Ralph goes to the beach because he needs a place to think and feels overcome with frustration and impotence. He is saddened by his own physical appearance, which has grown shabby with neglect. In particular, his hair has grown uncomfortably long. He understands the weariness of life, where everything requires improvisation. Ralph decides to call a meeting near the bathing pool, realizing that he must think and must make a decision but that he lacks Piggy's natural intellectual ability.
That afternoon, Ralph blows the conch shell and the assembly gathers. He begins the assembly seriously, telling them that they are there not for making jokes or for cleverness. He reminds them that everyone built the first shelter, which is the most sturdy, while the third one, built only by Simon and Ralph, is unstable. He admonishes them for not using the appropriate areas for the lavatory. He also reminds them that the fire is the most important thing on the island, for it is their means of escape. He claims that they ought to die before they let the fire out. He directs this at the hunters in particular. He repeats the rule that the only place where they will have a fire is on the mountain. Addressing the spreading fear among the littluns, Ralph then attempts to demystify the question of the "beastie" or monster. He admits that he is frightened himself, but their fear is unfounded. Ralph again assures the group that there are no monsters on the island.
With his customary abruptness, Jack stands up, takes the conch from Ralph, and begins to yell at the littluns for screaming like babies and not hunting or building or helping. Jack tells them that there is no beast on the island. Piggy does agree with Jack on that point, telling the kids that there are no beasts and there is no real reason for fear-unless it is of other people. A littlun, Phil, tells that he had a nightmare and, when he awoke, saw something big and horrid moving among the trees. Ralph dismisses it as nothing. Simon admits that he was walking in the jungle at night.
Percival speaks next, and as he gives his name he recites his address and telephone number. This reminder of home, however, causes him to break out into tears. All of the littluns join him in crying. Percival claims that the beast comes out of the sea, and he tells them about frightening squids. Simon says that maybe there is a beast, and the boys speak about ghosts. Piggy claims he does not believe in ghosts, but Jack attempts to start a fight again by taunting Piggy and calling him "Fatty." Ralph stops the fight and asks the boys how many of them believe in ghosts. Piggy begins yelling, asking whether the boys are humans, animals, or savages.
Jack threatens Piggy again, and Ralph intercedes once more, complaining that they are breaking the rules. When Jack asks, "who cares?" Ralph says that the rules are the only thing that they have. Jack says that he and his hunters will kill the beast. The assembly breaks up as Jack leads them on a hunt. Only Ralph, Piggy, and Simon remain. Ralph says that if he blows the conch to summon them back and they refuse, then they will become like animals and will never be rescued. He asks Piggy whether there are ghosts or beasts on the island, but Piggy reassures him. Piggy warns Ralph that if he steps down as chief Jack will do nothing but hunt, and they will never be rescued. The three imagine the majesty of adult life. They also hear Percival still sobbing his address.
The weight of leadership becomes oppressive for Ralph as the story continues; he is dutiful and dedicated, but his attempts to instill order and calm among the boys are decreasingly successful. Golding develops Ralph's particular concerns and insecurities in this chapter. By showing him brooding over his perceived failures, Golding highlights Ralph's essentially responsible, adult nature. Ralph's concern about his appearance, and particularly his grown-out hair, indicate his natural inclination towards the conventions of civilization. Although Ralph demonstrates a more than sufficient intellect, he also worries that he lacks Piggy's genius. His one consolation is that he realizes that his abilities as a thinker allow him to recognize the same in Piggy, again a rational observation that draws the reader's attention to his potential as a leader. The implication is that deviations from Ralph's plans will be illogical, ill-informed, and dangerous.
Ralph still has a strong sense of self-doubt. He is not immune to fear, which he admits to the boys, and he even feels it necessary to ask Piggy whether there might actually be a ghost on the island. Thus, Golding presents Ralph as a reluctant leader. His elected position of chief has been thrust upon him, and he assumes it only because he is the most natural and qualified leader. He has no real ambition or drive, such as the rapacious energy that motivates Jack, but he knows that the boys will be best provided for under his care. It is Ralph who is most concerned with the rules of order on the island. He accurately tells the boys that without the rules, the boys have nothing. Ralph's rules keep the boys tethered to some semblance of society, but without these rules there will be disastrous consequences.
Piggy remains the only fully rational character during the assembly and afterward. Piggy is the only boy who categorically dismisses the idea of a beast on the island, and he even reassures the generally unwavering Ralph on this point. It is Piggy who realizes that the boys' fear is the only danger that they truly face so long as they have enough food to survive, and even this fear proves no actual threat to them. Still, the outcast Piggy once again is ignored in favor of lurid tales of beasts and ghosts; although he is consistently correct in his judgments, Piggy is continually ignored. He raises the important question of whether the boys wish to act like humans, savages, or animals. Once again, Ralph and Piggy exemplify civilized human order, while Jack represents a brutal anarchy that may devolve into animal behavior.
The conflict between Jack and Ralph, with Piggy as his ally, reaches a breaking point in this chapter. Although Jack initially dismisses the idea of a beast on the island, he comes to accept the idea when they conceive of the beast as an enemy that his hunters may kill. Jack continues to be an aggressive and destructive force. He again physically threatens Piggy, foreshadowing the eventual violent conflict between the two boys, and he even manipulates the young boys' fear of monsters and ghosts. During the assembly Jack fully abandons the rules and codes of society. He promotes anarchy among the boys, leading them on a disorganized hunt for an imaginary beast. While Ralph is appointed leader for his calm demeanor and rationality, Jack gains his authority from irrationality and instinctual fear, manipulating the boys into thinking that there may be a dangerous creature that they should hunt. This behavior is dangerous; Ralph concludes that a focus on hunting will prevent them from ever leaving the island and seal their fate as no more than animals.
The assembly highlights how fear ferments and spreads in a group. The littluns begin with a concrete example of a frightening incident that is easily explained and is understandable, but the idea of something more sinister on the island provokes mass hysteria. The terrors that the boys imagine become progressively more abstract and threatening. Percival uses concrete facts about squids to arrive at an illogical conclusion that a squid may emerge from the sea to harm them. This then provokes the unfounded rumors that there may be supernatural beings, ghosts, on the island.
Monsters, violent squid, and ghosts: all three creatures represent different instantiations of the "beast" or "beastie" that has been the subject of the boys' mounting fear. As the title suggests, the beast is of crucial importance to this chapter and will figure largely in the tragic events to come. On a symbolic level, the beast has several meanings. First, it invokes the devil, the Satan of Judeo-Christian mythology, which foreshadows the "lord of the flies" object that will become the mascot of Jack's tribe later. The fear of the beast among the boys may symbolize their fear of evil from an external, supernatural source. Second, it symbolizes the unknown, amoral, dark forces of nature, which remain beyond the boys' control. Finally, the beast may allude to the Freudian concept of the Id, the instinctual, primordial drive that is present in the human psyche and which, unfettered by social mores, tends towards savagery and destruction. In this framework, the boys' fear of the beast is a displacement of a fear of themselves, of their capacity for violence and evil which is unleashed in the absence of adult authority and ordered social life.
With the anarchy incited by Jack and the panic among the littluns, only the illusion of civilization is left on the island. Percival's tearful repetition of his home address is a stark reminder that the boys no longer reside in civilized culture and that the Home Counties remain little more than a pleasant memory. As Ralph, Piggy, and Simon muse on adulthood, we recall that adult society should be sufficiently rational and organized to solve the problems that the children face on the island, though we wonder how well a similar group of adults would do.
The boys become accustomed to the pattern of their days on the island although it is impossible to adjust to the new rhythms of tropical life, which include the strange point at midday when the sea rises and appears to contain flickering images. Piggy discounts the midday illusions as mere mirages. While mornings are cool and comfortable, the afternoon sun is oppressively hot and bright, which incites fatigue among many of the boys. The northern European tradition of work, play, and food right through the day is not forgotten, making the transition difficult.
As the boys settle into life on the island, factions develop. The smaller boys are now known by the generic title of "littluns," including Percival, the smallest boy on the island, who had previously stayed in a small shelter for two days and had only recently emerged, red-eyed and miserable. The littluns spend most of the day searching for fruit to eat, and since they choose it indiscriminately they suffer from chronic diarrhea. They cry for their mothers less often than expected, and they spend time with the older boys only during Ralph's assemblies. The littluns occupy themselves by building castles in the sand, complex structures whose fine details are only noticeable from close range. The littluns remain collectively troubled by nightmares and visions of the "beastie" described at the first meeting. They fear that the creature hunts the boys after nightfall.
Two older boys, Roger and Maurice, come out of the forest for a swim and, expressing their superiority over the littluns, begin to kick down the sand castles on the shore. Maurice, remembering that his mother chastised him for such behavior, feels guilty when he gets sand in Percival's eye. While this conflict unfolds, Henry-a littlun who is related to the boy who disappeared-is preoccupied by some small creatures on the beach, which he finds fascinating. Roger picks up a stone to throw at Henry but deliberately misses him when he throws it, recalling the taboos of earlier life.
Jack thinks about why he is still unsuccessful as a hunter. He believes that the animals see him, so he wants to find some way to camouflage himself. Jack rubs his face with charcoal and laughs with a bloodthirsty snarl when he sees his reflection in a pool of water. From behind the mask, Jack appears liberated from shame and self-consciousness.
Piggy thinks about making a sundial so that they can tell time and better organize their days, but Ralph dismisses the idea. The idea that Piggy is an outsider is tacitly accepted. Ralph believes that he sees smoke along the horizon coming from a ship, but there is not enough smoke from the mountain to signal it. Ralph starts to run to the up the mountain, but he is too late. Their signal fire is dead. Ralph screams for the ship to come back, but it passes without seeing them. Frustrated and sad, Ralph places the blame on the hunters, whose job it was to tend the fire.
From the forest, Jack and the hunters return covered in paint and humming a bizarre war chant. Ralph sees that the hunt has finally been successful: they are carrying a dead pig on a stick. Nevertheless, Ralph admonishes them for letting the fire go out. Jack, however, is overjoyed by the kill and ignores Ralph. Piggy begins to cry at their lost opportunity, and he also blames Jack. The two argue, and finally Jack punches Piggy in the stomach. Piggy's glasses fly off, and one of the lenses breaks on the rocks. Jack eventually does apologize about the fire, but Ralph resents Jack's misbehavior. Jack considers not letting Piggy have any meat, but he orders everyone to eat. Maurice pretends to be a pig, and the hunters circle around him, dancing and singing, "Kill the pig. Cut her throat. Bash her in." Ralph vows to call an assembly.
Golding begins the chapter by describing a sense of order among the boys on the island, and he concludes it by describing the order's disintegration. Even the smallest boys appear to have accepted their fate on the island, and they have developed strategies, such as the building of sand castles, to minimize and contain their anguish. The key to the initial tranquility on the island is the maintenance of customs from the society in which the boys were raised. Yet, as the chapter's opening passages imply, these customs are threatened by the natural forces at work on the island. The regular schedule of work, play time, and meal time is impossible in the volatile tropical atmosphere. That the boys do not know whether the movement of the mid-afternoon sea is real or a "mirage" indicates how ill-adjusted to the island they still are.
We begin to focus on the boys'-particularly Jack's-transgression of the ordered rules of their invented society. Golding highlights how life on the island has begun to mirror human society, with the boys organizing themselves into cliques according to age and placing these cliques in a social hierarchy. The littluns have their own routines and separate themselves from the older boys. The intricate sandcastles the littluns build on the shore represent their continued respect for-even idealization of-human civilization, and their continuing presence at Ralph's meetings signals the littluns' investment in ordered island life, even though they do not contribute directly to the group's survival. Golding employs the littluns as symbols for the weak members of society that a successful democracy strives to protect.
The episode with Roger and Maurice kicking down the sandcastles thus signals the disintegration of ordered life on the island, and it foreshadows the end of Ralph's democratic plans. The sandcastles are a miniature civilization on the shore. By destroying the sandcastles, Roger and Maurice not only express an abusive power over the younger boys but indicate their increasing disrespect for civilized order and human institutions. Still, Golding suggests, they have not yet devolved into complete savagery. Maurice, remembering his mother's discipline, feels guilty about kicking sand into Percival's eye, and Roger refrains from throwing a stone at Henry. The implication is that the influences of human society are difficult to erase from the human psyche; they remain internalized even in the absence of rules, and conscience retains its hold. Whatever lessons the boys' past had instilled in them prove critical to maintaining some semblance of peace on the island. Despite the stirrings of anarchy, the boys obey notions of appropriate behavior without any real external authority to determine what they can and cannot do. It is only when the boys completely transgress these civilized norms that they suffer.
Jack is the first to seriously overstep the boundaries of civilized society. His attempts to become a successful hunter are in effect attempts to succumb entirely to his animalistic nature. His painted face, reminiscent of some less developed societies, supposedly makes him indistinguishable from the animals of the forest. When Jack finally does kill a pig, as he has intended to do since the beginning of the novel, he fulfills a violent blood-lust that, until then, had remained frustrated. The other hunters share this quality; when they dance and sing about killing the pig, they show that they have succumbed to the thrill of violence. They relish the slaughter, an enjoyment that transcends pride and signifies pure lust. As they cheer on the means by which they mutilate the pig, their painted skin, chanting, and frenzy suggest they have developed their own sub-society, one based on rituals and an almost spiritual worship of blood, violence, and slaughter.
Maurice's impression of the pig during the dance calls attention to the increasingly indistinct line between violence against animals on the island and violence among the boys. Significantly, this chapter contains the first instance of explicit aggression between two boys. Jack, now accustomed to harming others with his recent kill, punches Piggy, who, as Golding reminds us, remains an outsider. The chapter further sets up Piggy as a martyr. He has the most grounded concerns of all the boys, and he offers the reasonable proposal that they construct a sundial, but he is also loathed by the others. Only Ralph, the most mature and grounded of the characters, sympathizes with Piggy and agrees with him that Jack made an egregious error by letting the fire go out. Piggy stands apart from the other boys, for he retains the goal of living in an increasingly civilized society. His hair does not even seem to grow, helping him retain the appearance of a normal English schoolboy while the others grow more disheveled and unkempt.
Jack also clashes with Ralph in this chapter, and the tension between their perspectives furthers the novel's concern with the two opposing political ideologies the boys represent, namely, totalitarianism and democracy. Ralph, whose overarching concern is the maintenance of the signal fire, is dedicated to the welfare of the entire group. He uses his power for the good of all. Jack, however, is concerned with becoming a successful hunter, less for the good it will bring to the other boys than for the thrill of the hunt and the increased social status he will have on the island. He seeks power because it will allow him to gratify his impulses and abuse others without punishment. The two boys' treatment of the littluns-Ralph is assuring, while Jack mocks and yells at them-demonstrates their different approaches to power.
The concurrent sighting of the ship and killing of the pig contribute to the disintegration of the relative calm on the island. These two events represent the different strands of human behavior inherent on the island. The ship is a reminder of the civilized society to which the boys belong, renewing the possibility that they may eventually escape the island. The killing of the pig is an example of their descent from civilized behavior into animalistic activity. This makes clear the dichotomy dividing Ralph and Piggy from Jack and the hunters. The former have a greater concern for returning to society while the latter enjoy their freedom from civilization (a group that, again, imposes its own totalitarian order under Jack). This conflict between the two forces at work among the boys on the island will guide much of the following conflict in the novel.