Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1189
After the feast at the mountaintop, Ralph paces along the beach, preparing for the assembly he has asked the boys to gather for. He understands that there is a great deal at stake and that the boys will need to arrive at a consensus on how to conduct themselves. Ralph considers the place of thought and wisdom. He has never considered himself a thinker; but now, in his position as leader, he has begun to learn how to think, how to discern the best course of action. He sees these abilities in Piggy, though Piggy cannot convince or lead the other boys.
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Ralph approaches the other boys, who have already gathered near the platform on a triangle of logs. Ralph blows the conch and begins the meeting, being sure to think through his words carefully, so as to address the most important topics.
Ralph begins by reiterating the need for an assembly, which to him is “not for fun” but rather “to put things straight.” Ralph begins by listing several pressing issues: the boys have ceased to bring water to the camp, the shelters need more work, the littluns have begun to relieve themselves near the huts and orchards. Then Ralph turns to the most serious topic—the need to sustain the fire. Ralph frames the tending of the fire as a task of mortal importance. Pointing to the mountaintop, he says, “We’ve got to make smoke up there—or die.” Ralph then bans the starting of other fires, an unpopular decision that he reinforces by restating his chiefdom.
Next, Ralph brings up the topic of the beast. To him, the question of the beast’s existence is not as crucial as the choice whether or not to be afraid. He inuits that the fear of the beast is perhaps the largest obstacle in the way of the boys’ happiness. Jack leaps up, takes the conch, and launches into an accusation of the littluns for spreading stories about the beast. He claims to have ranged all over the island, without spying any beast. Piggy agrees, adding that it would be unrealistic for a large predator to exist on such a small island. As Piggy puts it, “Life… is scientific,” and thus fear of anything ghostly is unneeded. He then calls forward any littluns who have seen the beast to speak.
A boy named Phil comes forward and describes a dream about seeing “twisty things in the trees” and then waking up and seeing something “big and horrid” moving in the trees. Ralph assures him this is not possible since nobody could have been out at night. Simon speaks up, stating that he had gone out into the jungle “to go to a place—a place I know.” Jack mocks him, Ralph admonishes him, and Simon sits down without another word.
Another boy, Percival, is called forward but shrinks in embarrassment. All the boys call for him and he speaks, weeping loudly and deeply, overwhelmed with sorrow and homesickness. When Jack asks him about the beast, Percival nearly faints, but whispers something to Jack before passing out: the beast comes out of the sea. The boys are stunned and begin to speculate about what this could mean. Maurice mentions the possibility of a giant squid, which Piggy refutes.
Amid the rowdy din of the assembly, Simon then offers another idea: “‘maybe there is a beast’” and “‘maybe it’s only us.’” However, Simon is unable to fully express his vision, and so he goes silent again, as do the rest of the boys. Piggy plucks up the conch again and reasserts his disbelief in ghosts. Jack then insults Piggy, leading Ralph to regret his decision to hold the assembly at night, when the thought of ghosts seems more real. Ralph calls for anyone who believes in ghosts to raise his hand, and he sees numerous hands rise in the descending darkness.
Piggy chastises the group for believing in ghosts, for acting like animals and savages, for “‘going off—hunting pigs—letting fires out—and now!’” Jack silences Piggy before turning his attention to Ralph, at whom he launches an unexpected volley of criticism: “‘And you shut up! Who are you, anyway? Sitting there telling people what to do. You can’t hunt, you can’t sing…’” When Ralph tries to rein in Jack by reiterating his chiefdom and citing the need for rules, Jack breaks loose, whooping, chanting a hunting song, and leading the other boys away from the assembly and down the beach in a rowdy, dancing throng.
Ralph, Simon, and Piggy remain to discuss the situation. Ralph expresses a desire to give up his leadership, but both Simon and Piggy advise against it. Piggy intuits that Jack would snatch up the role of leader and use it against both Piggy and Ralph, both of whom he hates. The boys talk about their longing for grown-up intervention, for adults to bring order and save them from their circumstances. Suddenly Percival, still lying in the grass, begins to wail.
When he gathers the assembly, Ralph discerns both the crucial need for order among the group and, as the assembly unfolds, the unattainability of order. As always, the forces threatening the boys’ social order come from both inside and outside the group. The inability of the boys to reach a consensus in terms of their priorities—i.e. hunting or getting rescued—is a major obstacle, as are the numerous moments of day-to-day chaos wrought by small, irresponsible boys.
The beast is a significant threat to order, one which has both an internal and external dimension. While the beast appear to be a threat from outside the group, Ralph notices that the boy’s fear of the beast is perhaps the greater threat. Simon adds to this view of the beast by speculating that “‘maybe it’s only us.’”
Another major menace to order is Jack, whose sense of personal significance has grown to the point where he no longer hides his dislike for Ralph, whom he has thus far tried to appease. Jack snaps at Ralph, questioning his authority before single-handedly derailing the assembly and taking the boys off to the beach for a bout of barbaric dancing. In this way, Jack has begun to take aim at the social order from the top, seeking to topple Ralph from his position of rule.
The role of fear among the boys, introduced with the mention of the “beastie” in chapter 3, becomes more prominent as a destabilizing force. The boys initially listen to Ralph at the meeting because they fear his anger, which Ralph fails to recognize. The mention of the beast stirs their fears again, and Ralph, Piggy, and Simon all try to persuade the boys against the reality of the beast, but to no avail. However, Jack now capitalizes on the boys’ fear. Rather than dismiss it as imaginary, he positions himself as someone who can confront the threat. Jack’s bravado leads him to dismiss the power of the conch and end the meeting on his own terms, further harming the fragile order Ralph had established.