Summary and Analysis
Chapter 7 - Shadows and Tall Trees
Despite his coolness, Ralph can't help competing with Jack, much to the bloodthirsty crowd's delight. Hearing Jack issue to Ralph the invitation to join him in the nighttime search for the beast, "the other boys . . . turned back to sample this fresh rub of two spirits in the dark." The boys as a group display a certain lust for conflict, evident not only in their fascinated appraisal of the conflict of Jack and Ralph but also in their frenzied attack on Robert. The game innocently begun by Robert and Ralph is not so much boys at play as the beast at work.
Note that Golding uses the phrase "overmastering" to describe the urge to inflict pain, evoking the theme developed in Chapter 4 with the littlun Henry's experiments with mastery over the tide pool creatures and the hunters imposing their collective will on the slaughtered pig. Stimulated by this chapter's unsuccessful hunt and Robert's vulnerability at the hands of the crowd, the boys are mastered themselves by a larger force, impulses they can neither understand nor acknowledge. Even the victim, Robert, cannot address directly the forces that were driving the group. He alludes to his narrowly averted fate when he points out that to improve this so-called game that "You want a real pig . . . because you've got to kill him." His initial response, however, is to downplay his justifiable fear and attempt to regain his place within the group by saying "Oh, my bum!" as if a sore bottom were the extent of the damage. Perhaps he realizes on an instinctive level that maintaining his status as one of the group is critical to survival: The next time the boys play this game, the outsider, Simon, dies.
Ralph attempts to defuse the frightening attack in which he has just participated by placing the beating within the context of their civilization's legitimate outlets for aggression. "'Just a game,' said Ralph uneasily. 'I got jolly badly hurt at rugger once.'" Maurice, on the other hand, looks to refine the process, suggesting that they add a drum and a fire to do the dance "properly," although he's not sure of why he feels they need these things. Maurice seems to be speaking out of some primeval urge to recreate the rituals of a tribal sacrifice. While both Robert and Roger point out that they'll need a pig to complete the game, realizing that this game properly ends in death, Jack looks for a human, someone who could dress up as a pig. He too must acknowledge on some level that this game will inevitably have fatal consequences and, like a true dictator, suggests using one of the littluns, the most vulnerable and, in his eyes, the least valuable of the group.
Given Simon's need to solitude, it's not surprising that he volunteers to take Ralph's message to Piggy by crossing the island alone. His loner tendencies make the other boys think he's odd, but, for the reader, Simon's credibility as a mystic is established in this chapter. As if he is reading Ralph's mind, Simon interrupts Ralph's strained, tense regard of the ocean's vastness by telling him, "You'll get back to where you came from." Ralph responds with the opinion all the boys hold of Simon: "You're batty." Simon knows he's right, however, and he repeats his prophecy with emphasis. Note that he uses "you" instead of "we," realizing, perhaps, on some level that he, himself, will not make it back. Consumed by his own concerns, Ralph doesn't question Simon's omission of himself but takes comfort in the express certainty of the other boy's prophecy.
Ralph seeks comfort throughout this chapter in images of home, indulging in a fantasy of bathing and grooming and a recollection of the peaceful life of ponies, cereal and cream, and children's books he had once known. Ralph's perspective on the island has changed drastically from the first day, when "A kind of glamour was spread over . . . the scene." Now as he looks at the other boys and sees how thoroughly grimy they are, he finds their condition very different from "the spectacular dirt of boys who have fallen into mud," a temporary dirtying probably initiated by some good-natured horseplay and easily remedied by a warm bath. This dirtiness is an outer manifestation of the darkening of the soul — the emergence of the evil within.
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