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

Lord of the Flies

by William Golding

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Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

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The chapter begins with a description of the day-to-day life the boys adopt. They fall into a rhythm of working, playing, eating, and sleeping, their actions often determined by the position of the sun as it arcs across the sky. At noonday they often see glimmering, surreal objects on the horizon, which Piggy understands to be mirages, effects of the extreme heat.

Henry, Percival, and Johnny, three of the littluns, are making sandcastles on the beach when Roger and Maurice approach from the forest. Roger immediately kicks the castles into dust, casting sand into the eyes of Percival, one of the smallest and most sensitive of the littluns, who begins to cry. Roger feels a pang of guilt, a holdover from his former civilized life. Then Roger wanders off and watches Henry, who is now playing with arthropods at the waterline. Roger hurls stones at Henry, making them fall a few feet away, never too close. His desire to hit the boy is again restrained by his impulses toward social order. When Henry turns and looks his way, Roger quickly hides behind a palm tree.

Jack crosses paths with Roger and asks the boy to come with him. They go to a pool of water, where Samneric and Bill await them. Jack reveals two leaves filled with red and white clay, as well as a charcoal stick. He explains his plan to use the clay for camouflage while hunting. He experiments with different patterns, eventually covering half his face in white clay, the other in red, and drawing a black charcoal line between the two. Jack, enthralled by the savage new “mask” he has taken on, begins to whoop and sing. He gathers the boys together and leads them into the woods to begin their hunt.

Over at the lagoon, Ralph, Piggy, Simon, and Maurice are swimming. Piggy approaches Ralph with the idea of constructing sundials out of sticks. Ralph scoffs at the idea and smiles at Piggy in derision. Piggy thinks Ralph is on his side, not realizing that Ralph—along with the other boys—has turned his back on Piggy, disdaining his appearance and manner.

Suddenly, Ralph notices a thread of smoke rising from the horizon out at sea. He leaps up, shouting “Smoke! Smoke!” Ecstatic, the boys hope the ship might see their signal fire blazing on the mountaintop. Ralph immediately begins scrambling through the jungle towards the mountain, fearing that the fire may not be burning. The boys soon arrive at the fire and find that the hunters tasked with its care have abandoned their post, letting the fire die. Ralph is furious and horror-stricken at the reality that the ship has passed by, unaware of the boys.

Then the boys peer down the mountainside and see Jack and his hunters emerging from the forest. Samneric are carrying a long wooden stake across their shoulders, with a dead, bloody pig swinging from it. The group is chanting, “Kill the pig. Cut her throat. Spill her blood.” Jack triumphantly clambers up the hillside to greet the other boys by the dead fire. Jack breathlessly tells Ralph about the hunt and his role as the one to deliver the fatal cut. Ralph remains furious and unmoved. The band of hunters gathers around, all giddily telling the story. Ralph simply says, “You let the fire go out.” Jack and the hunters are undisturbed and continue in their story. But Ralph repeats the sentence again and then finally burst out in anger, explaining about the ship. Piggy adds an accusation, aimed towards Jack. Jack, sobered and ashamed, lashes out at Piggy,...

(This entire section contains 1163 words.)

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hitting him in the head, knocking his glasses to the ground, and breaking one of the lenses. 

After the two scuffle, Jack finally admits his fault and apologizes, albeit in a glib fashion. With nothing left to say, Ralph mutters, “All right. Light the fire.” The boys start the fire again before butchering the pig and roasting its flesh over the flames. Ralph refrains from eating at first, not wishing to encourage Jack’s actions, but soon he gives in. Piggy yearns for meat, which Jack forbids; Simon, pityingly provides it to him. Jack takes the opportunity to assert his importance and dominance, leaping up before the crowd of feasting boys to shout, “I got you meat!” After more lively discussion of the hunt, Ralph announces his decision to call an assembly. He then treads away into the dark.


In chapter 4, the boys are becoming increasingly differentiated in character, particularly in terms of their response to the conditions of living on the far flung island. We see young Percival falling into a kind of obstinate despair, weeping and singing to himself in one of the shelters. Henry, by contrast, is content to explore the beach and feed his curiosity.

For other boys, the island limbo draws the mind from its civilized boundaries and opinions down into a realm of instinctive violence. This phenomenon can be seen in Roger, who quietly lashes out at the younger boys, knocking down sandcastles and throwing rocks. He is only restrained by the lingering specter of social propriety; however, it is clear that he yearns to do violence. 

In Jack, this violent impulse is even more unhinged. In chapter 4, he finally frees himself from the bonds of his civilized British persona. With colored clay and charcoal, he forges a new mask for himself, literally and figuratively. With his painted face, he is able to become the figure he has ached to become: that of the hunter and carnivore. When he successfully kills a pig in the forest, Jack’s new identity has solidified and been affirmed by the group. In the wake of the kill, encouraged by the hungry boys, Jack openly revels in the slaughter, shouting, “You should have seen the blood!” Jack has ceased to hide his bloodlust; instead, he flaunts it as a force to motivate the other boys.

The scene of the feast marks a key development. Jack’s hunt is a direct betrayal of Ralph and the rest of the boys. It was his hunting plans that caused the fire to go out. Thus, his decision is representative of his priorities; Jack cares more about killing pigs than getting rescued. Ralph holds the opposite priorities, and he is angered more than anyone else by Jack’s actions. The final scene of chapter 4 shows a further splintering between Ralph and Jack, as well as Jack’s growing push for power, which he tries to gain through his success as a hunter. As he unabashedly declares to the other boys, “‘I got you meat!’” Jack’s egotism angers Ralph, who begins to grow wary of his arrogance and independence. At the same time, Ralph begins to grow more closely allied with Piggy, whom at first he had considered inept and inferior. Ralph increasingly understands the value of Piggy’s opinions and resents Piggy’s unfair treatment by the other boys, particularly Jack.


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