According to Ralph, they should die before they do what in Lord of the Flies?

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andrewnightingale eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Ralph calls an assembly at the beginning of chapter five to, as he says, "put things straight." Ralph has done some careful thinking and feels that things on the island have gotten out of control. The boys have, in general, been ignoring the rules, and he feels that it is time to regain order and discipline. He and Piggy are especially upset in chapter four that their signal fire has been allowed to die. Ralph has seen smoke from what he believes is a ship on the horizon and is shocked and dismayed to discover that there is no signal fire to indicate their presence. He confronts Jack about the matter. Jack confirms that he needed Sam and Eric, the boys who tended the fire, to successfully hunt down and kill a pig. Jack is proud of their achievement but apologizes for calling his hunters away from their duty.

During their meeting, Ralph initially mentions the matter about water not being made available in shells and about the boys' careless toilet habits. The fact that they have missed a chance for rescue is, however, uppermost in Ralph's mind, and he decides to address the issue of the signal fire. He wants to make it clear that the maintenance of the fire should be prioritized above everything else because their rescue and, therefore, their lives depend on it. Ralph states:

“The fire is the most important thing on the island. How can we ever be rescued except by luck, if we don’t keep a fire going? Is a fire too much for us to make?”

and

“Look at us! How many are we? And yet we can’t keep a fire going to make smoke. Don’t you understand? Can’t you see we ought to—ought to die before we let the fire out?”

It is quite ironic and paradoxical that Ralph believes that keeping the fire going is more important than living. His statement, though, is understandable within the context of their situation. The boys are desperate for rescue because they are afraid that they might die on the island. Rescue means they can go back to the civilized world they are accustomed to—a world of comfort and security. On the island, they are constantly anxious and afraid. They lack real authority and, as Ralph and Piggy have most keenly become aware of, are unable to maintain discipline.

Ralph's desperate call for the maintenance of the signal fire is symbolic of the despair felt by all those on the island. The boys are all aware of the presence of a brooding, sinister force. The littluns express their awareness in the form of nightmares and by talking about having seen a snake-thing or beastie. The older boys adopt an attitude of bravado—best displayed by Jack and his hunters, who kill pigs and wear masks. Ralph, Piggy, and Simon try to appease their anxiety by rationalizing their experience and by keeping to the rules. Ultimately, though, it is only rescue that can save the surviving boys from themselves and their fears—a fact that Ralph instinctively seems to recognize at this juncture.

litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Ralph says that they should die before they let the fire out.

Ralph tries to explain to the other boys the importance of the fire.  As the leader, it is his job to set priorities.  He tries to accomplish this, but the boys don’t take him seriously.

“Look at us! How many are we? And yet we can’t keep a fire going to make smoke. Don’t you understand? Can’t you see we ought to—ought to die before we let the fire out?” (ch 5)

The fire, and the smoke from it, is the boys’ only chance of getting rescued.  They have no other way of contacting the outside world.  Ralph tells the hunters that “the smoke is more important than the pig,” which is a direct threat to Jack’s authority.  The contention over the fire and the pig is one of the things that splits the group.

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Lord of the Flies

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