In Lord of the Flies written by William Golding in 1954 is a book about a group of British boys being stranded on an uninhabited island and their disastrous attempt to govern themselves.
This book is an allegory. This means that the story is a vehicle for metaphors that represent greater ideas of the real world in story format.
The Lord of the Flies uses many literacy devices to convey important messages.
One of the lessons we learn is why it is a bad idea to place so much power on arbitrary objects and the devastating effects this can lead to.
We are taught this lesson through the conch.
At the beginning of the book Piggy finds a colourful shell called a conch that the boys decide to use as a mark of status. When Ralph snatches the conch off of Piggy, it shows that Ralph has already decided that he deserves the conch more than Piggy and that it has already been established that Piggy has a low status.
Ralph then uses it to notify the other boys on the island that they are there. When they arrive they vote for a leader. Ralph is chosen due to the fact that he is the boy with the conch, a tangible symbol of power and status in a world where people who typically keep things under control (adults) are absent.
In most instances Piggy would be elected leader. He would make the best and most reliable leader but under these circumstances where the conch is the highest form of status and he is the only boy on the island unable to use it due to his asthma he is given very no privilege or respect.
The way that Piggy speaks is very different from the rest of the boys. He has a cockney accent which we can tell by the words and grammar he uses. People with cockney dialect are stereotyped as being uneducated, poor or criminals. With Piggy’s name, asthma, lack of social acceptance and parents and physical appearance, giving him a cockney accent is just another way for the author to show us Piggy’s low status and lack of power.
He is different from the rest of the boys and everything he does is so “other” which the boys dislike him for. Mere-exposure effect is a psychological phenomenon by which people tend to develop a preference for things merely because they are familiar with them. It means that the more we see the same or similar things or people, the more we trust or respect them. The way Piggy looks and acts is so foreign to the boys that they would rather give anyone else power despite them not being the best leader, purely due to the fact that they are familiar with them.
At some point in the book Jack goes against the conch and Ralph tries to get Jack to listen to him using the conch which doesn’t work because Jack no longer believes that the conch should be respected or be used to dictate who gets power. This shows us that objects that are meant to represent power only work because we collectively decide that that is what they mean. When some of the kids decide that the conch is not powerful it loses it’s power. Crowns and thrones have as little to do with power as the conch. Symbols of power only have power over people if they decide that they do. There is nothing about a shell or a crown that will make you a better or more suitable leader or more or less deserving of power as the boys learn soon enough.
The conch is as fragile as the belief that it means anything is.
We are shown this when the conch shell is broken, illustrating the fragility of this belief that powerful objects keeping things together. William Golding could have chosen to use the concept of power and apply it to any object yet he chose the conch. The conch is a good representation as it has the ability to break into pieces like the illusion of control and power.
This is more than just a story. This happens all around the world, all the time. If we have an object or a physical thing we assign meaning to it and in turn assign characteristics that may not be there to the owners of the object. Because of this, we often dictate how much respect someone deserves based off of this.
But, just as the conch has the ability to break, the illusion of power can be just as easily destroyed.