Two separate illustrations of an animal head and a fire on a mountain

Lord of the Flies

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

The naval officer views Jack with amusement at first when he believes the boys are simply playing a game of war on the island. The officer then feels ashamed of the boys for their lack of responsibility and discretion. Ralph and the others begin sobbing when they reflect on their immoral behavior and are overcome with grief, shame, remorse, and guilt. Their tears encompass the traumatic, harrowing experience they have endured, which has dramatically transformed their lives.

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Initially, the British naval officer views Jack and the other boys with amusement and assumes by their appearance that they have been engaging in fun and games. He has more than likely read adventure stories and misinterprets the boys's behavior and appearance. The officer notices that they are covered with streaks of colored clay and casually asks Ralph if they have been "having a war or something." Once Ralph admits that two children have died, the officer's disposition changes and he asks who is in charge. Jack entertains the idea of identifying himself as the boss but refrains from speaking up. Jack looks similar to the other boys, except he is wearing a black cap and Piggy's glasses are dangling from his waistband. The officer more than likely cannot distinguish Jack from the other boys and views him as a dirty, unkempt adolescent.
After analyzing the situation and briefly examining the boys, the officer loses his casual, light-hearted demeanor by 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—."
Evidently, the British officer is ashamed of the boys and does not approve of their conduct and disgraceful appearance. As a proud British citizen, the officer represents the civilized world and is disappointed that the boys have not lived up to the standards of European culture. Ralph then attempts to explain why they have descended into savagery, but cannot contain his emotions and bursts into tears.
The other boys also experience the overwhelming feeling of grief, remorse, regret, and shame as they lose their composure and begin sobbing. The boys weep for their loss of innocence and the sadness they have experienced throughout the harrowing ordeal, which has pushed their limits of civility and transformed them into savages.
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In chapter 12, the British naval officer initially sees Ralph before the savages appear behind him to form a semicircle. Jack and the savages are painted with colored clay and wielding sharp sticks. After looking at the armed, painted boys, the British officer questions Ralph if they are engaging in "fun and games" or "Having a war or something?" (Golding, 288). When the officer asks who is the boss, Jack begins to step forward but changes his mind. Golding describes Jack by writing,

A little boy who wore the remains of an extraordinary black cap on his red hair and who carried the remains of a pair of spectacles at his waist . . . (289)

Golding's description of Jack stands in stark contrast to the malevolent tyrant he acted like before the officer arrived. Stripped of his authority, Jack is portrayed as a dirty, small child.

After the officer remarks that he would have thought a pack of British boys would have conducted themselves in a more civil, organized fashion, Ralph begins to think about how they descended into savagery and remembers the victims of senseless violence on the island. Ralph then begins to weep "for the end of innocence, the darkness of man’s heart, and the fall through the air of the true, wise friend called Piggy" (Golding, 290). The other boys cannot contain their emotions and begin to sob uncontrollably along with Ralph. The boys cry because they are overwhelmed with guilt and shame for their savage acts and destructive, primitive nature. When they think about their lost opportunities and heinous crimes, they cannot contain their emotions and burst into tears.

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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.

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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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