In chapter 12 of Lord of the Flies, how does the naval officer view Jack? And why do the other boys weep?

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rmhope's profile pic

rmhope | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

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The first person the naval officer sees is Ralph. He's amused at first and jokes about the boys playing war—a highly ironic comment given that the boys are involved in a deadly war at that very moment, not unlike the atomic war the naval officer himself has been engaged in as a military leader in the adult world. The officer has an intelligent conversation with Ralph, but when he asks who is the boss, Jack begins to step forward, but remains silent. Jack is described as a "little boy." This is surprising since his actions during the novel have placed him at the pinnacle of leadership along with Ralph. Beyond that, Jack's body is "streaked with colored clay," he carries a pointed stick, he wears "an extraordinary black cap on his red hair," and he wears little if any clothing but has a broken pair of spectacles hanging from a belt around his waist. The sight of this boy must have been quite astonishing to the naval officer. His reaction on surveying Jack and the other painted boys is one of dismay—he feels ashamed for them that, as British boys, they have allowed themselves to sink into such an uncivilized state.

Ralph is the first of the boys to start crying. "Great shuddering spasms of grief" that go back to their traumatic landing on the island wrack his body. The other boys join in. Their sorrow no doubt encompasses the grief of their separation from their families but also sadness for what they have made of themselves. They abandoned everything they had been taught by their parents, they followed an unworthy leader who they can now see through the eyes of an adult, and they have been engaged in a murderous pursuit that has destroyed the very island that sustained them. Seeing how they have botched everything, and knowing they have been rescued just before they would have starved to death on the parched island, they break down in tears. Their tears are tears of grief, shame, and relief.

gbeatty's profile pic

gbeatty | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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The naval officer first views Jack with relative simple pleasure: he's happy that someone, anyone, is alive on the island. Very quickly, however, this immediate pleasure gives way to more intense and darker feelings. He's disappointed with how the boys have done on the island. He thinks they've given too much of themselves up, saying, "I should have thought that a pack of British boys—you're all British, aren't you?—would have been able to put up a better show than that—I mean—"

Readers aren't told if he just stops (as I think) or if Ralph interrupts him. In any case, the officer is essentially horrified.

The boys weep for lost innocence, and due to a sense of shame for what they've done.

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