Lord of the Flies

Chapter 4

 What evidence is there at the beginning of the chapter that the boys are returning or regressing to a more natural, primitive state?

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Golding begins the chapter by describing a sense of order among the boys on the island, and he concludes it by describing the order's disintegration. Even the smallest boys appear to have accepted their fate on the island, and they have developed strategies, such as the building of sand castles, to minimize and contain their anguish. The key to the initial tranquility on the island is the maintenance of customs from the society in which the boys were raised. Yet, as the chapter's opening passages imply, these customs are threatened by the natural forces at work on the island. The regular schedule of work, play time, and meal time is impossible in the volatile tropical atmosphere. That the boys do not know whether the movement of the mid-afternoon sea is real or a "mirage" indicates how ill-adjusted to the island they still are.

We begin to focus on the boys'-particularly Jack's-transgression of the ordered rules of their invented society. Golding highlights how life on the island has begun to mirror human society, with the boys organizing themselves into cliques according to age and placing these cliques in a social hierarchy. The littluns have their own routines and separate themselves from the older boys. The intricate sandcastles the littluns build on the shore represent their continued respect for-even idealization of-human civilization, and their continuing presence at Ralph's meetings signals the littluns' investment in ordered island life, even though they do not contribute directly to the group's survival. Golding employs the littluns as symbols for the weak members of society that a successful democracy strives to protect.

The episode with Roger and Maurice kicking down the sandcastles thus signals the disintegration of ordered life on the island, and it foreshadows the end of Ralph's democratic plans. The sandcastles are a miniature civilization on the shore. By destroying the sandcastles, Roger and Maurice not only express an abusive power over the younger boys but indicate their increasing disrespect for civilized order and human institutions. Still, Golding suggests, they have not yet devolved into complete savagery. Maurice, remembering his mother's discipline, feels guilty about kicking sand into Percival's eye, and Roger refrains from throwing a stone at Henry. The implication is that the influences of human society are difficult to erase from the human psyche; they remain internalized even in the absence of rules, and conscience retains its hold. Whatever lessons the boys' past had instilled in them prove critical to maintaining some semblance of peace on the island. Despite the stirrings of anarchy, the boys obey notions of appropriate behavior without any real external authority to determine what they can and cannot do. It is only when the boys completely transgress these civilized norms that they suffer.

Jack is the first to seriously overstep the boundaries of civilized society. His attempts to become a successful hunter are in effect attempts to succumb entirely to his animalistic nature. His painted face, reminiscent of some less developed societies, supposedly makes him indistinguishable from the animals of the forest. When Jack finally does kill a pig, as he has intended to do since the beginning of the novel, he fulfills a violent blood-lust that, until then, had remained frustrated. The other hunters share this quality; when they dance and sing about killing the pig, they show that they have succumbed to the thrill of violence. They relish the slaughter, an enjoyment that transcends pride and signifies pure lust. As they cheer on the means by which they mutilate the pig, their painted skin, chanting, and frenzy suggest they have developed their own sub-society, one based on rituals and an almost spiritual worship of blood, violence, and slaughter.

Maurice's impression of the pig during the dance calls attention to the increasingly indistinct line between violence against animals on the island and violence among the boys. Significantly, this chapter contains the first instance of explicit aggression between two boys. Jack, now accustomed to harming others with his recent kill, punches Piggy, who, as Golding reminds us, remains an outsider. The chapter further sets up Piggy as a martyr. He has the most grounded concerns of all the boys, and he offers the reasonable proposal that they construct a sundial, but he is also loathed by the others. Only Ralph, the most mature and grounded of the characters, sympathizes with Piggy and agrees with him that Jack made an egregious error by letting the fire go out. Piggy stands apart from the other boys, for he retains the goal of living in an increasingly civilized society. His hair does not even seem to grow, helping him retain the appearance of a normal English schoolboy while the others grow more disheveled and unkempt.

Jack also clashes with Ralph in this chapter, and the tension between their perspectives furthers the novel's concern with the two opposing political ideologies the boys represent, namely, totalitarianism and democracy. Ralph, whose overarching concern is the maintenance of the signal fire, is dedicated to the welfare of the entire group. He uses his power for the good of all. Jack, however, is concerned with becoming a successful hunter, less for the good it will bring to the other boys than for the thrill of the hunt and the increased social status he will have on the island. He seeks power because it will allow him to gratify his impulses and abuse others without punishment. The two boys' treatment of the littluns-Ralph is assuring, while Jack mocks and yells at them-demonstrates their different approaches to power.

The concurrent sighting of the ship and killing of the pig contribute to the disintegration of the relative calm on the island. These two events represent the different strands of human behavior inherent on the island. The ship is a reminder of the civilized society to which the boys belong, renewing the possibility that they may eventually escape the island. The killing of the pig is an example of their descent from civilized behavior into animalistic activity. This makes clear the dichotomy dividing Ralph and Piggy from Jack and the hunters. The former have a greater concern for returning to society while the latter enjoy their freedom from civilization (a group that, again, imposes its own totalitarian order under Jack). This conflict between the two forces at work among the boys on the island will guide much of the following conflict in the novel.