William Golding wrote Lord of the Flies with numerous hidden meanings and themes. He also relies heavily on a relationship between Ralph and the conch shell to support these themes. One specific theme that this relationship meshes perfectly with is how a crisis can affect a democracy. In the Lord of the Flies, the conch shell represents the rise and fall of democracy through its physical depiction of unity and demise in a society.
The conch in this novel was used mainly as a way to keep the boys on the island in-check and organized. We see this repeatedly throughout as Ralph used it to gather the boys for meetings. In the early pages of the book it says, “Ralph found his breath and blew a series of short blasts.”(16) From this action, “Children came along the beach, singly or in twos, leapt into visibility.” (17) Even from the beginning, we can see how the conch shell was used to bring these group of boys or “society” together and organized. Ralph had the power and authority but only by blowing the conch. This goes hand-in-hand with how a democracy works and plays out. In a democracy, a person holds the power, but the power itself is simply a function or a product of the person. In this case, the conch was Ralph’s tool or “weapon” to keep the order and it represents the power over the boys. Without the conch, there would’ve been no structure.
Power was the vital role that the conch played. It held authority even to the least expected character – Jack. After Jack’s trials of becoming the leader of the group, he still respected the conch. In the book it says, “Jack laid the conch with great care in the grass at his feet.” (212) Not only Jack, but all the boys respected the conch and listened to its every sound. This goes the same with how democracy functions. We as people respect and listen to what the authority has to say and from there we make our judgment. This helps keep society in order and running. In the same way democracy is good for a society, the conch was for the boys.
When someone or something goes against or threatens democracy, a problem can emerge and ultimately lead to a crisis. In the last chapters we see that Jack is wanting to break free from the structure and develop his own power and authority. “The conch exploded into a thousand white fragments and ceased to exist.” (255) Once the conch was shattered, all power and authority was gone. The conch in a sense, couldn’t take or handle this crisis which ultimately led to its death. When democracy encounters a crisis, it also can “shatter” because it cannot exist.
Although the conch unified the boys, it also represented their demise and in turn shows how democracy can demise. The conch shell went through all physical symbolizations of what a democracy goes through at its high points and at its very lows. It can bring society to a very prosperous and functioning standpoint, but when a problem arises, freedom and democracy are threatened to survive.