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Summary: Chapter 8
The next morning, the news of the monster has the boys in a state of uproar as they gather on the beach. Piggy, who was not on the mountain the night before, is baffled by the other boys’ claims to have seen the monster. Jack seizes the conch shell and blows into it clumsily, calling for an assembly. Jack tells the others that there is definitely a beast on the mountain and goes on to claim that Ralph is a coward who should be removed from his leadership role. The other boys, however, refuse to vote Ralph out of power. Enraged, Jack storms away from the group, saying that he is leaving and that anyone who likes is welcome to join him.
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Deeply troubled, Ralph does not know what to do. Piggy, meanwhile, is thrilled to see Jack go, and Simon suggests that they all return to the mountain to search for the beast. The other boys are too afraid to act on his suggestion, however. Ralph slips into a depression, but Piggy cheers him up with an idea: they should build a new signal fire, on the beach rather than on the mountain. Piggy’s idea restores Ralph’s hope that they will be rescued. The boys set to work and build a new fire, but many of them sneak away into the night to join Jack’s group. Piggy tries to convince Ralph that they are better off without the deserters.
Along another stretch of sand, Jack gathers his new tribe and declares himself the chief. In a savage frenzy, the hunters kill a sow, and Roger drives his spear forcefully into the sow’s anus. Then the boys leave the sow’s head on a sharpened stake in the jungle as an offering to the beast. As they place the head upright in the forest, the black blood drips down the sow’s teeth, and the boys run away.
As Piggy and Ralph sit in the old camp discussing the deserters, the hunters from Jack’s tribe descend upon them, shrieking and whooping. The hunters steal burning sticks from the fire on the beach. Jack tells Ralph’s followers that they are welcome to come to his feast that night and even to join his tribe. The hungry boys are tempted by the idea of pig’s meat.
Just before Jack’s tribe raids the beach, Simon slips away from the camp and returns to the jungle glade where he previously sat marveling at the beauty of nature. Now, however, he finds the sow’s head impaled on the stake in the middle of the clearing. Simon sits alone in the clearing, staring with rapt attention at the impaled pig’s head, which is now swarming with flies. The sight mesmerizes him, and it even seems as if the head comes to life. The head speaks to Simon in the voice of the “Lord of the Flies,” ominously declaring that Simon will never be able to escape him, for he lies within all human beings. He also promises to have some “fun” with Simon. Terrified and troubled by the apparition, Simon collapses in a faint.
Analysis: Chapter 8
The excitement the boys felt when Jack suggests killing a littlun in Chapter 7 comes to grotesque fruition in Chapter 8, during the vicious and bloody hunt following Jack’s rise to power and formation of his new tribe. Jack’s ascent arises directly from the supposed confirmation of the existence of the beast. Once the boys, having mistaken the dead parachutist for a monster, come to believe fully in the existence of the beast, all the remaining power of civilization and culture on the island diminishes rapidly. In a world where the beast is real, rules and morals become weak and utterly dispensable.
The original democracy Ralph leads devolves into a cult-like totalitarianism, with Jack as a tyrant and the beast as both an enemy and a revered god. We see the depth of the boys’ growing devotion to the idea of the beast in their impalement of the sow’s head on the stake as an offering to the beast. No longer simply a childish nightmare, the beast assumes a primal, religious importance in the boys’ lives. Jack uses the beast ingeniously to rule his savage kingdom, and each important character in Lord of the Flies struggle to come to terms with the beast. Piggy, who remains steadfastly scientific and rational at this point in the novel, is simply baffled and disgusted. Ralph, who has seen what he thinks is the beast, is listless and depressed, unsure of how to reconcile his civilized ideals with the sight he saw on the mountaintop. But the most complex reaction of all comes from one of the novel’s most complex characters—Simon.
Simon’s confrontation with the Lord of the Flies—the sow’s head impaled on a stake in the forest glade—is arguably the most important scene in the novel, and one that has attracted the most attention from critics. Some critics have interpreted the scene as a retelling of Jesus’ confrontation with Satan during his forty days in the wilderness, a story originally told in the Gospels of the New Testament. Indeed, many critics have described Simon as a Christ figure, for he has a mystical connection to the environment, possesses a saintly and selfless disposition, and meets a tragic and sacrificial death.
Others tie the scene into a larger Freudian reading of Lord of the Flies, claiming that its symbols correspond exactly to the elements of the Freudian unconscious (with Jack as the id, Ralph as the ego, and Piggy as the superego). Lord of the Flies may indeed support these and a number of other readings, not necessarily at the exclusion of one another.
Indeed, many differences between Simon and Jesus complicate the comparison between the two and prevent us from seeing Simon as a straightforward Christ figure. Simon, unlike Jesus, is not a supernatural being, and none of the boys could possibly find salvation from the Lord of the Flies through faith in Simon. Rather, Simon’s terror and fainting spell indicate the horrific, persuasive power of the instinct for chaos and savagery that the Lord of the Flies represents.
Simon has a deep human insight in the glade, for he realizes that it is not a real, physical beast that inspires the hunters’ behavior but rather the barbaric instinct that lies deep within each of them. Fearing that this instinct lies embedded within himself as well, Simon seems to hear the Lord of the Flies speaking with him, threatening him with what he fears the most. Unable to stand the sight any longer, Simon collapses into a very human faint.
In all, Simon is a complex figure who does not fit neatly into the matrix framed by Jack at the one end and Ralph at the other. Simon is kindhearted and firmly on the side of order and civilization, but he is also intrigued by the idea of the beast and feels a deep connection with nature and the wilderness on the island. Whereas Jack and Roger connect with the wilderness on a level that plunges them into primal lust and violence, Simon finds it a source of mystical comfort and joy. Simon’s closeness with nature and his unwaveringly kind nature throughout the novel make him the only character who does not feel morality as an artificial imposition of society.
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Instead, we sense that Simon’s morality and goodness are a way of life that proceeds directly and easily from nature. Lord of the Flies is deeply preoccupied with the problem of fundamental, natural human evil—amid which Simon is the sole figure of fundamental, natural good. In a wholly nonreligious way, Simon complicates the philosophical statement the novel makes about human beings, for he represents a completely separate alternative to the spectrum between civilization and savagery of which Ralph and Jack are a part. In the end, Simon is both natural and good in a world where such a combination seems impossible.