And another thing. We can’t have everybody talking at once. We’ll have to have ‘Hands up’ like at school.” . . . “Then I’ll give him the conch. . . . I’ll give the conch to the next person to speak. He can hold it when he’s speaking.”
At the first meeting, Ralph creates rules that mimic the civilized world that the boys recently left. The conch is used not only to call meetings but also to establish order when the boys talk. Thus, the conch symbolizes civilization, adult rules, and the democratic process. As Ralph is the first to utilize the conch as a social tool, it also becomes a symbol of Ralph’s legitimacy as a leader.
Ralph took the conch from where it lay on the polished seat and held it to his lips; but then he hesitated and did not blow. He held the shell up instead and showed it to them and they understood.
When Ralph goes to call the boys for a meeting about the beast, he realizes that he doesn’t even need to blow the conch to summon everyone. The conch has become such a powerful symbol of law and order that it is enough for Ralph to simply hold the conch up. Although there are leadership tensions between Ralph and Jack, at this point in the novel, the links to civilization continue through the conch’s symbolic power and the rules it represents.
“Conch! Conch!” shouted Jack. “We don’t need the conch anymore. We know who ought to say things. What good did Simon do speaking, or Bill, or Walter? It’s time some people knew they’ve got to keep quiet and leave deciding things to the rest of us.”
During a meeting at which Sam and Eric talk about their encounter with the beast, Jack becomes agitated and interrupts Piggy to make clear how fed up he is with using and respecting the conch. In this moment, Jack rejects the rules of the meeting and Ralph’s legitimacy as leader. Jack shows signs of becoming a tyrannical leader in his claim that some voices and people matter more than others. In the face of these more savage tendencies, the conch is losing its power as a symbol of civilization and the democratic process.
He laid the conch with great care in the grass at his feet. The humiliating tears were running from the corner of each eye. “I’m not going to play any longer. Not with you.”
At this meeting, the first called into session by Jack rather than Ralph, Jack challenges Ralph’s leadership. Since the boys won’t agree to make him chief, Jack decides to leave the group to go off on his own. When Jack puts down the conch, it is symbolic of his rejecting the rules of civilization and democracy. He is also rejecting the legitimacy of Ralph’s leadership, which the conch represents. The conch is losing its power to keep the boys unified and connected to civilization and rules.
The rock struck Piggy a glancing blow from chin to knee; the conch exploded into a thousand white fragments and ceased to exist.
In this scene, Roger, standing above Piggy and Ralph, deliberately lets go of a large rock with the intention to injure or kill one of the two boys. Piggy is hit by the rock and falls to the rocks below and dies. In this moment, the conch that Piggy was holding is shattered. The destruction of the conch, the object used to call meetings and keep order, symbolizes the end of civilized rules and democracy. This loss of order is also demonstrated by Piggy’s murder.