As Lord of the Flies draws to a close, social order has deteriorated into a war against Ralph, who once had been the leader and the voice of reason. The boys are finally rescued when a navy cutter sees smoke from the island. Ironically, the smoke comes from the fire that Jack’s boys have set to smoke out their prey, Ralph. It does not come from the signal fire, which they had failed to keep going.
The importance of keeping a fire going is one source of conflict throughout the novel. Piggy and Ralph are staunch advocates of maintaining a fire that will produce enough smoke to be seen at a distance, which will enable them to be rescued. The boys who are assigned this duty, however, do not take their responsibility seriously. They are easily swayed by Jack’s perspective, which is that hunting and getting meat is the highest priority.
The first time Ralph, Simon, and Maurice glimpse a far-off ship in the ocean, they run back to the fire to stoke it. Ralph’s hopes are dashed when he realizes it has released its last wisp of smoke. As they see the ship disappear in the distance,
Ralph reached inside himself for the worst word he knew.
"They let the bloody fire go out."
Near the novel’s end, Ralph has no remaining allies and understands that the Jack’s warriors intend to find and kill him. They are advancing, formed into a solid line. Hiding deep within the thicket, he realizes that the huge trees have caught fire and are crashing down. When he is sure that a savage standing at the thicket’s edge has seen him, Ralph runs, charging through the burning woods.
He swung to the right, running desperately fast, with the heat beating on his left side and the fire racing forward like a tide…. He could hear … [his pursuers] crashing in the undergrowth and on the left was the hot, bright thunder of the fire.
Trying to escape being burned alive, Ralph flees the woods and heads for the water. Emerging onto the beach, he expects to find the hostile boys there. Instead, he runs into a uniformed naval officer standing on the beach.
The cheerful officer says to Ralph:
We saw your smoke. What have you been doing? Having a war or something?
Although he is joking about the war, that is what the boys have been doing. He is soon shocked and disappointed to learn that two boys have died.