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

Lord of the Flies

by William Golding

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What does the term "ass-mar," used to describe Piggy, mean in Lord of the Flies?

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In the novel Lord of the Flies, the term "ass-mar" is a derogatory term used by the boys on the island to refer to Piggy's asthma. It is a cruel and belittling way to reference Piggy's health condition, which often restricts his physical activities. The term is also indicative of the insensitive and mocking treatment Piggy receives from the others, despite being one of the most intelligent boys among them.

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In Lord of the Flies, Piggy stands out as being different from the other boys. In chapter 1 when we first meet him, one of the first things that he tells Ralph is that he suffers from asthma and Ralph immediately questions it, saying "Ass-mar?" Piggy goes on to explain the implications of asthma, especially his difficulty breathing. When Ralph goes swimming, still in chapter 1, Ralph makes fun of Piggy because he cannot swim. As Piggy tries to explain that his asthma has always prevented him, Ralph says, "Sucks to your ass-mar!" It is the first time he makes this derogatory remark and cruel observation but it is apparent that Piggy is used to this mocking tone and he accepts Ralph's comment "with a sort of humble patience." 

The boys soon find the conch and Ralph is doubtful that he will be able to achieve any sound from the shell. However, much to his surprise, Piggy's plan works and the sound "boomed under the palms." Boys start to emerge from all directions and Ralph is soon voted as chief. Ralph has also told the boys Piggy's nickname, despite Piggy asking him not to tell the others, and while Ralph seems momentarily sorry, he soon regains his position of leadership. Although Ralph is Piggy's friend, he does make fun of him sometimes and this contributes to his popularity.

In chapter 8, Jack is desperately trying to turn the boys against Ralph and urges them to join his tribe. He has killed a pig and left its head as a "gift" for the beast. The boys are quite overwhelmed and Piggy raises the question of his asthma and how he almost had an attack. Once again, Ralph downplays Piggy's asthma as if he has more important things to concern himself with and so saying "sucks to your ass-mar" is his way of dealing with issues that Ralph feels are not personal but affect everyone. 

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"Ass-mar" is the mean-spirited insult that the castaway boys of Lord of the Flies use to describe one of Piggy's many ailments: It is a sophomoric variation of the word "asthma," the respiratory disease that keeps Piggy out of breath whenever he attempts any physical exertion. It also may refer to the size of the overweight Piggy's backside. In any case, it is a cruel reminder of the insensitive way in which the boys constantly treat Piggy, the most intelligent boy on the island. After Piggy admits that "I thought I was going to have asthma" after being chased by several of the "stark naked" boys dressed as "savages," it is actually Ralph who teases him with the retort

     "Sucks to you ass-mar."  (Chapter 8)

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