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A vote is taken on the question of whether or not ghosts exist, and we are reminded of the first time the boys voted. This poll is filled with terror and darkness. Again the irony makes a point about how things ought to be and how they really are.
After the vote Piggy asks, "What are we? Humans? Or animals? Or savages?" These are the questions the book attempts to answer.
Jack wants to know why they should listen to Ralph, whom they chose as chief. "Why should choosing make any difference?" The question is an important one. Jack, who believes in the use of force and fear, sees no point in choice. But choice is what distinguishes human beings from animals who operate on instinct and savages who do no thinking. Choice is the answer to Piggy's question; we are human only if we have choice.
Ralph shouts at Jack, "You're breaking the rules!" Jack responds, "Who cares?" And Ralph answers, "Because the rules are the only thing we've got." The rules that we as human beings choose to make are the only thing that keeps us from being animals.
But Jack cannot be made to understand. "We're strong-we hunt!" Again he uses primitive language. "If there's a beast, we'll hunt it down! We'll close in and beat and beat and beat- !" Jack will kill the beast in the jungle by freeing the beast within himself. He leads the others into a mock hunt.
"Blow the conch," Piggy whispers, but Ralph has lost the assurance of his leadership. Now he is uncertain of his power over Jack and the others. His first good decision to be responsible has met failure, and he's not ready to face a second mistake.
"If you don't blow," Piggy says, "we'll soon be animals." Piggy too recognizes the degeneration that is taking place.
Still Ralph hesitates. "Are there ghosts? Or beasts?" Ralph can't figure out what he still doesn't understand. The beliefs he held in the past are crumbling, and he doesn't know what to trust.
"Course there aren't," Piggy says, holding to his rational vision of the world. "'Cos things wouldn't make sense. Houses an' streets, an'- TV." Piggy still wants to believe that everything can be explained, that life is scientific.
"But s'pose they don't make sense?" Ralph asks, forced to consider ideas that civilization has always protected him from or that he has been too young to think about. What if things don't make sense? Then what? What is there? What matters in life? These are hard questions to answer. Ralph shudders, for if life doesn't make sense or has no organized meaning, then no one may ever come for them. And if that's true, maybe there is a beast who is "watching and waiting" for them.
Piggy can't take this kind of talk because it means his adult world is not as safe as he wants to believe. It means his fat asthmatic body doesn't stand a chance.
"Three blind mice," Ralph says of himself, Piggy, and Simon. They are no match for Jack. Ralph wants to give up, but Simon and Piggy want him to go on being chief, for they recognize that Ralph is their only chance. But everything seems pointless to Ralph, even keeping the fire going. He has begun to surrender his faith and hope.
Piggy says that grownups "ain't afraid of the dark. They'd meet and have tea and discuss." The irony here may be the cruelest in the story: The boys are on the island only because adults can't sit and discuss. Adults are as much afraid of the dark as the boys.
"If only they could get a message to us," Ralph says, "a sign or something." But Ralph's prayer has a desperate and disillusioned tone. As the chapter closes, Ralph is filled with fears of failure and doom and does not blow the conch. Piggy has said that if he doesn't blow it, they will soon be animals, and Piggy's vision of the future is accurate.
As if to comment on the mood of hopelessness and despair, Percival cries out from a bad dream. He is "living through circumstances in which the incantation of his address was powerless to help him." Percy's memorization of his address is of no avail in the jungle; the nightmare that terrifies him terrifies all of them, awake or asleep.
We can think about Ralph at this point as if he were two different people: The Ralph at the beginning of the book is very different from the Ralph at the end of this chapter. And Golding's use of irony suggests that we need to be part of civilization and away from nature in order to exist.