When the explorers return, Ralph sounds the conch shell, summoning the boys to another meeting on the beach. He tells the group that there are no adults on the island and that they need to organize a few things to look after themselves. Jack reminds Ralph of the pig they found trapped in the vines in the jungle, and Ralph agrees that they will need hunters to kill animals for meat. Ralph declares that, at meetings, the conch shell will be used to determine which boy has the right to speak. Whoever holds the conch shell will speak, and the others will listen silently until they receive the shell in their turn. Jack agrees with this idea.
Piggy yells about the fact that no one knows they have crashed on the island and that they could be stuck there for a long time. The prospect of being stranded for a long period is too harrowing for many of the boys, and the entire group becomes silent and scared. One of the younger children, a small boy with a mulberry-colored mark on his face, claims that he saw a snakelike “beastie” or monster the night before. A wave of fear ripples through the group at the idea that a monster might be prowling the island. Though they are frightened, the older boys try to reassure the group that there is no monster. The older boys say that the little boy’s vision was only a nightmare.
Thinking about the possibility of rescue, Ralph proposes that the group build a large signal fire on top of the island’s central mountain, so that any passing ships might see the fire and know that someone is trapped on the island. Excited by the thought, the boys rush off to the mountain, while Ralph and Piggy lag behind. Piggy continues to whine about the childishness and stupidity of the group.
The boys collect a mound of dead wood and use the lenses from Piggy’s glasses to focus the sunlight and set the wood on fire. They manage to get a large fire going, but it quickly dies down. Piggy angrily declares that the boys need to act more proficiently if they want to get off the island, but his words carry little weight. Jack volunteers his group of hunters to be responsible for keeping the signal fire going. In their frenzied, disorganized efforts to rekindle the fire, the boys set a swath of trees ablaze. Enraged at the group’s reckless disorganization, Piggy tells them furiously that one of the littlest boys—the same boy who told them about the snake-beast—was playing over by the fire and now is missing. The boys are crestfallen and shocked, and Ralph is struck with shame. They pretend that nothing has happened.
The conflict between the instincts of civilization and savagery emerges quickly within the group: the boys, especially Piggy, know that they must act with order and forethought if they are to be rescued, but the longer they remain apart from the society of adults, the more difficult it becomes for them to adhere to the disciplined behavior of civilization.
In Chapter 1, the boys seem determined to re-create the society they have lost, but as early as Chapter
Golding’s portrayals of the main characters among the group of boys contributes to the allegorical quality of
Already the boys’ savage instincts lead them to value strength and charisma above intelligence: although Piggy has a great deal to offer the boys’ fledgling civilization, they see him as a whiny weakling and therefore despise him and refuse to listen to him, even when his ideas are good. For instance, when Piggy suggests that the boys find a way to improve their chances of being rescued, they ignore him; only when the stronger and more charismatic Ralph suggests the same thing do they agree to make the signal fire.
Apart from the boys themselves, the signal fire and the “beastie” also carry symbolic significance. The signal fire serves as a barometer for the boys’ interest in maintaining ties to civilization: as long as it burns, they retain some hope that they will be rescued and returned to society, but as they become increasingly obsessed with power and killing, they lose interest in the fire. When the fire ultimately burns out, the boys’ disconnection from the structures of society is complete.
Meanwhile, the beast the young boy claims to have seen also emerges as an important symbol in the novel. At this point, the beast is merely an idea that frightens some of the boys. But as the novel progresses, all the boys tacitly accept the beast’s existence. The beast comes to represent the instincts of power, violence, and savagery that lurk within each human being.