Chapter 2 Summary & Analysis

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Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 811

Summary

Ralph, Jack, and Simon return from scouting. Ralph summons the entire group to another meeting. The boys discuss their findings, reporting that the island is indeed an island and that there are pigs. When the group grows loud, Ralph establishes a system of communication whereby one may only speak while holding the conch shell. Piggy then takes up the conch shell and reminds the group of their essential problem: they are stranded and nobody knows where they are.

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Ralph reminds the group that the island has everything they need to survive and entertain themselves, framing their situation as an adventure like Treasure Island or The Coral Island. Prompted to share any additional findings, a small boy with a mulberry-colored birthmark on his face describes a snake-like beast he has seen stalking through the woods. Jack grows excited at the prospect of killing the beast, but Ralph dismisses its existence, claiming it is the product of the boy’s imagination.

Either out of optimism or a desire to cheer up the group, Ralph—citing his navy-commander father—claims that the British government has mapped all the earth’s islands. He tells the group he is sure they will be rescued. He then encourages the boys to light a beacon fire on the mountaintop in order to set a signal for passing ships.

The boys leap up at once and rush off to start the flame. Piggy lingers behind with Ralph, muttering about the group’s immaturity, but Ralph soon joins the rest, leaving Piggy to his judgments.

The boys find a stretch of dead forest, pull out the dry, rotted wood, carry it up the mountain, and pile it high near the peak. When Piggy finally arrives, they take his glasses to use as a fire-starting device, despite his complaints. A huge conflagration erupts, burns quickly and smokelessly, and collapses. The boys realize the need for a slower, more sustained fire. Jack volunteers his hunters to oversee the fire in shifts.

After another scuffle over the possession of the conch shell and the authority to speak, Piggy notices a jungle fire raging below, sparked by the drifting flames of the boys’ beacon. Enormous pillars of smoke rise from the fire and sweep out over the ocean. Piggy criticizes the other boys for allowing the fire to spread and for ignoring the care of the younger boys, though Ralph reminds Piggy that caretaking is his own duty.

Piggy realizes that the boy with the mulberry-colored birthmark, who earlier had warned the group of the “beastie,” is missing. The boys recall that a group of the younger boys had gone fruit-picking in the jungle and realize that the birthmarked boy may have died in the fire they created. They stand in silence, listening to the blazing trees crackle and boom below.

Analysis

Whereas chapter 1 tracks the boys in their construction of a social order, chapter 2 documents the entropic, even accidental, breakdown of that order. Despite Ralph’s attempts to establish an atmosphere of unity and hope, dark realities repeatedly knock at the door. Piggy sobers the group by reminding them of the direness of their situation; the boys are stranded, and nobody back home in Britain knows where they are. The tension is compounded by the report of the birthmarked boy, who tells of a snake-like “beastie” lurking in the jungle.

Initially, Ralph strives to establish order in the boys’ meetings by using the conch as a mouthpiece. Whoever holds the conch may speak—a new rule that further establishes the conch as a symbol of democratic order. However, the littlun with the birthmark claims he saw a "beastie," which sows fear within the group despite the older boys’ protestations. Jack manipulates this fear to his advantage, using the beast as a pretext to go hunting and provide meat for everyone.

As the chapter unfolds, dark realities emerge from within the boys. In an effort to instill hope and a sense of agency, Ralph encourages the boys to start a fire to signal to passing ships. The starting of the fire, at first a source of enthusiasm, quickly turns into a disaster. Piggy’s glasses are unceremoniously ripped from him in order to ignite the wood; the fire burns rapidly and falls apart; a second, much vaster, fire is sparked in the nearby forest; finally, the birthmarked boy is reported missing and presumed to have been killed by the forest fire.

In short, the boys confront the chaos writhing both within and outside their constructed order. The promise of a principled democracy, whereby the boys take turns speaking with the conch shell, begins to fall apart, and even Piggy, the system’s strongest supporter, starts to speak out of turn. More importantly, the boys recognize their own immense powers of destruction and confront the specter of death, and they are chastened by both.

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