Summary and Analysis Chapter 5


This chapter shows Ralph's skills of organization and governance starting to wane. He is struggling to implement his agenda for the meeting and finds he is unable to control the assembly, which degenerates into a mob of "noise and excitement, scramblings, screams and laughter." He finds himself lost "in a maze of thoughts that were rendered vague by his lack of words to express them." This lack of mental clarity recalls Jack's difficulty in expressing himself described in Chapter 3. Such a loss of verbal command bodes ill for Ralph and the community because his seat of authority is the platform, a symbol of the verbal communication and thoughtful debate. Ralph's mental acumen is subject to the same decay as his clothing, frayed as both are by the rigors of the primitive life.

Yet the crisis of the lost rescue opportunity spurs Ralph to grasp some new concepts, revelations following each other thick and fast as he makes his way to the platform and sits on the chief's log. His growth is evident in his musings as he ponders matters more conceptual than he ever has before. Realizing the difficulty of this lifestyle in contrast to its initial glamour, he "smiled jeeringly," as an adult might look back with cynicism on the ideals held as a youth.

Ralph is losing his innocence quickly, but gaining an understanding of natural processes not available to him in the sheltered society he came from. "With a convulsion of the mind, Ralph discovered dirt and decay . . . At that he began to trot" toward the platform and the civilization it represents, in a physical reaction to the abstract truth newly present within him.

Once on the platform, more revelations engulf Ralph. He considers the springy log that shifts during assemblies and throws off the boys sitting on it, and ponders how maintenance of the status quo has taken precedence over the simple solution of securing the log with a stone wedge. He notes that the light of late sunset makes the entire place look different, calling into question the reality of its usual appearance. Suddenly Ralph recognizes the value and talents of the intellectually gifted Piggy, a conscious appreciation foreshadowed by the allegiance formed in Chapter 4 when "Not even Ralph knew how a link between him and Jack had been snapped and fastened elsewhere." At the same time, Ralph realizes that "Piggy was no chief," understanding intuitively that a leader needs the popular support Piggy can't garner, hindered by his lack of charisma or popular appeal.

Up to this point, Ralph himself has been leading by instinct and charisma. Now he realizes that "if you were a chief, you had to think, you had to be wise . . . thought was a valuable thing, that got results." Simultaneously, he realizes "I can't think. Not like Piggy." This sentiment echoes Piggy's question to the boys in Chapter 2, after they've accidentally caused the forest fire: "How can you expect to be rescued if you don't . . . act proper?" In that scenario, Piggy links social conventions with results, in a logical relationship of cause and effect lost on the emotional crowd. Social conventions are not necessarily based in rational thought, but they do provide a framework for rational discussion and thought.

Ralph has clearly learned something about establishing a forum for discussion: "One had to sit, attracting all eyes to the conch, and drop words like heavy round stones among the little groups that crouched or squatted." Golding's word choices here evoke a distinct sense of primitivism, a savage lifestyle where words are stones and the chief presides over an electorate that crouches and squats to hear him speak. Just as Chapter 4 lays out a series of microcosms with the littluns' interactions, the diction here links the platform assemblies to both ends of the social or civil spectrum, from pre-verbal tribe gatherings to modern governmental institutions.

With hunting, Jack has a skill that is becoming increasingly more persuasive to the group in their present environment than does Ralph. Jack's appeal to the primitive, baser, instinctive nature of the community, coupled with his aggressive, self-assured combative personality, is now appealing more and more to the group. At the same time, Ralph's political and natural leadership abilities coupled with his visceral optimism and common sense are having diminishing impact on the affairs of the boys as their baser natures become increasingly prevalent.

In this chapter's assembly, Ralph's new appreciation for thought leads him to rely too heavily on logic. While he presents his agenda point by point, attempting a rational approach to the fear he knows they feel, night is falling and the boys are growing restless. "We've got to talk about this fear and decide there's nothing in it," he says, as if a phobia can be defused through discussion. As the brainy representative of civilization, Piggy continues along these utterly rational lines. "'Life,' said Piggy expansively, 'is scientific'" in his explanation that such an emotional concern can be addressed as a pathology with the twentieth-century invention of psychology. His assertion that soon humankind would by flying to Mars indicates his confidence in technology, which he holds out as a source of comfort.

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