Summary and Analysis Chapter 4


He loses control at this point: "his voice rose insanely. 'Come back! Come back!' . . . Ralph reached inside himself for the worst word he knew. 'They let the bloody fire go out.'" His use of a profanity indicates strong emotion not yet displayed; his anger compels him to break with the decorum so important to his culture. In the midst of this crisis, even Piggy, who is most closely linked with adult perspectives, "whimper[s] like a littlun" when he reaches the mountain top and, in the next chapter, also uses a vulgarity when Simon suggests that there may be a beast.

Under duress, some of the boys break with the social decorum expected of the offspring of proper civility, letting their baser emotions rule. Others of the boys go further, abandoning rational thought or civil communication. Jack has begun to think like an animal, as when he explains his rationale for the dazzle paint. His speech pattern becomes simplistic, mimicking the impressionistic understanding of animals: "They see me, I think. Something pink, under the trees." His group of hunters doesn't have the mechanism of the conch to regulate their discourse; they talk over each other when describing their successful hunt. When Jack as leader wants to make himself heard, he interrupts and takes the floor by force of personality rather than by an established, polite precedent.

Jack's shortsightedness has cost the boys a rescue while at the same time bringing them the immediate victory of a kill. Firmly rooted in their respective worlds, neither Ralph nor Jack can understand the other's position. "There was the brilliant world of hunting, tactics, fierce exhilaration, skill; and there was the world of longing and baffled common-sense." When Ralph denounces Jack for not keeping his agreement to maintain the fire, he is mourning not merely the lost opportunity for rescue but the loss of the world they've left behind in England.

Because Jack has already lost interest in that world of politeness and boundaries, he feels no compunction to keep the fire going or to attend to any of the other responsibilities of a domestic life. He uses the device of an apology as a tool to end the conflict with Ralph, more of an instinctive political maneuver than an expression of regret. This apology pleases the crowd but infuriates Ralph, who perceives the apology as a "verbal trick" distracting everyone from the tragedy that had just occurred. Rhetoric triumphs for Jack despite the harm he has caused with his negligence and misplaced priorities.

Later, after Simon rebukes Jack for refusing Piggy a share of the meat, Jack lists all he has done to bring the boys meat in an effort to gain their full appreciation for his accomplishment and for what he's going through in his metamorphosis from choirboy to killer. The others do not fully comprehend Jack's message. He "looked round for understanding but found only respect." Although he does not get understanding, he does get respect, which is all that is required for a demagogue. Jack also discovers that the ritualistic face-painting and dancing further separates him from the constraints of his civil training and that involving his hunters in the dancing and chanting of the mock hunt after the meal has a powerful bonding effect, bringing the hunters more strongly under his influence.

Ralph is envious of this influence and of the victory Jack has brought to the group. He has not been able to provide such a decisive triumph for the boys, dependent as his agenda is on the external event of rescue and on the maintenance of cultural norms alien to their current environment. When he announces an immediate assembly, he is calling the boys not only to the platform but back to all that it symbolizes.


dazzle paintBritish term for camouflage; the disguising of troops, ships, guns, etc. to conceal them from the enemy, as by the use of paint, nets, or leaves in patterns merging with the background.

accent a distinguishing regional or national manner of pronunciation; here, Piggy's manner of speech, characterized by his use of double negatives and informal contractions.

bloody [Vulgar Brit. Slang] cursed; damned.

Ha'porth contraction of "a halfpenny's worth," meaning a very small amount.

One for his nob a hit on his head.

Give him a fourpenny one hit him on the jaw.