Lord of the Flies

Lord of the Flies Summary and Analysis of Chapter Ten: The Shell and the Glasses

Back on the other side of the island, Ralph and Piggy meet on the beach. Tired, injured, and disturbed by the previous night's action, they discuss Simon. Piggy reminds Ralph that he is still chief, or at least chief over those who are still with them. Piggy tries to stop Ralph from dwelling on Simon's murder by appealing to Ralph's reason. Piggy says that he participated in the murder because he was scared, to which Ralph replies that he was not scared. He does not know what came over him. Piggy tries to justify the death as an accident provoked by Simon's "crazy" behavior, but Ralph, clutching the conch defensively, is consumed with guilt and regret and insists that they took part in a murder.

Piggy asks Ralph not to reveal to Samneric that they were involved in Simon's death. Ralph and Piggy reveal that almost all the other boys have abandoned them for Jack's tribe save Samneric and some other littluns. Samneric return to the beach, where they present Ralph and Piggy with a log they have dragged out of the forest. They immediately take off to go swimming. Ralph stops the twins with the intention of informing them that he and Piggy did not participate in Simon's murder. All four appear nervous as they discuss where they were the previous night, trying to avoid the subject of Simon's murder. All insist that they left early, right after the feast.

At Castle Rock, Roger is attempting to gain entry to Jack's camp. Robert, already inside, makes Roger announce himself before he can enter-one of Jack's new rules. When Roger enters, Robert shows him a new feature of Jack's camp: the boys have rigged a log so that they can easily trigger a rock to tumble down and crush whatever is below it. Roger appears disturbed by this, and Robert changes the subject, telling him that Jack had a boy named Wilfred tied up for no apparent reason. Roger considers the implications of Jack's "irresponsible authority" and makes his way back down to the caves and the other boys in Jack's tribe. He finds Jack sitting on a log, nearly naked with a painted face. Jack declares to the group that tomorrow they will hunt again. He warns them about the beast and about intruders. He promises them another feast. Reluctantly, Bill asks Jack what they will use to light the fire. Jack blushes. He finally answers that they shall take fire from the others.

In Ralph's camp on the beach, Piggy gives Ralph his glasses to start the fire. They wish that they could make a radio or a boat, but Ralph says that if they do so, they risk being captured by the Reds. Eric stops himself before he can admit that it would be better than being captured by Jack's hunters. Ralph wonders what Simon had been saying about a dead man. The boys become tired from pulling wood for the fire, but Ralph insists that they must keep it going. Ralph nearly forgets what their objective is for the fire, and they then realize that two people are needed to keep the fire burning at all times. Given their small numbers, each member of Ralph's group would have to spend twelve hours a day devoted to tending the fire. Exhausted and discouraged, they give up the fire for the night and return to the shelters, where they drift off to sleep.

Ralph and Piggy sleep fitfully. They are wakened by sounds within the shelter: Samneric play-fighting. Aware of his increasing fear, Ralph reminisces about the safety of home, and he and Piggy conclude that they will go insane. Suddenly, they hear the leaves rustling outside their shelter and a boy's voice whispering Piggy's name. It is Jack with his hunters, who are attacking the shelter. Ralph's boys fight them off but suffer considerable injuries. Piggy tells Ralph that they wanted the conch, but he then realizes that they came for something else: Piggy's broken glasses.


As the chaos surrounding Simon's death calms down, Golding focuses on the horror Piggy and Ralph feel about their involvement in the murder. The two boys attempt to justify their role in Simon's death with the ideas that they did not know that it was Simon until it was too late, they were not among the inner circle of boys beating him to death, and they operated on instinct rather than on malice. Still, the involvement of Piggy and Ralph makes clear that even these two, the paragons of rationality and maturity among the children on the island, are susceptible to the same forces that motivate Jack and his hunters. Golding obscures the once-clear dichotomy between the "good" Ralph and the "evil" Jack, demonstrating that the compulsion towards violence and destruction is present inside all individuals. The reverse, a "good" Jack, is rarely in evidence. The implication of Ralph's and Piggy's brief but tragic participation in the brutal activities of Jack's tribe is that the natural state of humanity is neither good nor evil but mixed. Social order and rules, with conscience and reason helping out only on occasion, are what constrain and limit the "evil" impulses that exist inside us all.

Indeed, Golding does present one major qualification that distinguishes Ralph and Piggy from Jack. Ralph and Piggy still possess a moral sensibility. They realize that their actions are wrong and accordingly struggle to find some justification for their parts in the murder. They are ashamed of the murder, unlike the other boys, who show no qualms about what they have done. Even if Ralph and Piggy present unsuccessful rationalizations, the fact that they need to find some reason for their behavior shows that they have an understanding of moral principles and retain an appreciation for them. Golding thus suggests that while evil may be present inside all of us, the strength of conscience and reason can positively move one's morals, for some more than for others.

As the new leader of the boys, Jack maintains his authority by capitalizing on the fears and suspicions of the others. Even when presented with information that the figure on the mountain is not harmful, Jack continues to promote fear of the dreaded beast. Like many tyrants, his rules are based on a strict distinction between insiders and outsiders: the insiders are his tribe, and the outsiders are their common enemies: the beast and the boys on the island who reject Jack's authority. His methods of rule are entirely exclusionary, and they fail to provide that first role of government, the security and the safety of the group, even while Jack purports to be able to provide protection from the beast and other enemies. The formal declaration by the guard that visitors must announce their presence does nothing to improve the boys' safety.

Even as Golding continues to emphasize the successful rise of Jack as a leader, he suggests that this rule may be short-lived. The shortsightedness Jack displays as a ruler is clear even to Jack himself. Intent on pleasing the boys with games and hunting, he does nothing to address more practical concerns. Faced with the dilemma of providing a feast without a fire, his solution is to steal from the boys who have maintained a sense of responsibility. Ralph, Piggy, Sam and Eric are therefore considerably burdened. Without help from the other boys who are content to play as savages, these four must devote all their energy to maintaining the signal fire, an almost impossible task. The strain Jack has left the boys with is considerable, but this does not matter to Jack if he can only secure the glasses for fire for the feasts. Ralph and Piggy muse, for their part, that they may go insane if they are not rescued soon.

A more immediate danger to Ralph and Piggy comes when Jack and his followers charge the camp on the beach. The attack on Ralph and Piggy signals yet another stage in the boys' descent from civilized behavior into pure savagery. The murder of Simon was motivated by mass hysteria, instinctual fear, and panic. Here the violence used to gain Piggy's glasses, even though it is not fatal, is intentional, an act that anticipates the murder of Piggy in the following chapter. Piggy's premeditated murder is also foreshadowed by the description of the rock perched near the fortress. Jack and his soldiers have placed the rock so that it may be tipped over on another boy. The question remains regarding which boy will suffer this fate.

As in previous chapters, Golding uses symbolism and imagery to call the reader's attention to the novel's tragic arc, which follows the boys as they devolve from civilized, moral human beings to animal-like savages, motivated only by self-interest and given over to violent impulse. Piggy's glasses, throughout the novel a symbol of intellectual reason and pragmatism-they are used to start the signal fire-come into the hands of the irrational and brutal Jack. Jack, of course, wants the glasses to start not a signal fire, but a bonfire for a pig roast, a decision that reflects his shortsightedness and hedonism. We may also notice that Ralph and Piggy are surprised by the theft of the glasses, since they thought Jack's intent was to steal the conch shell. Jack's disinterest in the conch, a symbol in the novel for democratic authority, reflects his rejection not only of Ralph's authority, but also of the entire system of liberal democracy. The conch is useless if one does not believe in its power. Ralph apparently still thinks that the conch matters or should matter. The image of Ralph clutching the conch is a powerful reminder that he is one of only a few boys who still believe in civilized life on the island.

As the conch shell is divested of meaning and Piggy's glasses fall into the hands of Jack's tribe, Ralph and Piggy become desolate and depressed, hopeless that they will ever be rescued. Golding emphasizes the despair of Ralph's group to provoke pessimism in the reader. That is, when Ralph and Piggy no longer have faith in their rescue, we lose hope for them as well. Rather, it appears that the boys' future will forever be on and of the island, guided by the demented but flourishing tribal system of Jack and his hunters. The scene on Ralph's beach, with its declining and injured population, dwindling fire, and meaningless cultural symbols (in particular the conch) stands in sharp contrast to the scene in Jack's forest, with its army, enforced borders, and even weaponry (the defense contraption). The implication is less that Ralph's civilization has been destroyed than that it has been replaced by another, more primitive but more warlike society. As the boys' early days on the island mirrored the evolutionary progress of early man, the boys' final days mirror some aspects of the development of human civilizations, which clash violently over religious and political differences.