Lord of the Flies by William Golding

Lord of the Flies book cover
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What does the conch symbolize in Lord of the Flies?  

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Gretchen Mussey eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The conch is a significant symbol in the novel that represents civilization, order, and rational thought. At the beginning of the story, Piggy and Ralph discover the conch in the lagoon, and Ralph proceeds to blow into it to call the other boys on the uninhabited tropical island. When the boys decide to vote for chief, the overwhelming majority of them vote for Ralph, simply because they are attracted to the beautiful, mystical conch that he is holding. One of the first rules that Ralph establishes involves the conch. The boys agree that whoever is holding the conch has the opportunity to speak...

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ramseydaniels | Student

The conch symbolizes the ad hoc law and order of the island. When Ralph discoverers the conch, he uses its sound to call the first meeting of the boys. Immediately they recognize it as an indication of authority; they give Ralph “the same simple obedience that they had given to the men with megaphones” (23). The boys elect Ralph to be their leader and decide that one must ask for the conch before speaking in meetings.

Choir leader Jack pushes back against the conch and the authority it represents. He ignores Ralph’s order to keep the fire going and speaks over Piggy even when he holds the conch. When Ralph reminds Jack that he’s breaking the rules, Jack shouts back: “Who cares?” (129). Jack encourages the boys to embrace the savagery and violence of hunting while Ralph tries to maintain the decency and order of British society.

As Jack’s influence grows, Ralph begins to realize the waning power of the conch; “If I blow the conch and they don’t come back; then we’ve had it. We’ll be like animals.” He recognizes that allegiance to this object is the only thing keeping their small civilization from unravelling.

The tension between the two leaders comes to a head when Jack sets the conch down at his feet and goes off by himself, thereby rejecting Ralph’s law and order. Most of the boys eventually join his “tribe.” They paint their faces, hunt boar, and scream tribal chants. Ralph’s premonition comes to pass; he walks over to the savages’ camp and blows the horn, but no one will come to his assembly.

The conch symbolizes law and order; its destruction symbolizes its end. When the Rock hits Piggy, it smashes the conch “into a thousand white fragments” (260). The demise of the conch officially marks the triumph of savagery over civilization. “The breaking of the conch and the deaths of Piggy and Simon lay over the island like a vapor,” writes Golding. “These painted savages would go further and further.” (265).