On the beach Ralph, Piggy, and Samneric gather around the remains of the signal fire, bloody and wounded. They attempt to rekindle the fire, but it is impossible without Piggy's glasses. Ralph, blowing the conch, calls an assembly of the boys who remain with them. Piggy, squinting and unable to see, asks Ralph to instruct them about what can be done. Ralph responds that what they most need is a fire, and he reminds them that if they had kept the fire burning they might have been rescued already. Realizing the importance of Piggy's glasses, Ralph, Sam, and Eric think that they should go to the Castle Rock with spears, but Piggy refuses to arm himself. Piggy says that he is going to go find Jack himself and appeal to his sense of justice. A tear falls down his cheek as he speaks. Ralph says that they should make themselves look presentable, with clothes, to resemble boys and not savages.
Ralph and his boys set off along the beach, limping. When they approach the Castle Rock, Ralph blows the conch, which he has brought with him, believing it will remind Jack and his hunters of his rightful authority. He spots Jack's boys guarding their camp, and he approaches them tentatively. Samneric rush to Ralph's side, leaving Piggy alone. Jack's hunters, unimpressed by the conch shell, throw rocks at Ralph and his companions and shout for them to leave. Suddenly, Jack emerges from the forest, accompanied by a group of hunters who are dragging a dead pig. He warns Ralph to leave them alone. Ralph demands the return of Piggy's glasses, and the two argue. Ralph finally calls Jack a thief, and Jack responds by trying to stab Ralph with his spear, which Ralph deflects.
As Ralph and Jack fight, Piggy reminds Ralph what they came to do. Ralph breaks away from the fight and tells Jack's tribe that they have to give back Piggy's glasses, because they are necessary to maintain the signal fire on the beach. He reminds them that the fire is their only hope for rescue. Frustrated by their indifference to his pleas, Ralph breaks down and calls them painted fools. Jack orders the boys to grab Samneric. The hunters wrestle Samneric's spears from their hands, and Jack orders them to tie up the twins. Ralph again screams at Jack, calling him a beast and a swine and a thief. As they fight again, Piggy, yelling over the boys' jeers, demands that he address the group.
Struggling to be heard over the commotion, Piggy asks the other boys whether it is better to be a pack of painted Indians or to be sensible like Ralph. He asks if they would rather have rules and peaceful agreement or be able only to hunt and kill. He reminds them of the importance of Ralph's rules, which are there to ensure their rescue. Above on the mountain, a frenzied Roger deliberately leans his weight on the log that Robert showed him earlier, dislodging a great rock, which begins to roll down the mountainside. Ralph hears the rock falling and manages to dodge it, but Piggy can neither see nor hear its tumble. The rock crashes down on Piggy, crushing the conch shell, which he was holding, on the way. The rock pushes Piggy down a cliff, where he lands on the beach, dead.
The group falls into a sudden and deep silence. Just as suddenly, however, Jack leaps out of the group, screaming deliriously. He shouts at Ralph that "that's what you'll get" for challenging his authority, and he expresses happiness that the conch is gone. Declaring himself chief, Jack deliberately hurls his spear at Ralph. The spear tears the skin and flesh over Ralph's ribs, then shears off and falls into the water. A terrified Ralph turns and runs, spears now coming at him from different directions. He is propelled by an instinct he never knew he possessed. In his flight, he catches sight of the headless sow from the earlier hunt. After Ralph departs, Jack casts his gaze on the bound Samneric. He orders them to join the tribe, but when they request only to be released, he bullies them, poking the twins in the ribs with a spear. The other boys cheer him on but fall silent when they notice Roger edging past Jack to confront the twins.
As the tension between Ralph and Jack comes to a violent head, Golding again establishes the conflict between the two boys as an explicit struggle between savagery and civilization. The two continue to clash over previously developed points of conflict: Ralph criticizes Jack for his lack of responsibility and his ambivalence toward rules of order and justice, and Jack continues to blame Ralph for his lack of direct action against the beast. Their accusations express and emphasize their respective visions of human society on the island: while Ralph is oriented towards a cooperative community organized around the common goal of getting rescued, Jack adheres to a militaristic ideal and unites his tribe around a shared interest in hunting, self-gratification, and fear of the mythical island beast.
Unfortunately, Ralph's criticisms fall on deaf ears, for they are based on the assumption that Jack and his hunters are members of a society with moral codes and regulations. Ralph is appealing to standards Jack no longer believes in, as is symbolized by his glee when the conch shell is crushed. The shift in the struggle between Ralph and Jack is subtle but significant. Previously Jack and Ralph debated over the type of civilization that should predominate on the island: the former advocated a militaristic culture and the latter a liberal community. Now, with Jack's repudiation of any rational system, the two now argue over whether there should be any ordered society at all on the island. One might think of Jack as Plato's Callicles from the Gorgias or Plato's Thrasymachus from the Republic.
The political subtext of the chapter is most evident, however, in the final confrontation between Ralph, Piggy, and Jack. As Ralph and Piggy face Jack and the other boys, Golding clearly delineates the tension between civilization and animalistic savagery. Before they face Jack, Ralph and Piggy deliberately readopt the manners and customs of English society, grooming themselves and dressing themselves as proper English boys. They do so to exaggerate their differences from the hunters, who wear little if any clothing and who adorn themselves with "native" makeup. When Piggy speaks to the boys, he explicitly expresses the major question the novel explores, asking whether it is better to live sensibly according to rules and standards of behavior or to live in a state of anarchy (again, one might turn to Plato's Republic for guidance on this question and others raised by Piggy and the events of the novel). It is significant that the most insightful, reasoned statement in the novel is the one that provokes the most horrific tragedy on the island: the murder of the rational Piggy by the brutal and amoral Roger.
With his death, Piggy joins Simon as the second martyr among the boys. There are several parallels between their respective murders. The two outcasts both die when they shatter the illusions held by the other boys. Simon dies when he exposes the truth about the nonexistent beast, while the hunters kill Piggy when he forces them to see their behavior as barbaric and irresponsible. The murder of Piggy, however, is a more chilling event, for the boys killed Simon out of an instinctual panic. In contrast to the frenzied hunters, Roger has a clear understanding of his actions when he tips the rock that kills Piggy. This event thus completes the progression of behavior that Golding developed in the previous two chapters: the boys have moved from unintentional violence to completely premeditated murder. The chapter's final image, in which Piggy's murderer, Roger, edges past Jack to approach the bound twins, implies that Roger's brutality surpasses even Jack's. While Jack condones and participates in violence against animals and humans alike, it is Roger who orchestrates and carries out the murder of Piggy. Significantly, he does not seek authorization from Jack for the murder or for the implied torture of Samneric. Rather, his sadism appears to be entirely self-interested, and it suggests that he is a potential threat to Jack's authority.
The novel's major symbol of civilization, the conch shell, appears in this chapter only to be destroyed after Roger pushes the boulder onto Piggy. This crucial act provokes and foreshadows Ralph's destruction of the Lord of the Flies, the primary cultural symbol of Jack's tribe, in the next and final chapter of the novel. The gesture will suggest Ralph's own descent into savagery and violence. The conch, an established marker of Ralph's authority and a consistent symbol for liberal democracy throughout the novel, has lost power; Jack and his hunters long ago refused to recognize it as a symbol of authority. In this chapter, the conch is finally destroyed in a demonstration of the triumph of Jack's will over Ralph's.
As Ralph flees from the spears of Jack's hunters, Golding again draws the reader's attention to the lower, immoral, animalistic humanity that lurks inside every individual. Ralph is literally being hunted like the pigs on the island, a moment that was foreshadowed in previous chapters when Roger pretended to be a pig in the hunting dance, and when Jack suggested to the group that they should hunt a littlun. Boy and animal become indistinct, and as Ralph flees he is propelled by a primitive subhuman instinct. His terror is that of a hunted animal: instinctual, unthinking, and primal. Ralph, the character who throughout the novel stood for pragmatism and civilization, has been reduced to an animal of prey, just as Jack and his hunters have reduced themselves to predatory beasts. (For more on the theme of humans and animals, compare The Island of Dr. Moreau by H. G. Wells.)
Note also the presence of animals in this penultimate chapter. Throughout the novel, Golding has used animal imagery and metaphors to call the reader's attention to the delicate line between human and animal nature, as well as to highlight the hostile relationship between civilization and the natural world that civilization subdues in order to ensure human survival. As Ralph flees the spears of Jack and his hunters, the last thing he registers is the headless body of the sow that Jack's tribe had just slaughtered. The image of the sow's body evokes both the Lord of the Flies, a pig's head on a stick that has signified evil, and Piggy, whose brutal murder marks the final destruction of civilization on the island.