Ralph hides in the jungle, worrying about his wounds and the inhuman violence into which the boys on the island have devolved. He thinks about Simon and Piggy and realizes that civilization is now impossible among the boys. Ralph, who is not far from the Castle Rock, thinks he sees Bill in the distance. He concludes that the boy is not Bill-at least not any more. This boy is a savage, entirely different from the boy in shorts and shirt he once knew. Ralph is certain that Jack will never leave him alone. Noticing the Lord of the Flies, now just a skull with the skin and meat eaten away, Ralph decides to fight back. He knocks the skull from the stick, which he takes, intending to use it as a spear. From a distance, Ralph can still make out the boys' chant: "Kill the beast. Cut his throat. Spill his blood."
That night, armed with his makeshift spear, Ralph crawls undetected to the lookout near Castle Rock. He calls to Sam and Eric, who are now guarding the entrance. Sam gives Ralph a chunk of meat but does not agree to join him again. Sam tells Ralph to leave. The twins tell Ralph that Roger has sharpened a stick at both ends, and they warn him that Jack will be sending the entire tribe after Ralph the following day. Dejected, Ralph crawls away to a thicket where he can safely sleep. When he awakes in the morning, he can hear Jack torturing one of the twins and talking to Roger outside the thicket where he hides. They are trying to find out where Ralph is hiding. Several other boys are rolling rocks down the mountain, trying to break into the thicket. More boys are trying to climb in.
Just as Ralph decides to find a new hiding place, he smells smoke. He realizes with horror that Jack has set the forest on fire in an attempt to smoke Ralph out of hiding. He also recognizes that the fire will destroy all the fruit on the island, again endangering the boys' basic survival. Terrified, Ralph bolts from his hiding place, fighting his way past several of Jack's hunters, who are painted in wild colors and carrying sharpened wooden spears. Wielding their spears menacingly, they chase Ralph through the forest. Weaving through the dense underbrush, Ralph finally escapes to the beach, where he collapses in exhaustion and terror. He is aware that Jack's hunters are close behind.
When Ralph looks up, he is surprised to see a figure looming over him. He realizes that the figure is a man-a naval officer! The officer tells Ralph that his ship saw the smoke and decided to investigate the island. Ralph realizes that the officer is under the impression that the boys have been only playing games. The other boys begin to appear from the forest, and the officer begins to realize the chaos and violence among the stranded boys. Percival tries to tell him his name and address but finds he can no longer remember it. Ralph, informing him that he is boss, is sad to find he cannot answer the officer when asked how many boys are on the island. The officer, aware that they have not been behaving according to the rules of civilization, scolds the boys for not knowing exactly how many they are and for not being organized, as the British are supposed to be.
Ralph insists to the officer that they were organized and good at first. The officer says he imagines it was like the "show" in The Coral Island. Ralph, not understanding his reference, begins to weep for the early days on the island, which now seem impossibly remote. He weeps for the end of innocence and the darkness of man's heart, and he weeps for the deaths of Simon and Piggy. All of the other boys begin to cry as well. The officer turns away, embarrassed, while the other boys attempt to regain their composure. The officer keeps his eye on the cruiser in the distance.
The dynamic of interaction between Ralph and the other boys changes dramatically in the opening scenes of the final chapter. Ralph is now an object to the other boys as he flees Jack's hunters, who seem unable to make the distinction between hunting pigs and hunting each other. As Ralph observes, the other boys on the island bear no resemblance to the English schoolboys first stranded there; they are complete savages without either moral or rational sensibilities. As they cease to exhibit the qualities that define them as civilized human beings, they no longer qualify as boys. This shift from human to animal identity is noticeable now in Ralph. No longer considered human by the other boys, he must rely on his primitive senses to escape the hunters. Because Ralph can no longer defend himself through any sense of justice or morality, he must use his animal instinct and cunning to survive.
The final chapter emphasizes the self-destructive quality of the boys' actions. Throughout the novel, Golding has indicated that the boys are destructive not only to their enemies, but to themselves, a theme that culminates dramatically in this chapter. Images of decay permeate the final scenes, particularly in the Lord of the Flies, which decayed until it became only a hollow skull. Significantly, Ralph dismantles the Lord of the Flies by pushing the pig's skull off of the stick it was impaled on, an act that mirrors and completes Roger's destruction of the conch in the previous chapter. The destruction of both objects signals to the reader that the boys have been plunged into a brutal civil war. Ralph takes apart the Lord of the Flies-a totem for Jack's tribe-to use the stick it is impaled on as a spear with which to attack Jack. Ralph's action thus indicates that he has accepted Jack's savage terms of war, a conflict he had previously approached with reason and nonviolence, but it is too late for that. Ralph's decision to attack Jack or at least to defend himself with a weapon indicates that he too has devolved into savagery. All vestiges of democratic civilization on the island are gone, and it is unclear if Jack's monarchy retains any civilization at all.
Another ominous image in this chapter is Roger's spear. As Samneric inform Ralph, Roger has sharpened a spear at both ends, a tool that symbolizes the danger the boys have created for themselves. The spear simultaneously points at the one who wields it and the one at whom it is directed; it is capable of harming both equally. The significance of the double-edged spear is demonstrated in the boys' hunt for Ralph. That is, in order to find Ralph, the boys start a fire that might overwhelm them and destroy the fruit that is essential for their survival. Golding thus alerts the reader to the counterproductive consequences of vengeance: in the world of the novel, the ultimate price of harming another is harming oneself.
Despite the seemingly hopeless situation on the island, however, the boys are finally rescued by a naval officer whose ship noticed the fire on the island. This ending is not only unexpected but deeply ironic. It was not the signal fire that attracted the navy cruiser. Instead it was the forest fire that Jack's tribe set in an extreme gesture of irresponsibility and self-destruction. Ironically and even tragically, it is Jack and not Ralph who is ultimately responsible for the boys' rescue. The implications are grim: it was not careful planning and foresight that brought the boys to safety, but a coincidence. The consequences of savagery, not civilization, are what saved the children. With this abrupt narrative gesture, Golding overturns the logic he had established throughout the novel. Of course, poetic justice is not required, but the issue is vexing. Perhaps, he suggests, savagery and civilization are less unlike than we believe. By casting Jack as the boys' unintentional savior, Golding ends the novel before the action can properly climax. The reader is denied a chance to see a final battle between Ralph and Jack, although we can easily imagine that Ralph is doomed. Since the dehumanization is complete, there is almost nothing more to be said.
The sudden appearance of the naval officer at the beach mitigates the effects of the boys' aggression. The officer is a deus ex machina (an unexpected figure who shows up almost out of nowhere and who appears only to wrap up the plot and bring it to a speedy conclusion). His arrival on the island frees Golding from having to explore the final implications of the hunters' suicidal attack on Ralph and Ralph's own descent into violent brutality.
In another unlikely gesture, the naval officer repeats to the boys the lessons that, throughout the novel, Ralph and Piggy had attempted to impart to the other boys. He emphasizes the importance of order just as Ralph and Piggy had, thus retroactively calling attention to the maturity and sensibility of Ralph's advice to the other boys. Nevertheless, the naval officer cannot comprehend the full reach of the boys' experience on the island. He interprets the hunting and painted faces as a childish game, unaware that their dress carries more than symbolic meaning. The boys have not been playing as savages; they have become them. The officer's mention of the nineteenth-century adventure novel The Coral Island underscores his ignorance of the brutality that is dominating the island. While the boys in The Coral Island had carefree, childish adventures, the boys in Golding's narrative actually descended into unthinkable depths of violence and cruelty. Through the officer's naivete as informed by The Coral Island, Golding again implicitly critiques the idealistic portrayals of children in popular literature. Still, these unlikely concluding events feel abrupt and unsatisfying after so much richness in the narrative.
Another significant aspect of the naval officer's character is his admonition to the boys that they are not behaving like proper "British boys," which recalls Jack's patriotic claims in Chapter Two that the British are the best at everything. The officer's statement symbolically links him to Jack and underscores the hypocrisy of such a military character. While the officer condemns the violent play of the boys on the island, he is himself a military figure, engaged in an ongoing war that itself necessitated the boys' evacuation from their homeland and (unintentionally) led to the events on the island. Again, the issue is ambiguous: perhaps the violence among the boys was not an expression of an unrestrained inner instinct but a reflection of the seemingly "civilized" culture they were raised in, a culture engaged in an ugly and fatal war. In any case, the officer echoes Ralph rather than Jack, repeating many of the warnings about rules and order that Ralph had expressed to the boys throughout the novel. By associating the officer with both Ralph and Jack, in different ways, Golding calls into question the distinction between civilization and savagery that he traced with increasing emphasis in the novel's earlier chapters and then erased in later chapters.
If the naval officer saves the boys from their self-destruction, he may have come too late. The final scenes of the novel emphasize the permanent emotional damage that the boys have inflicted on themselves. With the possible exception of Ralph, the boys are no longer accustomed to the society from which they came. Golding underscores this fact by presenting Percival as unable to state his name and address as he could when the boys first arrived on the island. More importantly, Ralph perceives their experiences on the island as the end of their innocence. He has witnessed the overthrow of rational society as represented by Piggy in favor of the barbarism and tyranny of Jack. His final thoughts: "Ralph wept for the end of innocence, the darkness of man's heart, and the fall through the air of the true, wise friend called Piggy." These thoughts indicate a play of the Eden myth with which Golding began. If there was an Eden on the island, it was the special place found by Simon that none of the other boys wanted to experience. They began out of Eden rather than inside it. Any paradise they hoped for on the island came to an end when the boys chose nature and instinct over rationality and awareness-compare, however, the rise of rationality and awareness in Genesis, which seems to occur most of all after the Fall. Ralph loses his innocence when he realizes that the violence inherent in humanity is always under the surface of the order and morality that civilization imposes on individuals.