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Throughout Lord of the Flies, a book written by William Golding, there is much symbolism around a lot of things in the story. Two items that are important to the story are the conch shell and the spear. These items both show up in the story more and more to show how the kids have changed from a very civilized and democratic society to a more primitive and atavistic tribe. The conch from the start of the story has been a very important democratic tool. The boys even imposed a ‘rule of the conch’ on themselves deciding that no one can speak unless he’s holding the conch. The spear represents the bestial anarchy, that leads up to the destruction of the island and the rules of a civilized society.
The first example of the society starting to break down and the conch losing its power is after Jack let the fire go out on the mountain to hunt and kill a pig with a spear, and then he and ralph get into an argument during an assembly of the tribe. “Jack! Jack! You haven’t got the conch! Let him speak.” Jack’s face swam near him. “And you shut up! Who are you, anyway? Sitting there telling people what to do. You can’t hunt”.(91) This shows how the conch and the rules around it are starting to break after Jack kills the pig. The conch lost value because the spear could provide the necessity of food to them. “Bollocks to the rules! We’re strong-we hunt! If there’s a beast, we’ll hunt it down! We’ll close in and beat and beat and beat-!”(91) This shows the atavism the spear is bringing, they are starting to separate from a civilized and fun society and turn into a primitive and chaotic tribe.
The second example of the kid’s civilization starting to break down is when Simon crawls out of the forest, the hunters chant ‘Kill the beast! Cut his throat! Spill his blood!'(152) and they circle around him as ‘the sticks fell and the mouth of the new circle crunched and screamed.'(152) In this scene, the hunters of the group are blinded by their fear of the beast and the chaos their “dance” brings which leads to them killing Simon. The killing of Simon is a moment in the story that really shows the change from the tribe trying to be civilized but ultimately failing and turning into a very chaotic and animalistic society. The day after Simon died, Piggy and Ralph spoke about it. “That was murder.” “You stop it! Said Piggy, shrilly. ‘What good’re you doing talking like that?…we was scared!” “I wasn’t scared,” said Ralph slowly, “I was-I don’t know what I was.”(156) This shows how Ralph and Piggy are reflecting on how they have changed as people because of the hunters changing. The spears killed Simon and they killed their civilization too.
The third example of the kid’s civilization crumbling is when the conch is finally smashed by Roger when he sends the boulder to kill piggy. But before Piggy is killed by the boulder he says “Which is better-to have rules and agree, or to hunt and kill?”(180) This is Piggy’s last plea to try to convince the hunters to listen to reason so they can work together structurally. “The conch exploded into a thousand white fragments and ceased to exist”(181). This shows that the boys have completely lost their rules and codes to society and have been taken over by their barbaric and primal instincts.
Two competing impulses that exist within all humans; the instinct to live by rules and codes, act respectfully, worry about others, and the instinct to act savagely to obtain dictatorship. These impulses are represented by the conch and the spear. The spear representing the greed and violent and animalistic nature of human beings, the conch represents the rules and structure of our modern society and over the story, the conch’s symbolism is lost and the hunters are eventually consumed by the greed and chaos that the spear represents.
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