Summary and Analysis Chapter 4



The chapter opens with a general description of the island's changes throughout the day and the boys' responses to each day's cyclical progression. The focus narrows to the littluns' subculture and three of the littluns interacting as they play with one of their sandcastles. Then Roger and Maurice emerge from the jungle and deliberately destroy some of the sandcastles on their way to the beach.

Jack gathers the hunters to reveal his new hunting strategy: using colored clay and charcoal to camouflage their faces. Jack commands all his hunters, including Samneric who are on fire-maintenance duty at the time, to join in a hunt.

Ralph spots a ship in the distance and is confident that the ship's crew will spot the boys' smoke signal. But, unknown to Ralph, the fire has gone out, being left unattended. When Simon points out that there is no smoke, he and Ralph and Piggy hurry up the mountainside. By the time all three have reached the dormant fire site, the ship is gone.

Meanwhile, Jack and his hunters are triumphant, marching up to the fire site with the carcass of a pig. Jack and Ralph face off about the desertion of the fire for the sake of the hunt. Jack apologizes but Ralph remains angry. Tensions ease somewhat as the boys eat roast pig. The hunters reenact the kill as a sort of celebratory dance. In response, Ralph announces an assembly on the platform immediately.


As the most fundamental of all cycles, the daily experience of morning's promise followed inevitably by night's menace is a microcosm of larger cycles. Golding's opening description of the island's daily rhythm is evocative of the many cycles that govern humanity: the life of an individual from birth to death, the development and disintegration of cultures, the rise and fall of great civilizations.

Even among this small group of boys, subcultures have sprung up. The littluns spend their days among themselves, following their own priorities and interests; "their passionately emotional and corporate life was their own." Within the littluns are further distinctions based on size and temperament, either of which can provide an immediate advantage to one littlun over another: "Henry was a bit of a leader this afternoon, because the other two were Percival and Johnny, the smallest boys on the island." Yet Johnny has the upper hand over the sensitive Percival due to his inclination to bully. In addition, while Johnny may be one of the smallest, he is also "well built." With no adults to control their activities, Henry and Johnny join in picking on Percival because they enjoy the thrill of mastery over another creature and because it keeps boredom at bay.

The boys focus on the most entertaining possibilities of the island, such as hunting, playing, and eating, to the detriment of such mundane but necessary tasks as building shelters. They are free to set their own priorities and agenda on an individual basis, allowing some of the boys the chance to develop the application of their own worst impulses. Henry, for example, assumes a dictatorial manner, experimenting further with mastery over other creatures as he traps tiny transparent beach scavengers in his footprints. His experience is a microcosm of another kind: Describing how Henry "became absorbed beyond happiness as he felt himself exercising control over living things," Golding alludes not only to Henry and Johnny's persecution of Percival but also to Jack's compulsion to hunt and to the probable cause of the nuclear war that landed the boys on this island.

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