Summary and Analysis
Chapter 9 - A View to a Death
When the tide carries off Simon's body, covered in the jellyfish-like phosphorescent creatures that come in with the tide, Golding shifts the focus from Simon's body's movements to the much larger progressions of the sun, moon, and earth because Simon represents a knowledge as fundamental as the elements.
Golding uses the weather to symbolize a kind of universal assessment of the actions that have taken place in the novel and as a way to underscore the tension between and extreme reactions of the boys. He opens the chapter with an ominous description of the odd weather over the island: "the air was ready to explode . . . a brassy glare had taken the place of clear daylight." Then the downpour starts in earnest immediately after Simon's death, as though the weather were responding to the boys' actions. The use of the weather as a dramatic technique is an ancient and effective tool.
The desire for drama underlies the other boys' desertion, Ralph tells Piggy. He assesses accurately their basic motivation not as a wish to do evil but for the drama and game of Jack's primal theater. They are also drawn in by the enticement of meat and the protection that Jack seems to provide as a fearless, aggressive hunter. Jack certainly is taken with the drama of it, forcing the other boys to perform the bizarrely formal rituals. This role is no game for him though; by the time Ralph and Piggy reach the party, Jack has clearly gone power-mad. Evoking images of Kurtz from Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, Jack sits on a large log, "painted and garlanded . . . like an idol." Around him are arranged piles of food and drink as though they are offerings to him.
Just as Jack and the dead soldier seemed to have in common a desire to keep the fire from being lit, they now have in common a link with apes. Ralph saw the dead soldier as "something like a great ape" hunched over — a connection between the animality of the apes from which humans are descended and the animality still present in humankind today. Now as Jack sits in front of his tribe and considers the new arrivals, Ralph and Piggy, "Power . . . chattered in his ear like an ape." The devil on his shoulder is his own animality, looking to master other creatures. He already has achieved mastery of those of his tribe: When he commands that someone bring him a drink, someone does. They also address him as "Chief," a formality not demanded by Ralph. Jack expects subservience from his tribe, which they accept as though he can protect them through strength of personality alone. Ralph is unable to enforce his rules or his authority because he lacks Jack's punitive nature and relies instead on the boys' sense of honor in following through on their promises.
When the rain starts, Jack orders the boys to dance in the rain, playing out the same mock hunt in which Robert was hurt. The dance gives order to the boys' panicked energy during the downpour and acts as a defiance of the elements, a sort of rain dance in reverse. Even Ralph and Piggy decide not to run immediately for the shelters but instead join in on the fringes. In this situation, they find themselves seeking a more abstract kind of shelter instead in "this demented but partly secure society" wherein "the brown backs of the fence . . . hemmed in the terror and made it governable."
The sense of protection in the repetitive chanting and the circular movements of the dance provides the boys with another strong motivation for staying with Jack, a motivation Ralph hadn't considered when he commented to Piggy that the biguns joined Jack to play like savages with the hunting and face paint. Jack has tapped into the power of repetitive rituals, where the person performing the ritual feels "as though repetition would achieve safety of itself" despite the circumstances. Repetitive rituals are present in nearly every cohesive group, from churchgoers performing the same prayers and rites every Sunday to political parties chanting their slogans to military personnel following their prescribed daily routines. Repetition provides comfort for the group because all the individual members know what is expected of them within the context of the ritual and, by extension, within the group.
Being part of Jack's tribe, with its attendant rituals and subservience, allows the boys to feel as though they are relieved of all responsibility for what happens during their ritual dance. While some of the boys, such as Ralph, felt uneasy with the beating Robert received in Chapter 7, other boys simply enjoyed the "game" and thought of ways to refine it, such as Maurice suggesting they add drums. Yet they all participated, drawn in by their animal selves. In this chapter, the same effect is aggravated by the intensity of the thunder and the darkness.
Golding describes the mob murder scene: "There were no words, and no movements but the tearing of teeth and claws." Again savagery is connected with a lack of verbal communication; language is, of course, one of humankind's greatest inventions and that which separates humanity most dramatically from the lower forms of creatures. Further, Golding uses the phrase "teeth and claws" (representing the primitive use of physical attributes or features as weapons) instead of spears (the use of tools as weapons). The phrase also recalls Samneric's fanciful description of the beast as having teeth and claws (although they neither felt nor saw them in reality). In this instance, the true beast — evil — acts through the frenzied mob; those imagined teeth and claws bare themselves for real.
Once the frenzy dies down, however, the boys back off their prey and are astonished to see "how small a beast it was." The truth of what they have done begins filtering in. Their responses to the act they have committed are explored in Chapter 10.
derision contempt or ridicule.
phosphorescence a continuing luminescence without noticeable heat.