What is the significance of Ralph's assertion, "Be sucking my thumb next?" in Lord of the Flies?

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litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Ralph feels like he has reverted back to being a baby because on the island they do not have the opportunity for civilized hygiene.

Ralph is sophisticated, as boys go, and likes everything just so.  On the island, they have been stranded without running water and indoor plumbing.  They don’t have a toothbrush, fingernail clippers, or the opportunity to take showers with hot water.  It’s pretty much every boy for himself with a dip in the ocean in your clothes.

Ralph planned his toilet. He would like to have a pair of scissors and cut this hair—he flung the mass back—cut this filthy hair right back to half an inch. He would like to have a bath, a proper wallow with soap. (Ch. 7)

Like many boys, when he was young Ralph probably worked hard to stop biting his fingernails.  It has a habit he tried to break.  It would have been considered part of good hygiene and maturity, like not picking your nose or sucking your thumb.  It would have been part of self-control and growing up.  On the island, he has been under a lot of stress.  Everyone does as they please, and there is not a lot of discipline and self-control.

When Ralph realizes that he has been biting his nails, he feels ashamed that he has lost some of that grown-up self-control that was working so hard for back in civilization. On the island everyone is dirty because even though they try to keep comfortably clean, they don’t have access to the advantages of civilization.  They are worn down, and the habits they used to keep have less and less of a draw as time goes on and the old world seems farther and farther off.

Another example of Ralph representing civilization and culture, the internal conflict Ralph faces over nail-biting coincides with hoping no one heard him say the thumb-sucking comment out loud.  Ralph still worries about what others think of him, as well as keeping high standards of himself.  Both concerns demonstrate that Ralph, like them all, is still a boy.

nicole8923 | Student

By this he means that he had stopped biting his nails ages ago and that he hd restarted that habit again recently, due to stress and anxiety. He was being sarcastic and saying that he was turning back into a baby, and that he felt a lot more sensitive and vulnerable like he was when he was younger. 

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Lord of the Flies

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