In chapter five of William Golding's Lord of the Flies, what does Simon mean when he says, "Maybe there is a beast"?

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In chapter five of William Golding's Lord of the Flies, the boys hold a meeting because, quite frankly, things are beginning to fall apart. They meet and they talk, but they do not get anything accomplished. The boys are having even more nightmares now, and their talk of beasts is rampant and rather outrageous.

During the meeting, Simon feels compelled to speak, but it is something he does not want to do.

Simon felt a perilous necessity to speak; but to speak in assembly was a terrible thing to him.“Maybe,” he said hesitantly, “maybe there is a beast.”

Not surprisingly, the reaction from the other boys is outrageous laughter, but Simon tries again.

“What I mean is. . . maybe it’s only us.”
That was from Piggy, shocked out of decorum. Simon went on.
“We could be sort of. . . ”
Simon became inarticulate in his effort to express mankind’s essential illness.

What he is trying to suggest is that it is them, something in them, which is the beast they are so troubled by. Golding refers to it here as "mankind's essential illness," meaning the unchecked human nature in all of us which is prone to evil when there is no civilizing force or authority to hold it back. 

Simon tries one more time (he asks “What’s the dirtiest thing there is?”); but that, too devolves into raucous laughter.  

Simon’s effort fell about him in ruins; the laughter beat him cruelly and he shrank away defenceless to his seat.