Summary and Analysis
Chapter 5 - Beast from Water
Yet Jack provides the most comfort to the boys in this assembly because he portrays the object of their fear as an actual animal, one that can be tracked, and "[t]he whole assembly applauded him with relief" when he points out that he has never seen a frightening beast of any kind in the forest; his skills as a tracker are undeniable. Jack orders everyone to be frightened if they must — he acknowledges that even he feels that same fear at times — but not to fear an animal-beast. Jack pleases the crowd with his practical take on the beast and his definitive pronouncement that "you'll have to put up with [the fear] just like the rest of us."
Given the day's lost rescue opportunity, Ralph implements the additional precaution of using only the signal fire to cook rather than starting small wasteful fires on the beach — an idea that is solidly grounded in reality. Still counting on logic to carry his agenda, Ralph points out "You voted me for chief. Now you do what I say." Ralph thus raises the issue of the electorate's obligation to the rule. Winning of public opinion is both a reasoned and an emotionally based process. Every politician knows that popular opinion is easily swayed from one leader to another; the general public's perception of who is the best leader is frequently based not on which leader has benefited the group the most, but who has gained favor most recently. Already, Ralph's authority has lost ground, due to the concrete victory of a kill offered by Jack, the adventure and drama of the hunts, and the overall emotional nature of a crowd.
Ralph, Piggy, and Simon assume that adults could solve the problems they face on the island. After the assembly, the three boys detail the advantages adults bring, crediting adults with the greatest efficacy and civility: "Grownups know things . . . They ain't afraid of the dark. They'd meet and have tea and discuss. Then things @'ud be all right." Ralph has been trying to uphold that model, using discussion as a means to set things right, but this chapter sees him lose faith in it. When the other boys have been once again led off by Jack, Ralph cannot bring himself to summon them back.
Although Piggy is an undoubted representative of logic and science, he is the first to address the idea that the fear could be based on a fear of self and each other, of something inherent in humanity. Piggy developed his shrewd understanding of human nature during the time spent bedridden by asthma — the equivalent for him of Simon's secret place in the jungle. For Piggy, the fear is less a concept rooted in knowledge of humanity's dark side than the practical fear of an outsider, a vulnerable boy disliked by the stronger, more aggressive boys.
Like Piggy, Simon is different from the others: He has fainting spells, sticks up for Piggy even if unobtrusively, and has the special hidden place in the forest; later chapters reveal him as a visionary. Because the other boys don't understand Simon, they fear him. When he reveals that it was he who inadvertently frightened one of the littluns by venturing into the jungle at night, he gives them a concrete reason to chastise him. Jack holds him up for ridicule; the "derisive laughter that rose had fear in it and condemnation" — two emotions that go hand in hand as the condemnation makes the group feel protected from the fear they've experienced.
Simon's death is foreshadowed in this chapter, as he is made scapegoat for the boys' unshakeable fear. His question to them, "What's the dirtiest thing there is?" demands an answer far too abstract for this crowd. Once again, Jack provides a concrete and non-threatening answer, an answer far simpler than the answer Simon seeks, which is evil. Simon can't express precisely what he understands because he lacks a sophisticated education or training in dealing with abstract concepts; he is, after all, a ten-year-old boy. Simon's inability to articulate what he sees as "mankind's essential illness" mirrors Jack's inability to effectively express "the compulsion to track down and kill that was swallowing him up." Both boys want to describe the same thing, but Simon has reached an abstract understanding of the animality that can produce evil effects while Jack is living it. Of course, Jack later stirs up the group into such a frenzy of animality that Simon is murdered.
This chapter expands upon the theme of humankind's latent depravity, resorting to the savagery of self-indulgence in the absence of social rules, mores, and control to the contrary. Such control is the basis of most social conventions and institutions, which are designed to promote self-control and civilized discourse. The symbol of such conventions and institutions is the platform. In this chapter the platform's protective powers break down when the assembly dissolves into "arguing, gesticulating shadows. To Ralph, seated, this seemed the breaking up of sanity." When Ralph sees the disorderly arguing breaking out and taking over the assembly, he perceives not only that he has lost control of the group but that the group is losing control of itself.
lavatory [Chiefly Brit.] a flush toilet.
taken short informal phrase for having diarrhea.
jolly [Brit. Informal] very; altogether.
bogie an imaginary evil being or spirit; goblin.
mucking about [Slang, Chiefly Brit.] wasting time; puttering around.
sod you a vulgar British slang phrase showing extreme contempt.
nuts a slang exclamation of disgust, scorn, disappointment, refusal, etc.
bollocks a vulgar slang exclamation expressing anger, disbelief, etc.