Lord of the Flies By William Golding Summary and Analysis Chapter 7 - Shadows and Tall Trees

Summary

On their way back to the mountain, Ralph indulges in a fantasy of cleanliness and grooming. Disheartened by the group's dishevelment and dirt, he spends time staring out at the vastness of the sea and realizing how high the odds are against rescue. Simon joins him and, seemingly reading his mind, prophesies that Ralph will make it back home.

On the way to the mountain, Jack leads a pig hunt in which he gets slightly wounded. Ralph gets his first taste of hunting, striking a boar in the snout with his spear. After the boar gets away, the group begins a mock hunt that gets out of control and hurts the boy acting as the pig. Ralph urges the group back on their way, but the difficult path before them impedes their progress. Simon volunteers to cross the island alone to inform Piggy that the others won't be home until after dark.

By the time they reach the base of the mountain, darkness has fallen. Spurred on by Jack's bravado, Ralph, Jack, and Roger volunteer to continue the search for the beast while the other boys return to the platform. Once they reach the burnt patch, Ralph, tired of Jack's continual mocking, challenges Jack to go on by himself; Jack returns from the mountaintop terrified. Roger and Ralph investigate as well and are equally terrified by the image of the beast: the dead paratrooper appears to be a live ape-like creature that seems to look at them when the breeze catches his parachute. All three boys flee to the platform in the dark.

Analysis

Ralph undergoes significant emotional and psychological development in this chapter. Following his spontaneous participation in a pig hunt, he experiences the exhilarating mixture of emotions — "I hit him! The spear stuck in" — comparable to those that drive Jack and the other hunters and which underlie Jack's credibility with the group. He, then, "sunned himself in their new respect and felt that hunting was good after all." Heretofore, Ralph had failed to recognize this instinct to hunt and kill in himself. Now that he has experienced these emotions, he has gained an appreciation that Jack's perspectives and priorities are present, even if latent, within us all. This one experience communicates more to Ralph about hunting's attractions than all the bickering with Jack before. Ralph's humanity is deteriorating; his savage self has been touched and awakened.

Armed with this understanding, he is able to see Jack "infuriatingly, for the first time," recognizing that he could have potentially used Jack as a resource all this time rather than competing with him. Realizing that their current path is severely hindering their progress to the mountain, he now calls on Jack's knowledge of the island, garnered during his hunting activities, to identify an alternate path. As Jack continues to compete rather than cooperate with him, Ralph realizes that Jack becomes aggressive whenever he is no longer in charge.

As Ralph and Jack continue to compete rather than cooperate, the antipathy that each generates in the other becomes more evident. Jack becomes increasingly aggressive in situations involving Ralph and his leadership. At one point, Ralph calls on the knowledge passed on to him by Piggy and challenges Jack directly by asking him, "Why do you hate me?" He doesn't get an answer from Jack, but the reaction of the other boys is that "something indecent had been said." The boys recognize that Ralph is opening up the floodgates of aggression and dislike, which civilized conventions are intended to control. Nevertheless, as the situation slides increasingly toward confrontation, Ralph, the leader, the symbol of civility and hope, "turned away first."

Throughout this chapter, Ralph displays and surprises himself with his coolness under pressure — despite his participation in the crazed attack on Robert and in contrast to his grief-stricken, emotional loss of control in the last chapter. Again and again, he shows a realistic grasp of their situation only to be jeered at by Jack. Despite his pride in hitting the boar, he understands immediately that boys with "foolish wooden stick[s]" as spears are no match for the large powerful animal. "But he'd do us!" he protests when Jack orders the hunters to follow the boar's flight. Jack follows alone and is wounded for his lack of sense. Later Ralph is shocked to find himself accompanying Jack up the mountain in the dark to search for the beast, but his response does not betray him. The coolness of his reply renders invalid Jack's supremely taunting invitation. Such instinctual calm reflects again the same strength Ralph displayed in the previous chapter when he made sure to take the lead at castle rock. While Jack's aggressive resentment has no room for reason, Ralph is not afraid once they have set off to ask for another volunteer to accompany them or to point out that their journey up the mountain in the dark is foolish.

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