Why is the conch so important to Piggy in LOTF?

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andrewnightingale eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Piggy is the one character who genuinely shows an interest in ensuring the safety of all on the island. He has a mature and pragmatic approach. He shows insight and awareness. Piggy realises that without adult supervision, there will be chaos and he therefore attempts to maintain some form of order. However, Piggy is remorselessly mocked by the other boys who make fun of his being overweight and wearing glasses. This, therefore, puts him at a great disadvantage and he has to find some other means of gaining authority. He realises and accepts that the boys would never respect him for the above reasons and would rather turn to Ralph or Jack for leadership, no matter how logical and sensible his suggestions may be. The boys just cannot see him as a leader.

It is for these reasons that the conch becomes so important to Piggy. It is a tool which he can utilise to gain some sort of respect. The tool becomes not only a symbol of authority, since the one who holds it must be allowed to speak, but it also symbolises discipline and order. For Piggy, the loss of these would mean a lesser chance of escape from the island.

It is through the use of the conch that Piggy believes that the boys can be organised. The conch can be used to call meetings. It can be used to maintain order during such meetings, for anyone who wishes to speak can ask for the conch and once it is held, gives authority to the speaker. All are obliged to listen to the one holding the conch. This, for Piggy, is where its essence lies. Once meetings have been organised and the boys are together, they can plan the day's activities, discuss what is important or problematic, and try to jointly find solutions. They can determine chores, divide the boys into groups, each with its respective duties etc. Such organisation can only help in achieving rescue.

Furthermore, Piggy is concerned about the littluns and about the signal fire. He sees why it is essential that proper shelters be built and why the signal fire should be kept burning. The smaller boys have been expressing fears about 'the beastie' and this creates anxiety amongst all the boys. Furthermore, without a signal fire, there is very little, almost no chance, of rescue. Once again, Piggy sees the importance of the conch's use to discuss these issues.

Over-and-above the practical uses the conch has, Piggy also utilises it to protect himself. Whenever he holds the conch, he is in control and no one can question his authority, no matter what their sentiments about him may be. The conch therefore becomes a shield protecting him from their abuse.

The tragedy of Piggy's death and the simultaneous shattering of the shell both signify the end of order and control, for then chaos rules. Savagery, lead by Jack and his hunters, now reigns supreme.

The rock struck Piggy a glancing blow from chin to knee; the conch exploded into a thousand white fragments and ceased to exist. Piggy, saying nothing, with no time for even a grunt, traveled through the air sideways from the rock, turning over as he went. The rock bounded twice and was lost in the forest. Piggy fell forty feet and landed on his back across the square red rock in the sea. His head opened and stuff came out and turned red. Piggy’s arms and legs twitched a bit, like a pig’s after it has been killed. Then the sea breathed again in a long, slow sigh, the water boiled white and pink over the rock; and when it went, sucking back again, the body of Piggy was gone.

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Lord of the Flies

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