Text Analysis of Lord of the Flies (1954, William Golding)

by Ross Grainger
by Ross Grainer

Text Analysis of Lord of the Flies

Symbols, objects and motifs


The conch

In colour the shell was deep cream, touched here and there with fading pink. Between the point, worn away into a little hole, and the pink lips of the mouth, lay eighteen inches of shell with a slight spiral twist and covered with a delicate, embossed pattern.

The conch, or shell, represents law, order and civilisation.

Ralph and Piggy come upon the shell early in chapter one as they are exploring the island alone. Piggy tells Ralph that he knows someone who had a similar shell and called it a conch. He adds that they are very valuable, and that blowing into the hole in the right way produces a powerful sound. Piggy is convinced that if Ralph blows on the conch the other boys will hear the sound and come to them. They will then be able to have a meeting.

Due to his asthma, Piggy can’t breathe strongly enough. He teaches Ralph to breathe from his diaphragm. After a few failed attempts, the shell sounds, a ‘deep, harsh note’ that booms across the island, scattering birds from the treetops. Ralph blows again. Soon the other boys come out of the jungle and approach Ralph and Piggy.

As the man who both possesses and sounded the shell, Ralph has power and authority in the eyes of the other boys. In the election for chief that follows the first gathering, Ralph is elected over Jack thanks mainly to the fact that he owns the shell.

In the next meeting, Ralph decides that only the person holding the conch can speak. Jack is never comfortable with this rule. When he decides to ignore it, the descent into savagery accelerates unstoppably.

Although Ralph sounds the shell, it is Piggy who is most committed to its invisible power. Aware of his physical limitations (short-sighted, overweight, asthmatic, unable to swim), Piggy is determined to maintain an ordered system in which every boy has an equal right to speak. He frequently says “I’ve got the conch!” when the other boys, increasingly weary of obeying the rules, try to silence him. Fittingly, the conch and Piggy, the last remaining barriers between savagery and civilisation, are destroyed by a single boulder.

The word ‘conch’ comes from the Greek