In chapter 5 of Lord of the Flies, what is the paradox of the boys' attitude towards the beast?

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rmhope eNotes educator| Certified Educator

During the meeting in chapter 5 when Ralph opens up the discussion to try to put to rest the boys' fears, the conversation starts revolving around "the beast." Ralph wants to "talk about this fear and decide there's nothing in it." He attributes the talk of a beast to nightmares and the runaway imaginations of the littluns. Unfortunately, Jack takes the conch and begins to scold the boys for being "a lot of cry-babies and sissies." But suddenly he begins talking about an animal, and Ralph's jaw drops. Contrary to what Ralph was trying to do, Jack has just made the beast more tangible. Jack then explains that a large animal couldn't live on an island as small as theirs, and that if there was an animal, he and his hunters would have seen it. Piggy also denies that there is an animal to be afraid of and says that they shouldn't be controlled by psychological fear, either. But a little boy named Percival comes forward, and with a single statement, he makes the idea of a beast even more tangible: he suggests "the beast comes out of the sea." Maurice then concurs such a thing could be possible because science hasn't yet identified all the animals in the sea. Simon rises to try to say that the beast the boys should be concerned about is the moral darkness inside each of them--but his words are not understood. Instead, someone says, "Maybe he means it's some sort of ghost." From there, in the eerie gloom of the early evening, the boys become more afraid, and the meeting deteriorates with the boys running down to the beach after Jack.

The paradox of the boys' attitude toward the beast in this chapter is that it began as a nameless fear, then the fear was transferred to a tangible but unknown sea creature and even unseen ghosts, but the real beast worth fearing, as Simon suggested, was the boys' "essential illness," that is, their own depravity. Only Simon, of all the boys, understood the real thing that the boys should have been afraid of. 

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Lord of the Flies

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