Summary and Analysis Chapter 12


During his flight, Ralph longs for Piggy's counsel, wishing for the solemnity of the assemblies made dignified by the conch rather than having to make life or death decisions while on the run for his life. "If only one had time to think!" he laments. Civilization makes for plenty of time to think, providing institutions like universities where the scholars can devote themselves to mental activities. Such protection allows the abstract arts such as philosophy and theoretical work in the arts and sciences to flourish; in such a protected environment, a fragile boy like Simon could have learned to express fully and accurately his intuitive understanding of humanity's dark side. Note that Simon's prophecy comes back to Ralph in a flash during the hunt. In a moment of great desperation, cornered in his hiding place by a savage and having just realized the purpose of a stick sharpened at both ends, the phrase "You'll get back" surfaces, as if Simon's spirit haunts the island.

If Simon's ghost is present, it is there to comfort Ralph and reach out to him with its knowledge, unlike the Lord of the Flies. When Ralph encounters the Lord of the Flies, he finds a "skull that gleamed as white as ever the conch had done." This description symbolizes the universal and infinite struggle between good and evil. The skull is vested with the knowledge that was revealed to Simon: Evil is present in us all, and we must struggle not to allow it to dominate us.

Knocking the skull to the ground and breaking it into pieces is a small victory over the beast for Ralph. More to the point, he takes the stake on which the head rested so that he has his own stick sharpened at both ends. Like a blade that cuts both ways, he'll use the savage's stick to defend himself from them. Preoccupied with keeping on the move, he doesn't realize until late in the hunt that he is himself carrying a stick sharpened on both ends. At this point he realizes that his head is meant to become the ultimate offering to the beast, the beast's greatest victory yet on the island.

The officer of the gunboat that Ralph encounters simultaneously represents Ralph's original moral naiveté and Jack's propensity toward evil and destruction. As Ralph encounters the officer, he sees not a face but all the markings of the officer's "tribe": the cap with the crown, anchor and gold leaves, the uniform with epaulettes and buttons, and the revolver. The decorative elements of his uniform symbolize his civilized war paint. From the officer's point of view, Ralph is hardly the prey of a deadly tribe but a boy who "needed a bath, a haircut, a nose-wipe, and a good deal of ointment." When he sees Jack's tribe wearing war paint and carrying spears, he assesses the situation as "Fun and games." Although he doesn't recognize it or understand his complicity in his own "fun and games," the naval officer has correctly identified the hunt: It's the sort of fun the Lord of the Flies assured Simon would take place on the island; the type of fun that, even at the time of the boys' rescue, is taking place on a larger scale with the war.

The officer echoes a sentiment expressed by Jack in Chapter 2 ("we're not savages. We're English . . . So we've got to do the right things"). Learning of the two deaths, the officer comments "I should have thought that a pack of British boys . . . would have . . . put up a better show than that." Both Jack and the officer are equally ignorant of the truth of the matter: Like all of humanity, these boys have and act on impulses that are at best uncivil and at worst deadly. In the novel, Golding uses events and mores associated with the British (his own culture), but his theme is universal. Although one could limit the interpretation to British imperialism (bestial aspects of British colonialism contrast sharply with the supremely polite British identity, for example), to do so would be to deny the larger truth: That all people — and therefore all societies — possess and display, to varying degrees, these deadly impulses.


pax peace, here meant as a call for a truce.

acrid sharp, bitter, stinging, or irritating to the taste or smell.

inimical hostile; unfriendly.

gibber to speak or utter rapidly and incoherently; chatter unintelligibly.

essay to try; attempt.

antiphonal sung or chanted in alternation.

ululate to howl, hoot, or wail.

cordon a line or circle, as of soldiers or ships, stationed around an area to guard it.

diddle [Informal] to move back and forth jerkily or rapidly; juggle.

mold here, loose, soft, easily worked soil.

white drill a coarse linen or cotton cloth with a diagonal weave, used for work clothes, uniforms, etc.

epaulette shoulder ornament as for military uniforms.

cutter a boat carried, esp. formerly, aboard large ships to transport personnel or supplies.

rating an enlisted man in the Navy.

stern sheets the space at the stern of an open boat.