What does Jack say about the conch in "Lord of the Flies", and what is the relevance to the story?

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gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The conch is a powerful symbol in the novel Lord of the Flies and symbolically represents order, rational thought, civility, and democracy. From the onset of the novel, Jack disrespects the authority of the conch and continually interrupts the person holding the shell during assemblies. Jack tries several times to blatantly disregard the conch's authority, which reveals his savage, antagonistic nature.

In chapter 2, the boys attempt to start a signal fire at the top of the mountain and fail. When Jack begins to ridicule Piggy, Piggy takes the conch and tries to speak over Jack. Jack responds by saying,

The conch doesn't count on top of the mountain . . . so you shut up (Golding, 32).

In chapter 9, Ralph and Piggy attend Jack's feast at the other end of the island, and Jack asks if any of Ralph's followers will join his tribe. When Ralph challenges Jack by saying that he possesses the conch, Jack responds by saying,

You haven't got it with you . . . You left it behind. See, clever? And the conch doesn't count at this end of the island (Golding, 116).

Ralph begins to argue with Jack and threatens to blow the conch to call an assembly. Jack once again dismisses the conch's authority by saying, "We shan't hear it" (Golding, 117).

luannw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The conch is a major symbol in the book.  It represents order and civilization, or at least the quest for it.  Ralph uses the conch in the first chapter and gathers all the surviving boys together when he blows it.  The boys decide that, in meetings, whoever is holding the conch is the one who may speak.  Thus the conch also represents power.  Jack lusts for power, so he respects the conch in the earlier chapters.  In chapter 8, when Jack and Ralph clash once again, Jack tries to take over as leader.  At a meeting, Jack takes the conch and speaks.  He tells the boys that Ralph is an ineffectual leader and he should be replaced.  Jack demands a new vote.  When he loses once again to Ralph, he is humiliated and frustrated.  He gently lays the conch on the ground before leaving the group and running down the beach. His act is a symbolic shift for the conch.  It will not represent power from now on; only a feeble left-over representation of once was a civilization.  By chapter 11, when Piggy is killed holding the conch, the shell has ceased to have any meaning. Jack no longer sees it as anything more than a shell.

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Lord of the Flies

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