Summary and Analysis Chapter 2 - Fire on the Mountain

Such a loyalty shift is part of the dynamics of politics. Golding sums up the status of those who assume a leader's role when he describes the littlest boys' shy representative as "warped out of the perpendicular by the fierce light of publicity." Once an individual such as Jack comes forth and makes himself heard over the rest of the crowd, the crowd views him as larger than life and expects big things — both good and bad. Leaders often attain a level of celebrity, at which point both their faults and their virtues are magnified by publicity's distorting lens so that their smallest mistakes may be viewed by the public with the same importance granted their greatest achievements. This syndrome springs from the emotional reaction that leaders invoke.

Piggy is missing this emotional connection. He may be attempting to present the most beneficial plan of action for the group, but, because he lacks rapport with the other boys, he cannot make himself heard. Seeing that the boys pay attention to Ralph when he repeats what Piggy has already tried to communicate, he protests "'That's what I said! I said about the meetings and things and then you said shut up — .' His voice lifted into the whine of virtuous recrimination. They stirred and began to shout him down." Piggy realizes the effect he has on the boys but not the cause of it, placing too much faith in the logical approach. Truth is not always obvious, and logic is seldom universal. Not until Piggy loses his temper can he get the boys' attention and reveal the priorities he had in mind before they raced up the mountain. He points out that the island gets cold at night and that they should have built shelters before nightfall, his reason expressed too late for their emotional deeds.

Piggy also relies too heavily on the power of the conch, on the social convention that holding the conch invests him with the right to be heard. He believes that upholding social conventions gets results. "How can you expect to be rescued if you don't . . . act proper?" Piggy asks. He is partially right but is overlooking the dynamic of the crowd, the emotionality of mob rule. When Piggy screams, "You'll break the conch!" he is in essence protesting "you'll break the covenant," the agreement that everyone will behave in a certain way and follow established rules. The rules are more immediately necessary for him than for the other boys who can rely on their physical skills to survive.

Jack's rush up the mountain shatters the power of the conch rule, which is meant to ensure civil, rational conversation. Jack asserts that the conch has no power once they are on the mountain, but clearly it didn't have that much power on the platform either: Ralph shouted for order while holding the conch but lost the crowd in the excitement, foreshadowing how later he loses his authority completely. The impulsive dash with which Jack leads the boys away from the platform symbolizes the ease with which humanity's emotional, savage nature overwhelms its rational and civilized tendencies.

To represent the evil that is part of human nature, Golding uses the beastie described by the littlest boys. At night, they report, the beast lurks in the jungle hunting and looking to devour them; by day it disguises itself as the creeper vines that hang innocently in the trees. Here the vines are like human nature in the daylight of civilization; in the darkness of a primeval environment their true predatory nature emerges. During the forest fire, the little boys shriek at the burning creeper vines "Snakes! Snakes! Look at the snakes!" This allusion is to the serpent in the Garden of Eden who stole innocence and introduced humanity to its own physicality.

Obviously on a conscious level, the boys perceive this beast as an actual animal rather than as the conceptualization of the evil inherent in humanity. Yet these littlest boys have an immediate and instinctive recognition of the island as a threat to them: They realize that they lack the domesticity that protected them back home. The older boys ostensibly reject the little boys' fear, presenting the logical explanation that the island is too small for large predators. Ralph is vehement on this point: "Something he had not known was there rose in him and compelled him to make the point, loudly and again. 'But I tell you there isn't a beast!'" He is denying that there exists a dark side to humanity.

Continued on next page...

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By the end of the book who is dead?


My sister calls me the Princess of Prevarication." What's prevarication?"

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