Summary and Analysis Chapter 1



In Chapter 1, Golding introduces the novel's major characters as well as its theme: that evil, as a destructive force in man, society, and civilization, is present in us all. To illustrate this theme, Golding uses several major motifs: civilization versus savagery; humanity versus animality; technology versus nature; hunters versus gatherers; men versus women; adults versus children; and the intellect versus physicality. As the characters interact with each other and with their environment, so do the forces they represent. Using the characters to embody these forces allows Golding the opportunity to compare and contrast with rich shadings of meaning rather than with simplistic oppositions.

The novel opens with a description of the "long scar smashed into the jungle," a reference to the snake-like damage done by the plane as it crashed into the island. Here civilization with its technology has dealt a blow to nature; nature counters by sweeping the wreckage out to sea. Yet the conflict is not so simple. While the jungle may represent nature, the beach provides the conch and the platform, both of which symbolize institutionalized order and politics (civilization).

True to the dynamics of democratic politics, Ralph is elected leader for superficial reasons. He is a personable and handsome boy who appears to be in charge because of his use of the conch, which functions for him at the moment of his election (and throughout the novel) as the symbol of authority. Although it was Piggy's quick thinking to use the conch to summon the others, hampered by asthma, he must allow Ralph to do the summoning.

And while Jack clearly has some experience in exerting control over others, making his choirboys march to the assembly through the tropical heat in floor-length black cloaks, the sheer arrogance of his open grab for power probably puts off some of the boys, raised as they have been in a society that values politeness and decorum. Therefore, the boys choose Ralph for his charisma and possession of the compelling conch over Piggy, who lacks the physical stature or charsima of a leader despite his intelligence, and Jack, who is "ugly without silliness" and possesses a less civil manner.

With his calm, self-assured manner and the poise with which he allows Jack to retain control of the choir and places Piggy in charge of names, Ralph is much more of a diplomat than Jack or Piggy. While allowing Jack control of the hunters turns out to be political (and almost personal) suicide ultimately, Ralph himself is still under the spell of polite society, looking more to make friends than to lead strategically. In later chapters, he learns that, as a leader, he must be prepared to take a hard line with his friends if he is to achieve his goals for the group. In Chapter 1, however, Ralph engages in play — standing on his head, blowing jets of water while swimming, rolling a boulder downhill, gleefully scuffling with Simon — which he has no time for once he is leader of the group.

Note that the talents that set Ralph apart from the others (acrobatics and swimming) serve no practical purpose in the jungle, while Jack's recreational activity as choir leader serves him as a leader in training. Jack's warlike nature is evident from the start, as a choirboy who carries a knife and volunteers his choir to be the army, amending its role to hunters at Ralph's direction. While Ralph entertains others with his trick of standing on his head, Jack successfully practices authority: "With dreary obedience" his choir votes for him as chief. He uses to his advantage here his authority, not his ability to sing a C sharp.

From his first appearance as a dark creature, leading his group from the jungle, making them march in columns until Simon faints, Jack is represented as evil. When the creatures turn out to be "a party of boys, marching approximately in step in two parallel lines and dressed in strangely eccentric clothing," Golding is connecting not only the uniformed military with the frightening dark side of humanity but tacitly identifying Jack as an outspoken representative of aggression.

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