English Literature



Lord of the Flies


What does the conch symbolise? and is there actually a lord of the flies?

2 years ago


7 Replies




Elias Hickle

7 Answers

Renee Brown

The Conch symbolises civility and order in Lord of the Flies. And as the story goes on, when the boys begin to fall further into disunity, they begin to disrespect the Conch. So they are disrespecting and rejecting societal rules.

And Is there actually a Lord of the Flies, relies very much on what your impression is (annoying answer, I know).

You could go the literal route, and say the Pig Head is THE lord of the Flies, or you could go a more philosophical route, and say the Lord of The Flies was something dark leading the hearts of the boys.

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In William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, the Conch represents power and order. The ‘power’ is only present, if you hold the Conch, when speaking; it is therefore, a physical AND metaphorical object, representing power.

Order is displayed by the meetings or gatherings, which the Conch is used to call and hold.

The Conch’s power is presented in the very beginning of the novel, as the children vote for Ralph to be chief of the group, just because he was the one who was holding the Conch:

“Him with the shell.” “Ralph! Ralph!” “Let him be chief with the trumpet thing.” This shows how everybody seems to think that power, responsibility and leadership skills come from the Conch itself.

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James M

The conch symbolises order - and helps us realise how quickly it breaks down.

Piggy - the most intelligent of the kids on the island, but also the most ignored - finds the conch and teaches Ralph how to use it. It's the conch that draws the boys together for their first meeting, and the conch that is used to say who should be talking. It symbolises the order that the boys want at the start of the novel. They get excited about creating rules, and using hands up, just like in school. But on the mountain, things quickly start to fall apart. Jack ignores the use of the conch, and though Piggy is still listened to when he has it, he has it snatched away from him by Ralph. The fact that Jack ignores the conch foreshadows the events later in the novel, when he creates his own tribe and his own rules, which aren't based on the civilised way of life Ralph tries to inspire.

The Lord of the Flies is a pig's head on a stick. In some ways it's the anti-conch, the symbol of hunting and survival and desperation. It's literally surrounded by flies, because it's dead, but the name itself comes from Simon's imagination. Simon thinks that the Lord of the Flies speaks to him, and tells him that the real monsters are the boys themselves. It's after Simon has this moment - interpreted by some as a vision and by others as an epileptic fit - that he tries to bring the truth to the boys. There is no beast, it's not a bad island, it's the boys themselves that are making it bad.

But Simon is too late. The boys are already consumed by the frenzy of island life - even Ralph is taken over by it - and the only one who can speak the truth is destroyed.

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The conch represents the boys' attempt to build a society, the failure of their political structure, and the total breakdown of their civilisation.

The conch represents the fragility of the boys' civilisation. Initially, the conch is utilised to establish order in a manner which is similar to the political and military systems of Great Britain. The conch is used to call the boys to gather, similar to the horns utilised by military personnel. The conch also represents order, as only the person holding the conch is allowed to speak. "I’ll give the conch to the next person to speak. He can hold it when he’s speaking.” Ralph's implementation of the conch as a political tool frames him as the leader, Golding utilises this framing device to show the fragility of political devices, as the power given to political tools or institutions is based on the prowess of the leader who bestows the power. As Ralph gives power to the conch, he is framed as the political leader, and the conch as a political tool is observed and honoured by the boys in the early stages of the narrative. As Ralph's power starts to disintegrate, the conch loses power in the eyes of the boys, as the person who gave it power has lost their respect. The Lord of the Flies establishes the fragility of power, as the conch only retains its power over the boys, while the boys believe that the conch has the power to render them silent. When Jack questions Ralph's authority and the chonch's place in society, it loses its power as a political tool. The destruction of the conch symbolises the total destruction of Ralph's political system and the fragility of a diplomatic, fair society.

The conch also represents the boy's understanding of capitalism, despite their understanding of the impracticality of the system in their situation. The conch is chosen because of its supposed monetary value, despite the lack of a financial system on the island. Piggy's repetition of "pounds" emphasises his young age, while also establishing their lack of a practical understanding of finances. “—a conch; ever so expensive. I bet if you wanted to buy one, you’d have to pay pounds and pounds and pounds—" The value of the conch does not come from the boys' monetary understanding of its value, but rather the power that they give it as a conduit of their political system. The ties to capitalism in relation to the conch subtly foreshadow that the conch, much like the boy's attempt at creating a civilisation, is valueless.

Is there a Lord of the flies?

The lord of the flies could refer to almost every character in The Lord of the Flies, at some point in the narrative, as the religious meaning of the term offers both a literal and a symbolic suggestion of who could be considered the lord of the flies. Lord of the flies is commonly used to refer to Belzibub, the flies are both suggestive of his followers and the physical manifestation of flies due to the stench of the creature. From the beginning of the narrative, Ralph emphasises the importance of cleanliness. The imagery of the boys bathing in the pool is similar to those of baptisms, and the cleansing of sins. As the narrative progresses, the boys become filthier, painting themselves with dirt in preparation for hunting and killing the "monster" that threatens them. The death of Simon represents both the figurative and the literal lord of the flies, as the boys murder him in an animalistic manner, spearing him with abandon like a back of wolves tearing their prey apart, this sin tarnishes their souls. It is Simon who becomes the literal lord of the flies, as it is his mangled corpse which becomes a vessel for the parasitic flies as he floats out to sea. In the fight between Jack and Ralph, the latter becomes dirty as he becomes covered in sand and dirt, while his soul is tarnished with the desire to harm Jack. As the boys bathe less and less and partake in murderous behaviour, the dirt accumulates on their skin, and their sins dirty their souls. To this end, the boys become the lord of the flies, in both their physical condition and their degenerative anti-Christian behaviour.

Another interpretation of Bealzibub is derived from the anti-Philistine stance, as Belzibub, believed to be worshipped by the Philistines, was possibly given his namesake to refer to the pests that follow him. In The Lord of the Flies, the pests are the boys who break from Ralph's civilisation and follow Jack. If we are to take the anti-Philistine interpretation of the phrase "lord of the flies" then Jack could be considered the lord of the flies for the majority of the narrative, however, in the conclusion, it could be suggested that adults are the true lord of the flies. When the boys are rescued by the military, and the soldiers look over the damage the children have done, it is clear that the boys have acted as parasites, destroying the paradise of the island and stripping it of its resources. As soon as they are found, the boys become the followers of the adults, which suggests that the boys are the flies and that the adults who rescue them and raise them, are the lords of the flies.

It could be argued that Piggy is the one child to not be the lord of the flies. Piggy is killed when another boy pushes a bolder onto his head, while he preaches the need for civility. Piggy retained most of his clothing and his cleanliness. His desire to see everyone survive and return to a form of civilisation, suggests a lack of devolution and a strong tie to his humanity. When the bolder strikes him, the blood soils his face and clothes, his injuries resemble a crown of thorns, which frames Piggy as Christ-like. The narrative never explains what happened to Piggy's corpse, however, as the boys are rescued shortly after the killing, it is likely that he was given a proper burial. The cleanliness of Piggy's death suggests that he is not the "lord of the flies" as there is no mention of decomposition, his cause of death was relatively clean, and his adherence to Christian morals frames him as the Christ-like character in Golding's novel.

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Helen Kirk

Because the boys are alone and have no authority, the conch symbolises the civilisation that they lack. Ralph is the first to utilise the idea of the conch as a way to the democratic process and therefore establishes his right to leadership. It is a symbol of democracy from an adult perspective although they are actually children striving for an acceptible way to exist and survive.

There is no actual Lord of the Flies, although the reference is commonly assumed to relate to Beelzebub, (another name for the devil), as the boys descend into filth and become increasingly savage they need a symbol to worship, and he is the perfect candidate, the opposite of God the symbol of the civilized society they have left.

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In Lord of the Flies, the boys use the conch shell to call meetings and establish order when talking - therefore, it comes to symbolise civilization, adult rules, and democracy. Ralph, the protagonist of the novel and leader of the boys, is the first to use the conch in this way; hence, the conch also helps to establish his authority as a leader.

Biblical stories call Beezlebub, a demonic creature, Lord of the Flies; this is where William Golding derived the name of his novel from. Physically in the book, the lord of the flies is the pig head that the boys mount on a stick and leave for the beast - it is described as creepily grinning, dripping in blood, and attracting a swarm of flies - hence 'Lord of the Flies.' Metaphorically, the lord of the flies represents the evil that each of the boys possess; Simon hears the Lord of the Flies speak to him, a hallucination and sign of his growing madness; when Roger and Jack vow to hunt and kill Ralph, they suggest that they will repeat their offering to the beast, using Ralph's head instead.

So no, there is no real 'Lord of the Flies,' but rather it is used symbolically in the novel, as a metaphor for the boys' violent acts against one another and the evil that they commit.

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The conch in William Golding's 1954 novel Lord of the Flies is an important anti-entropic storytelling device. What this means is that it acts as a symbol of unity, authority, and rationality, distilling many of the story's major themes into a singular identifiable object. In so doing, every scene involving the conch takes on great metaphorical significance, and its changing level of importance (such as when the boys start disrespecting it) signals the growing tension between Ralph and Jack, as well as their factions. Furthermore, the use and misuse of the conch exemplifies many of Golding's satirical intentions for his story. It prompts audiences to question whether bureaucratic symbols of power and control--such as governments, armies, nation-states, and so on--actually benefit humanity. Is our externalization of "rationality" in the form of such symbols merely a distraction from a more fundamental conflict at the heart of social existence? These philosophical questions central to the novel also make one wonder: who, or what, is the "lord of the flies"?

While it is obvious that the title references Beelzebub, a Philistine god also known as the "Lord of the Flies", what exactly does this mean for the story? After having been co-opted into Christianity as a Satanic figure, Beelzebub came to be associated with the deadly sins of pride, envy, and gluttony (depending on the source consulted). A such, it is easy to see how, in Golding's novel, no individual character is the "Lord of the Flies". Instead, it is these "flaws" of human nature, these tendencies towards violence, hatred, and destruction, that are collectively termed "Lord of the Flies". A parallel reading of the title would foreground the consequences of human nature; in our desperate attempt to hoard wealth and power, we leave nothing but a trail of dead and decaying bodies in our wake, rendering us lords of nothing but flies and dirt.

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