Summary and Analysis
Chapter 6 - Beast from Air
After the assembly, all the boys go to sleep. Above them an aerial battle is taking place. A casualty of the battle floats down to the island on his opened parachute. The wind drags the body to rest at the top of the mountain. The breeze inflates the parachute occasionally, making the body appear to sit up and then sink forward again. Samneric, tending the fire on the mountain, catch a glimpse of the body's movement and hear the parachute inflating. They flee to Ralph in a panic with a story exaggerated by their fear.
At dawn, Ralph calls an assembly, where they decide to investigate the only spot on the island left unexplored: the castle-like rock formation at one end. With Piggy and the littluns remaining behind on the beach, Ralph and the others go to the castle. Ralph goes first by himself, followed a few minutes later by Jack. After they establish that the beast is not there, the other boys join them in the castle and want to play there a while. They resist when Ralph announces that they need to all go check on the fire, but he forces the issue and Jack leads the way back up to the fire site.
This chapter begins and ends ominously. The aerial battle that opens the chapter establishes that war continues to rage in the world where most of the boys long to return. Ralph, Piggy, and Simon finished the previous chapter detailing the merits of adults and adult behavior, how adults would remedy their unpleasant situation with ease and dignity. Yet that night, "a sign came down from the world of grownups" that is frightening and mysterious and changes the entire complexion of the group for the worse. When Samneric establish to everyone's satisfaction that an actual beast does exist, the boys shift automatically and instinctively into an aggressive mode based on fear: "the circle began to change. It faced out, rather than in, and the spears of sharpened wood were like a fence."
The main theme of this chapter is the effect of fear. For Samneric, their initial fright magnifies their involvement with the creature from merely seeing movement and hearing the parachute to being actively chased down the mountain as they flee. They report eyes, teeth, and claws that they couldn't possibly have seen. The other boys are so eager for a remedy to this fear that they feel the first unified urge for mutiny when Ralph forces them to leave the perceived safety of the fort-like castle rock to check on the fire.
Fear acts as a sort of litmus test for leadership. While Piggy and Jack both put forth unworkable plans of action — Piggy wanting to restrict their living area to the platform, Jack wanting to rush out and hunt the beast down — Ralph is able to proceed with sense and caution. Harkening back to his new appreciation for the power of thought, Ralph lays out his concerns about both plans and asserts, "So we've got to think." He points out that the beast obviously can't be hunted like the pigs because it leaves no tracks; otherwise, Jack would have already seen the tracks. Remaining all the time on the platform will not work due to lack of fire, food, and space. Ralph is able to keep the group's focus on the hope for rescue, despite Jack's attack on his authority.
Fear brings out the dictator in Jack. He attempts to take control of the group, claiming this situation is "a hunter's job" in which Ralph is not qualified to command. Showing yet again no mercy for the helpless or vulnerable, he advocates abandoning the littluns without a guardian while everyone else goes on the hunt. Like a dictator, he assigns a high value only to those he finds useful or agreeable to his views and looks to silence those who do not please him. Making a pitch for censorship, Jack declares, "We don't need the conch any more. We know who ought to say things. What good did Simon do speaking?"
Yet Simon is the only boy who has insight into the nature of the true beast, the abstraction that Jack feels watching him in the jungle. Pondering all the characteristics of this animal beast Samneric seem to have discovered, Simon sees that all the pieces don't add up: If this beast had claws and wings, why was it not fast or fierce enough to catch Samneric? When Simon tries to visualize what this beast might look like, "there arose before his inward sight the picture of a human at once heroic and sick" which is a depiction of Golding's vision of humanity as flawed by inherent evil. Golding gives this knowledge to Simon, an outsider, to reflect the place visionaries or mystics typically hold in society: on the fringes, little understood by the majority, and so often feared or disregarded. As a mystic, Simon is not fully present in the physical world, living so inside his head that he can't keep from banging it into a tree as they make their way to the castle rock. Simon was unable the night before to make the other boys see his outlook; even Ralph, with his new appreciation for thought and wisdom, dismisses Simon without considering that he may have valuable insight.
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