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PLOT SUMMARY AND NOTES - Lord of the Flies
CHAPTER 5 - Beast From the Water
This chapter opens with Ralph walking alone and reflecting on the pathetic state of things. Order and discipline are quickly falling apart, and changes must be made if they are to survive. He decides that the meeting he has just called must be serious business and that he must behave like a real chief. Although the assembly is held at the usual place, it is late and there are long shadows everywhere.
When the group finally gathers, Ralph scolds the assembly for their failure to cooperate and follow the rules. Even the most basic ones relating to sanitation have been ignored. He further reminds them that they need to build huts, store drinking water, and keep the fire burning if they are to survive and be rescued. Ralph then tries to calm their fears, particularly those of the little ones, and Piggy joins in his efforts. Jack, however, rudely interrupts, talks about beasts, and fans the flames of fright. Simon tries to explain that the only beast present amongst them is the beast in their hearts, but the boys only laugh at him. As the darkness spreads, their fears grow more intense and they tell monster stories. Before long, the whole group, gripped by fear, is out of control. The meeting turns chaotic with everyone shouting at once, and Ralph fails to regain control. He realizes that the group is fearfully close to losing its sanity, and he is helpless in preventing it.
Led by Jack, the boys run away from the meeting. Only Ralph, Simon, and Piggy are left. Piggy suggests that the leader blow on the conch to call the boys back. Ralph, however, fears the call will be ignored; therefore, he does not even try. Frustrated and depressed over his lack of success in controlling the meeting, Ralph considers resigning from his position as chief. Piggy and Simon, however, convince him that he needs to retain authority in order to have any hope. The chapter ends, however, in the still darkness of night, broken only by the cries of the little ones.
This chapter opens with the rational Ralph attempting to bring some order out of the chaos of the hunters dancing around the fire. Still their leader, he calls a meeting, which quickly gets out of hand. Their community is breaking up, and Ralph is not powerful enough to overcome the problems and fear. The meeting finally ends in total chaos with Jack leaving the group and taking the other boys with him. Only Simon and Piggy stay behind to support Ralph. These rational ones wish for a sign from civilization, a contact with the adult world.
Ralph's appeal to rule and reason in the meeting is a direct contrast to Jack's appeal to emotion, imagination, and disorder, as witnessed in the hunter's wild dance. And the conflict of the hopeful and rational, symbolized by Ralph, and the fearful and irrational, symbolized by Jack, comes to a head in the chapter. It is obvious that the fearful, irrational side wins, for the boys all follow Jack out of the meeting, with the exception of Piggy, who is also rational, and Simon, who is a Christ-like visionary. Ralph tells his friends that he wants to stop being chief; he is totally frustrated with his lack of control over the irrational elements in the group. He now understands more about human nature and knows he cannot bring the boys back to a sense of order or civilization. "The understandable and lawful world was slipping away."
Most of the chapter is taken up with a discussion of the 'beast' (a symbol for the devil). The boys think up places where the beast could be found. One possibility is in the forest; someone else mentions a beast coming from the water like a giant squid, thus giving the title to the chapter. In fact, the boys think that the mirages caused by the ocean are really monsters. The debate rages as to whether there really are beasts. The shy Simon hesitantly says that the beast does exist, but only within each person. (Ironically, Simon will be destroyed by the boys who think he is the beast). In these beastly discussions, Golding is foreshadowing the fact that the beast will indeed be found to exist in all the boys, except for the three (Ralph, Piggy, and Simon, who are referred to as the three blind mice) who did not follow Jack. Sadly and ironically, both Piggy and Simon will be killed by the others.
The physical image of dirt continues to be used symbolically in this chapter. Remember that in the last chapter, Jack and his hunters rubbed clay (a type of dirt or earth) on their faces as a mask to hide behind. In this chapter, Ralph appropriately notices how dirty the smaller boys have become. At the meeting, he warns the "littluns" against their filth and scolds them for defecating near the fruit. This physical "dirtiness" is a symbol of internal ugliness, and it no longer plagues just the older boys who have chosen the path of hunting and killing. Even the innocent, little ones are dirty, capable of savagery and evil. At the end of the chapter, they run away with Jack and cry in the darkness.
It is significant to note that Chapter 4 ends in a wild, but controlled, state of affairs, with the hunters chanting and dancing around the fire. The end of this chapter indicates further deterioration of the society, for it ends in total chaos as the boys run away from Ralph's meeting to follow Jack; the chaos is followed by the piercing cries of the little ones.