Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 945
Ralph, Simon, and Piggy put Percival to sleep and fall asleep themselves. Unbeknownst to the boys, the night brings an air battle in the skies over the island. A shot-down plane extrudes a dead pilot hanging from a parachute, which floats down and lands on the side of the mountain. The corpse is dragged up the rocks by the parachute. Near the mountaintop the corpse comes to a rest, settling into a strange rhythm of raising its head and slumping, according to the wind.
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Early in the morning, Samneric go to the mountaintop to rekindle the fire. By the fire’s light, they see the parachutist; confusing it for the beast, they flee back to camp, where they rouse Ralph and tell him the news. Ralph decides to quietly gather the boys to an assembly. Samneric describe the beast to the other boys, who become frightened. Eric shows his face, cut from having run through jungle brush, as evidence of claw marks from the beast.
The boys debate the proper course of action. Jack proposes hunting it; Ralph points out that they are under-equipped and admits to being afraid. After Piggy expresses his wish not to pursue the beast, Ralph charges him with staying behind at camp to look after the littluns. Piggy worries that the beast might attack the camp, at which point Jack teases Piggy for being scared. Piggy replies that Jack—conchless—is speaking out of turn, at which point Jack shouts, “‘We don’t need the conch anymore.’” He goes on to claim that certain boys—Simon, Bill, Walter—would do better to keep quiet.
Ralph reasserts his agenda, defending the conch and reprimanding Jack for his skewed priorities, for hunting instead of trying to get rescued. The boys decide to search for the beast at the smaller island connected to the main island by a land bridge—the last zone of the island they have not yet explored. They plan to then return to the mountaintop and start the fire again.
After eating and arming themselves with spears, the biguns head off down the beach. Ralph brings up the rear, letting Jack lead in boisterous manner. Simon walks alongside Ralph and muses about the existence of the beast, which he doubts. When “Simon thought of the beast, there rose before his inward sight the picture of a human at once heroic and sick.” Simon then walks into a tree and smashes his head before he and Ralph can enter into a discussion.
When the boys arrive at the narrow causeway of rocks leading to the small island, Ralph elects Jack to scout it out. Jack hesitates, but Ralph instinctively senses that, as chief, he ought to go, so he elects himself and sets forth. The causeway is bordered by the calm, reef-bound lagoon on one side and the vast Pacific on the other, swelling and collapsing and swelling again. Ralph scrambles up the hundred foot hill of rock and, as he moves along a cliff edge, notices that Jack has joined him. They reach the top of the rock and find the island empty.
As they descend, the smaller boys rush onto the island to join them and begin frenziedly toppling boulders down into the water. With the day nearing noon and the beast out of sight, the boys are content to play and abandon the tasks at hand. Ralph angrily musters the group and reminds them of the importance of getting to the mountain to light the fire. After some argument, the boys all agree, and Jack leads the boys into the jungle and toward the mountain.
Chapter 6 introduces a mechanism of dramatic irony that unwinds over the course of several chapters. Readers witness both the falling of the parachutist and Samneric’s confusion of the parachutist as the beast. Thus readers know more than the boys do. As the boys set out on their hunt, readers understand that the beast they are searching for is nothing more than an unexpected corpse. However, Simon’s musings about the nature of the beast in chapter 5 should give readers pause. There may be a metaphorical sense in which the shot-down parachutist does indeed represent the beast. The dead pilot stands for violence, death, and fear—all specters that have haunted the boys thus far.
Simon’s meditation reinforces readers’ suspicions that he intuits something about the beast that the other boys do not. Simon cannot shake his doubts about a mysterious beast who leaves no tracks. It is significant that when he thinks of the beast he envisions “a human at once heroic and sick.” Simon’s vision in chapter 6 accords with his prior notion that the beast is “only us,” only a manifestation of something within the boys themselves.
The ongoing conflict between Ralph and Jack undergoes important changes in chapter 6. After Jack’s insolent disruption of Ralph the previous evening, Ralph succeeds in gaining the upper hand again. During the morning assembly, he witheringly criticizes Jack for holding shortsighted priorities. Later, as the boys gather before the small island to scout for the beast, Ralph gains yet more esteem for choosing to do the scouting himself instead of Jack.
As this conflict develops, Ralph becomes more adult in his outlook, urging the boys to be responsible and discouraging play when there are more pressing matters. Jack grows more popular with the boys because he encourages them to enjoy themselves, shows disregard for the rules, and demonstrates his bravado. However, while Ralph proves himself the braver, if less popular, boy in this chapter, Jack’s undermining of Ralph’s authority continues to sow discord among the fragile society.