Summary: Chapter 7
The boys stop to eat as they travel toward the mountain. Ralph gazes disconsolately at the choppy ocean and muses on the fact that the boys have become slovenly and undisciplined. As he looks out at the vast expanse of water, he feels that the ocean is like an impenetrable wall blocking any hope the boys have of escaping the island. Simon, however, lifts Ralph’s spirits by reassuring him that he will make it home.
That afternoon, the hunters find pig droppings, and Jack suggests they hunt the pig while they continue to search for the beast. The boys agree and quickly track a large boar, which leads them on a wild chase. Ralph, who has never been on a hunt before, quickly gets caught up in the exhilaration of the chase. He excitedly flings his spear at the boar, and though it glances off the animal’s snout, Ralph is thrilled with his marksmanship nonetheless. Jack holds up his bloodied arm, which he claims the boar grazed with its tusks.
Although the boar escapes, the boys remain in a frenzy in the aftermath of the hunt. Excited, they reenact the chase among themselves with a boy named Robert playing the boar. They dance, chant, and jab Robert with their spears, eventually losing sight of the fact that they are only playing a game. Beaten and in danger, Robert tries to drag himself away. The group nearly kills Robert before they remember themselves. When Robert suggests that they use a real boar in the game next time, Jack replies that they should use a littlun instead. The boys laugh, delighted and stirred up by Jack’s audacity. Ralph tries to remind everyone that they were only playing a game. Simon volunteers to return to the beach to tell Piggy and the littluns that the group will not return until late that night.
Darkness falls, and Ralph proposes that they wait until morning to climb the mountain because it will be difficult to hunt the monster at night. Jack challenges Ralph to join the hunt, and Ralph finally agrees to go simply to regain his position in the eyes of the group. Ralph, Roger, and Jack start to climb the mountain, and then Ralph and Roger wait somewhere near the top while Jack climbs alone to the summit. He returns, breathlessly claiming to have seen the monster. Ralph and Roger climb up to have a look and see a terrifying specter, a large, shadowy form with the shape of a giant ape, making a strange flapping sound in the wind. Horrified, the boys hurry down the mountain to warn the group.
Analysis: Chapter 7
The boar hunt and the game the boys play afterward provide stark reminders of the power of the human instinct toward savagery. Before this point in the novel, Ralph has been largely baffled about why the other boys were more concerned with hunting, dancing, bullying, and feasting than with building huts, maintaining the signal fire, and trying to be rescued. But when he joins the boar hunt in this chapter, Ralph is unable to avoid the instinctive excitement of the hunt and gets caught up in the other boys’ bloodlust. In this scene, Golding implies that every individual, however strong his or her instinct toward civilization and order, has an undeniable, innate drive toward savagery as well.
After the hunt, the boys’ reenactment of the chase provides a further reminder of the inextricable connection between the thrill of the hunt and the desire for power. Robert, the boy who stands in for the boar in the reenactment, is nearly killed as the other boys again get caught up in their excitement and lose sight of the limits of the game in their mad desire to kill. Afterward, when Jack suggests killing a littlun in place of a pig, the group laughs. At this point, probably none of them—except possibly Jack and Roger—would go so far as to actually carry out such a plan. Nonetheless, the fact that the boys find the possibility exciting rather than horrifying is rather unsettling.
By this point, the conflict between Ralph and Jack has escalated to a real struggle for power, as Jack’s brand of violence and savagery almost completely replaces Ralph’s disciplined community in the boys’ conception of their lives on the island. Ralph’s exhilaration in the hunt and his participation in the ritual that nearly kills Robert is, in a sense, a major victory for Jack, for the experience shakes Ralph’s confidence in his own instinct toward morality and order.
As befits a power struggle in a savage group, the conflict between Ralph and Jack manifests itself not as a competition to prove who would be the better leader but instead as a competition of sheer strength and courage. Just as Ralph boldly climbed the hill alone to prove his bravery in the previous chapter, Jack goes up the mountain alone now. It is also significant that Ralph discovers nothing, while Jack discovers what he thinks is the beast: while Ralph does not believe in the beast, the beast constitutes a major part of Jack’s picture of life on the island.
Jack increases his leverage within the group by goading Ralph into acting rashly and unwisely, against his tendency toward levelheadedness—a manipulation that weakens Ralph’s position in the group. Although Ralph realizes that it is foolish to hunt the beast at night, he knows that, in a society that values strength, he cannot risk appearing to be a coward. As a result, he assents to going up the mountainside at night. Ultimately, Ralph’s decision to explore the mountain at night costs him the opportunity to prove to the others that Sam and Eric did not see the beast: had the boys climbed the mountain in the daylight as Ralph wished, they would have seen the dead parachutist for what it was. Because they go at night, however, they see the parachutist distorted by shadows and believe it to be the beast.
In a sense, the degree to which each boy is prone to see the beast mirrors the degree to which he gives in to his instinct toward savagery. This connection emphasizes the idea that the beast is a symbolic manifestation of the boys’ primitive inner instincts.