Lord of the Flies Summary and Analysis
Chapter Six: Beast from Air
Later that night, Ralph and Simon pick up Percival and carry him into a shelter. Overhead, beyond the horizon, there is an aerial battle while the boys sleep. They do not hear the explosions in the sky, nor do they see a pilot drop from a parachute, sweeping across the reef toward the mountain. Unbeknownst to the boys, the dead pilot lands on the mountaintop, his flapping chute throwing strange shadows across the ground, with his head appearing to float in the wind.
Early the next morning, there are noises from a rock falling down the side of the mountain. The twins Samneric, the two boys on duty at the fire, awake and add kindling to the fire. Just then they spot the dead pilot at the top of the mountain and are immobilized by fear. Eventually, they scramble down the mountain to wake Ralph. Samneric claim that they saw the beast. Ralph calls a meeting, and the group assembles again at the beach. Eric announces to the other boys that he and Sam saw the beast. He describes it as having teeth and claws and states that it followed them as they ran away.
Jack calls for a hunt, but Piggy says that they should stay there, for the beast may not want to approach them on the beach. In response to Jack's belligerence, Piggy points out that only he has the right to speak because he is holding the conch. Jack responds that they no longer need the conch. Ralph becomes exasperated at Jack, accusing him of not wanting to be rescued, and Jack takes a swing at him. Despite Jack's hostility towards Ralph and the rules of the island, Ralph not only allows Jack to lead the hunt but also decides that he will accompany the hunters to search for the beast.
Simon, wanting to prove that he is accepted, travels with Ralph, who wishes only for solitude. Soon, they reach a part of the island that they had not yet discovered. It is a thin path that leads to a series of caves inside a mountain face. While the other boys are afraid to traverse the walkway and explore the caves, Ralph accomplishes the feat and is encouraged by his own bravery. He enters one of the caves and is soon joined by Jack. The two experience a brief reconciliation as they have fun together exploring the new mountain territory.
They continue along a narrow wall of rocks that forms a bridge between parts of the island, reaching the open sea. At this point, however, some of the boys get distracted and spend time rolling rocks around the bridge. Ralph again gets frustrated and then asserts that it would be better to climb the mountain and rekindle the fire. He accuses the boys of losing sight of their original goal, finding and killing the beast. Contradicting Ralph, Jack states that he wishes to stay where they are because they can build a fort.
The landing of the dead pilot on the mountain is a pivotal event in Lord of the Flies. The pilot represents an actual manifestation of the beast whose existence the boys had feared but never confirmed. None of the boys is immune to the implications of the dead pilot's presence on the island. Even Piggy, faced with some evidence that a beast actually exists, begins considering measures the boys should take to protect themselves. In contrast to the "beast from water" of the previous chapter (alternately figured as a monster, squid, and ghost), the beast from air is a concrete object toward which the boys can direct their fear. Significantly, however, the beast from air proves no threat to the boys. The dead body is nothing more than a harmless object left to be interpreted in vastly different ways by the various boys.
Given his increasingly violent behavior, intensified further by his successful slaughter of a forest pig, Jack unsurprisingly interprets the appearance of the beast from air as a cause for war. The possibility of a dangerous presence on the island is key to Jack's gaining authority over the other boys, for he affirms their fear and gives them a focus for their violence and anger. Jack thus continues his authoritarian behavior with a strong emphasis on demagoguery. Jack requires a concrete enemy in order to assume dictatorial authority, and he finds one in the dead pilot despite its obvious inability to harm them. This foreshadows later developments in which Jack will focus his vitriol against other possible enemies. Like many tyrants, Jack assumes power by directing public fear towards scapegoats, in this case, the body of the dead pilot.
Chapter Six also confirms the increasing tension between Jack and Ralph, whose opposing ideas of social organization resurface. While he despises Piggy, Jack's most threatening enemy is Ralph, who insists on rules and self-discipline over wild adventures and hunting. Ralph remains focused on the clear objective of keeping the fire burning to alert possible passing ships, while Jack is committed to only those pursuits that allow him to behave in a destructive manner. Previously, Jack was committed to the rules of order that would allow him to punish others; in this chapter, however, Golding presents Jack as accepting anarchy when it serves his purposes. His assertion that the boys no longer need the conch shell in meetings signifies Jack's explicit rejection of the democratic rules established in the boys' first meeting. Jack emerges in Chapter Six as driven less by totalitarian or anarchist ideology than by self-interest, although the anarchy makes room for a new order led totally by Jack.
Jack's increasing credibility among the group isolates Ralph from the other boys, who find Jack's focus on the games of hunting and building forts more appealing than Ralph's commitment to keeping the fire burning and remaining safe. After all, what is so bad about a life on the beach with plenty of fruit and fun? Throughout the chapter, Golding develops this rift between the more mature Ralph and the other boys. Ralph finds he must ally himself with the intellectual Piggy and the introspective Simon. As the other boys narrow their focus to pure self-interest, with a limited focus on survival (killing the beast) and a greater goal of satisfying their boyish desires (playing as hunters), the three boys represent three facets of distinctly human thought. Ralph, who strives to balance priorities successfully, represents practical reason and democratic ethics. Piggy the problem-solver represents pure intellect. Simon, in contrast, is a spiritual thinker who demonstrates the ability to transcend individual interests in order to achieve not just peace but harmony with others and with the natural environment.
Significantly, Golding begins Chapter Six with a description of an aerial battle that, unlike most of the narrative, is not filtered through one of the boys' perspectives. The reader learns of the events of the battle while the boys remain sleeping and unaware. This special knowledge calls our attention to the dramatic irony here, the gap between reality and the boys' interpretation of that reality. The group's hysterical reaction to the "beast from air," which the reader knows is a dead parachutist, underscores how distorted, irrational, and fear-driven the boys' reasoning is. Rather than leaving readers with the boys' perspective, which would require readers to figure out the reality of the situation on their own, Golding briefly gives the reader an objective viewpoint in order to help readers perceive the danger of the children's mounting irrationality.
Moreover, the chapter's opening description of the aerial battle highlights one of the novel's missions, that is, as a political allegory rooted in the Cold War. The war described here is fictional and accords with no real historical events; nevertheless, the rhetoric Golding uses in this section evokes the conflict of the Cold War. The battle is between England and "the Reds," and an atom bomb-the main weapon at issue in the arms race-is responsible for evacuating the children from the Home Counties. Golding plays on the fears of Cold War America and Great Britain to reinforce his cautionary tale about the superiority of democracy. That the war again threatens the boys, through the misinterpreted figure of the dead parachutist, also draws the reader's attention to the fact that the children are primarily victims of war. From this perspective, the tragic events to follow are consequences of a global crisis rooted as much in war as in human nature.
Again in Chapter Six, Golding uses religious symbolism to express the underlying themes of the novel. The dead parachutist appears to the boys as a supernatural creature; Golding enforces the twins' interpretation by describing the dead body with mystical imagery and language. The body appears to lift and drop its own head, and the flapping parachute opens and closes in the wind. Samneric describe it as a "beast," but Golding's opening description, which follows the parachutist as he drifts across the island-as well as the wing-like quality of his torn parachute-implies that he is more akin to a fallen angel. In Judeo-Christian mythology the first fallen angel was Lucifer, who later became Satan, the incarnation of evil. The parachutist thus serves as a symbol of, and motivation for, the evil that is now manifesting on the island. The Satanic function of the dead body is compounded by the violent, tragic action that results from the confusion surrounding its identity.
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- Summary and Analysis of Chapter One: The Sound of the Shell
- Summary and Analysis of Chapter Two: Fire on the Mountain
- Summary and Analysis of Chapter Three: Huts on the Beach
- Summary and Analysis of Chapter Four: Painted Faces and Long Hair
- Summary and Analysis of Chapter Five: Beast From Water
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- Summary and Analysis of Chapter Seven: Shadows and Tall Trees
- Summary and Analysis of Chapter Eight: Gift for the Darkness
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