be more specific? The shell is beautiful, but it is already the sign of a something that's dead. It is relatively fragile. The thing that lived in it was soft and vulnerable. Can we say the boys are any of these things? Civilization is any of these things? And so on.


Thanks!
Greg

I think these are all interesting insights.  I think the boys definitely have to develop an exoskeleton to protect their soft English interiors.  I wonder if Golding felt that the boys are already "dead inside"?  Are the boys doomed because of their own personal failings, or have they been pre-doomed by their corrupt society? 

Another thought...I took a graduate class on Ritualism some years ago.  Using a shell as a call to gathering is as old as humans interacting with the sea.  The stranded boys are definitely being returned to their pre-civilized ancestry, the conch being only one of the old ways revitalized in the present. 

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