Two separate illustrations of an animal head and a fire on a mountain

Lord of the Flies

by William Golding

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An example of savage or lost civilization from Lord of the Flies is the conch shell used to call meetings.

The conch shell is an example of a pre-civilization governance structure where power was endowed in symbolic objects.  When the boys hear the shell, they come running.  They are drawn to it, both from the sound and from the fact that is shows someone else is on the island.

When Ralph first finds the conch, Piggy explains to him that it is special.

“…A conch he called it. He used to blow it and then his mum would come. It’s ever so valuable—” (ch 1)

Ralph is able to blow on it, and other boys come.  Piggy meant that the conch had monetary value, but its value was actually symbolic.  It symbolized leadership to the other boys, because someone compelled them to do something by blowing on it.

When the boys have to decide who the leader is, they are again drawn to Ralph.

“Him with the shell.”

“Ralph! Ralph!”

“Let him be chief with the trumpet-thing.” (ch 1)

The conch becomes a symbol of strength.  The boys use it when they talk, in a kind of tribal circle.  This is the effect that the shell has on them, and establishes their status as a prehistoric-emulating society.  The governance structure is that of  a lost civilization. 

The conch shell demonstrates how the boys developed a governance structure similar to lost civilizations rather than the one they came from.  The deterioration of modern society was therefore not a gradual process.

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