In chapter 4 of Lord of the Flies, what is the significance of Jack's mask?

The significance of Jack's mask in chapter 4 of Lord of the Flies is that it allows him to feel liberated from "shame and self-consciousness" as he embraces his savage nature without guilt or embarrassment. Hidden behind his clay mask, Jack is free to behave like a primitive, bloodthirsty savage. His mask also compels the other boys to embrace the barbaric side of their personality and transform into ruthless savages.

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Jack uses white and red clay along with charcoal to camouflage his face when he embarks on a hunting expedition in chapter 4. Initially, Jack hopes that the face paint will disguise his appearance, making it easier to approach unsuspecting pigs in the forest. However, the face paint has another, more powerful function. Jack's mask allows him to feel "liberated from shame and self-consciousness" as he becomes increasingly savage.

By transforming his appearance, Jack feels free to behave like a barbarian without being embarrassed or feeling ashamed of himself. The mask allows Jack to take on a new identity that is violent, unforgiving, and bloodthirsty. Hidden behind the colorful clay, the id of Jack's psyche can flourish, and he embraces his inherent desires and primitive instincts. Wearing the painted mask, Jack is completely uninhibited and develops into a tyrannical, ruthless leader.

Jack's face paint also startles the other boys, who view him with fear and admiration. When Jack suggests that they join him on a hunt, Golding writes, "The mask compelled them" (89). The compelling function of the mask appeals to the boys' inherent savage nature and influences them to follow his lead.

Jack's painted mask also symbolically represents his transformation from a civilized English boy to a bloodthirsty savage. Once Jack paints his face, he is completely transformed and no longer thinks or behaves like a rational person. His exterior transformation has a dramatic psychological effect that contrasts Ralph and Piggy's normal appearance.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on December 8, 2020
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Initially, Jack paints his face with various colors in order to make himself blend in with the natural environment better.  

“For hunting. Like in the war. You know—dazzle paint. Like things trying to look like something else—”

He is the lead hunter, and Jack knows that he has to find some kind of an advantage over the prey that he is hunting. He figures camouflaging his face and his scent should do the trick.

Unfortunately for basically everybody, the mask not only transforms Jack's appearance, but it also has the adverse affect of transforming his demeanor and attitude.  

He looked in astonishment, no longer at himself but at an awesome stranger. He spilt the water and leapt to his feet, laughing excitedly. Beside the pool his sinewy body held up a mask that drew their eyes and appalled them. He began to dance and his laughter became a bloodthirsty snarling. He capered toward Bill, and the mask was a thing on its own, behind which Jack hid, liberated from shame and self-consciousness.

Notice how Golding tells the reader that Jack is no longer himself. He is a complete stranger to the boys and to himself at this point. Notice also how his joyous laughter quickly changes to bloodthirsty snarling. Along with the word "sinewy," the passage is likening Jack to an animal, not a man. Lastly, the passage indicates that the mask is in control, not Jack. The mask is a "thing on its own." The mask now controls Jack, and he is no longer inhibited by shame and self-consciousness. Basically, he is now free from morality and guilt. This moment marks the point in the story where Jack embraces his sadistic climb to power over the remaining boys.

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The significance of the mask is that it helps transform Jack from an ordinary schoolboy into a fearsome hunter. Initially, this seems like no bad thing. Food is required, and Jack will be able to provide it. Also, his reason for painting on the mask in the first place is so that it will camouflage him during the hunt of the wild pigs and make it easier to capture one. This seems perfectly acceptable and sensible.

However, the mask also has a negative influence, as it changes not only Jack's appearance but also his character and - crucially - his perception of himself. When he first sees his own reflection with the mask on, he is both amused and amazed:

He looked in astonishment, no longer at himself but at an awesome stranger. He spilt the water and leapt to his feet, laughing excitedly. Beside the pool his sinewy body held up a mask that drew their eyes and appalled them. He began to dance and his laughter became a bloodthirsty snarling. He capered toward Bill, and the mask was a thing on its own, behind which Jack hid, liberated from shame and self-consciousness.

The mask, then, represents a certain "liberating" force, imparting a wild freedom to Jack and allowing him to put away all civilized restraint. The trouble is that this goes too far and ends in sheer savagery and anarchy. Jack and the other hunters simply cannot check themselves once their descent into wildness and violence begins. We see the first intimations of this in this chapter, with Roger willfully throwing stones at Henry and Jack hitting Piggy. Later the pig hunt itself will become utterly ferocious and brutal, with the killing of the sow described in shockingly graphic terms.

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The mask Jack paints on his face is significant for several reasons:

1. The mask includes the symbolic color of red. This blood color seems to accompany what occurs as soon as Jack lives life after the painting of the face.

2. The mask brings out Jack's violence and takes away his inhibitions. Jack becomes even more mean and demanding among the boys. His capacity to understand and employ social means of courtesy is gone. We see this in his treatment of Piggy as Jack's insults increase and he even tries to keep meat from Piggy. Jack grows in his use of intimidation and fear.

3. The mask uncovers the the savage in Jack. Only after Jack has painted his face is he able to actually kill a pig.

Jack's ultimate change from cooperative to intimidating, from a team player to a fearful leader happens here. The mask marks the complete and total shift in his character.

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