Ralph goes to the beach because he needs a place to think and feels overcome with frustration and impotence. He is saddened by his own physical appearance, which has grown shabby with neglect. In particular, his hair has grown uncomfortably long. He understands the weariness of life, where everything requires improvisation. Ralph decides to call a meeting near the bathing pool, realizing that he must think and must make a decision but that he lacks Piggy's natural intellectual ability.
That afternoon, Ralph blows the conch shell and the assembly gathers. He begins the assembly seriously, telling them that they are there not for making jokes or for cleverness. He reminds them that everyone built the first shelter, which is the most sturdy, while the third one, built only by Simon and Ralph, is unstable. He admonishes them for not using the appropriate areas for the lavatory. He also reminds them that the fire is the most important thing on the island, for it is their means of escape. He claims that they ought to die before they let the fire out. He directs this at the hunters in particular. He repeats the rule that the only place where they will have a fire is on the mountain. Addressing the spreading fear among the littluns, Ralph then attempts to demystify the question of the "beastie" or monster. He admits that he is frightened himself, but their fear is unfounded. Ralph again assures the group that there are no monsters on the island.
With his customary abruptness, Jack stands up, takes the conch from Ralph, and begins to yell at the littluns for screaming like babies and not hunting or building or helping. Jack tells them that there is no beast on the island. Piggy does agree with Jack on that point, telling the kids that there are no beasts and there is no real reason for fear-unless it is of other people. A littlun, Phil, tells that he had a nightmare and, when he awoke, saw something big and horrid moving among the trees. Ralph dismisses it as nothing. Simon admits that he was walking in the jungle at night.
Percival speaks next, and as he gives his name he recites his address and telephone number. This reminder of home, however, causes him to break out into tears. All of the littluns join him in crying. Percival claims that the beast comes out of the sea, and he tells them about frightening squids. Simon says that maybe there is a beast, and the boys speak about ghosts. Piggy claims he does not believe in ghosts, but Jack attempts to start a fight again by taunting Piggy and calling him "Fatty." Ralph stops the fight and asks the boys how many of them believe in ghosts. Piggy begins yelling, asking whether the boys are humans, animals, or savages.
Jack threatens Piggy again, and Ralph intercedes once more, complaining that they are breaking the rules. When Jack asks, "who cares?" Ralph says that the rules are the only thing that they have. Jack says that he and his hunters will kill the beast. The assembly breaks up as Jack leads them on a hunt. Only Ralph, Piggy, and Simon remain. Ralph says that if he blows the conch to summon them back and they refuse, then they will become like animals and will never be rescued. He asks Piggy whether there are ghosts or beasts on the island, but Piggy reassures him. Piggy warns Ralph that if he steps down as chief Jack will do nothing but hunt, and they will never be rescued. The three imagine the majesty of adult life. They also hear Percival still sobbing his address.
The weight of leadership becomes oppressive for Ralph as the story continues; he is dutiful and dedicated, but his attempts to instill order and calm among the boys are decreasingly successful. Golding develops Ralph's particular concerns and insecurities in this chapter. By showing him brooding over his perceived failures, Golding highlights Ralph's essentially responsible, adult nature. Ralph's concern about his appearance, and particularly his grown-out hair, indicate his natural inclination towards the conventions of civilization. Although Ralph demonstrates a more than sufficient intellect, he also worries that he lacks Piggy's genius. His one consolation is that he realizes that his abilities as a thinker allow him to recognize the same in Piggy, again a rational observation that draws the reader's attention to his potential as a leader. The implication is that deviations from Ralph's plans will be illogical, ill-informed, and dangerous.
Ralph still has a strong sense of self-doubt. He is not immune to fear, which he admits to the boys, and he even feels it necessary to ask Piggy whether there might actually be a ghost on the island. Thus, Golding presents Ralph as a reluctant leader. His elected position of chief has been thrust upon him, and he assumes it only because he is the most natural and qualified leader. He has no real ambition or drive, such as the rapacious energy that motivates Jack, but he knows that the boys will be best provided for under his care. It is Ralph who is most concerned with the rules of order on the island. He accurately tells the boys that without the rules, the boys have nothing. Ralph's rules keep the boys tethered to some semblance of society, but without these rules there will be disastrous consequences.
Piggy remains the only fully rational character during the assembly and afterward. Piggy is the only boy who categorically dismisses the idea of a beast on the island, and he even reassures the generally unwavering Ralph on this point. It is Piggy who realizes that the boys' fear is the only danger that they truly face so long as they have enough food to survive, and even this fear proves no actual threat to them. Still, the outcast Piggy once again is ignored in favor of lurid tales of beasts and ghosts; although he is consistently correct in his judgments, Piggy is continually ignored. He raises the important question of whether the boys wish to act like humans, savages, or animals. Once again, Ralph and Piggy exemplify civilized human order, while Jack represents a brutal anarchy that may devolve into animal behavior.
The conflict between Jack and Ralph, with Piggy as his ally, reaches a breaking point in this chapter. Although Jack initially dismisses the idea of a beast on the island, he comes to accept the idea when they conceive of the beast as an enemy that his hunters may kill. Jack continues to be an aggressive and destructive force. He again physically threatens Piggy, foreshadowing the eventual violent conflict between the two boys, and he even manipulates the young boys' fear of monsters and ghosts. During the assembly Jack fully abandons the rules and codes of society. He promotes anarchy among the boys, leading them on a disorganized hunt for an imaginary beast. While Ralph is appointed leader for his calm demeanor and rationality, Jack gains his authority from irrationality and instinctual fear, manipulating the boys into thinking that there may be a dangerous creature that they should hunt. This behavior is dangerous; Ralph concludes that a focus on hunting will prevent them from ever leaving the island and seal their fate as no more than animals.
The assembly highlights how fear ferments and spreads in a group. The littluns begin with a concrete example of a frightening incident that is easily explained and is understandable, but the idea of something more sinister on the island provokes mass hysteria. The terrors that the boys imagine become progressively more abstract and threatening. Percival uses concrete facts about squids to arrive at an illogical conclusion that a squid may emerge from the sea to harm them. This then provokes the unfounded rumors that there may be supernatural beings, ghosts, on the island.
Monsters, violent squid, and ghosts: all three creatures represent different instantiations of the "beast" or "beastie" that has been the subject of the boys' mounting fear. As the title suggests, the beast is of crucial importance to this chapter and will figure largely in the tragic events to come. On a symbolic level, the beast has several meanings. First, it invokes the devil, the Satan of Judeo-Christian mythology, which foreshadows the "lord of the flies" object that will become the mascot of Jack's tribe later. The fear of the beast among the boys may symbolize their fear of evil from an external, supernatural source. Second, it symbolizes the unknown, amoral, dark forces of nature, which remain beyond the boys' control. Finally, the beast may allude to the Freudian concept of the Id, the instinctual, primordial drive that is present in the human psyche and which, unfettered by social mores, tends towards savagery and destruction. In this framework, the boys' fear of the beast is a displacement of a fear of themselves, of their capacity for violence and evil which is unleashed in the absence of adult authority and ordered social life.
With the anarchy incited by Jack and the panic among the littluns, only the illusion of civilization is left on the island. Percival's tearful repetition of his home address is a stark reminder that the boys no longer reside in civilized culture and that the Home Counties remain little more than a pleasant memory. As Ralph, Piggy, and Simon muse on adulthood, we recall that adult society should be sufficiently rational and organized to solve the problems that the children face on the island, though we wonder how well a similar group of adults would do.