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Lord of the Flies - CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES
CHAPTER 6 - Beast From the Air
It is a dark night. Ralph and Simon carry the little ones to the shelter. While everyone is soundly sleeping, two warplanes fight in the sky over the island. A dead parachutist floats down, undetected by the sleeping boys. When he lands on the mountaintop, his parachute gets tangled in the trees. His crumpled body is mostly hidden in his chute, but his head, in ghostly fashion, seems to rise and fall with the wind.
Early the next morning, Sam and Eric, the twins who are in charge of the fire, awake after sleeping through the night instead of tending the flames. When they fan the fire to bring it to life, they see the huddled body of the dead airman reflected in the bright light and hear the eerie flapping of the parachute. They are understandably terrified and mindlessly rush down to the safety of the beach. They shake awake the pleasantly dreaming Ralph and tell him that they have seen the beast. A frightened Ralph calls for a meeting, where the twins give an exaggerated account of the beast and tell how it has attacked them. The hunters suggest that they arm themselves with their spears, ready to attack the beast. The other boys join the search party, afraid of being left behind on the beach. They decide to leave Piggy with the littluns.
Before departing, Jack and Ralph argue again as Jack tries to assert his authority over "the hunt", but the crisis quickly passes. Soon, they all set out in search of the beast. They reach the other side of the island and locate caves that they have never seen before. In spite of his fear, Ralph goes inside to search for the beast. Before long, he has calmed himself and he realizes he is no longer frightened. Not to be outdone by his rival, Jack soon joins Ralph in the cave. The two of them explore the cave and the hill above, and for a brief time they feel a new comradeship in the midst of this unexplored territory. The other boys also forget their fear and start exploring the hill, pushing large rocks into the sea below and rushing around excitedly. Everyone seems to have forgotten the purpose of their exploration. Ralph grows angry with the frolicking of the boys and reminds them that they must continue to search the rest of the island in order to calm the fears that have run rampant. In addition, the signal fire, abandoned by the twins, must be restarted. The boys mumble about mutiny, but finally obey Ralph's orders and continue the search.
This sixth chapter is appropriately titled "Beast from Air". The beast is literally a dead airman who drops on the island by parachute. But he is the sign from the world of civilization and grown-ups that Ralph and Piggy had wished for. Ironically, the only sign that civilization still exists outside the island comes in the form of a dead man from a dying world that is being destroyed by war. It is a totally negative image.
On a symbolic level, the image becomes less harsh. The dead airman can be viewed as the "fallen man" (sinful man) tangled in the tree of life. His head is light, bobbing up and down with no thought, and his body is crumpled, defeated by life. In fact, Simon imagines the beast as being heroic, but sick; in other words, man is capable of great things, but is destroyed by sin and evil. Simon, the Christ figure, comes to rescue the fallen airman from the mountaintop; he literally "saves" him from entanglement in the tree of life. Because he has saved man, Simon is sacrificed, beaten to death by the other boys who think he is the evil beast.
Ralph's reasoning is again developed in this chapter. His rational insistence on the smoke signal again and again is met by derision by the others; but Ralph wisely ignores their laughter. He instinctively realizes that the fire is the only hope for a way back to civilization. There has been one missed opportunity; he does not want to experience another. Ralph also tries to calm the fear of the others over and over again, telling the little ones there are no beasts. When he hears the twin's report of the beast, even Ralph grows afraid. But he rationally controls his fear and enters the cave alone. Once inside a way from the hysteria of the others, he can again think clearly and conquer his fear, for he knows there are no such things as monsters and there is a logical explanation to the story told by Sam and Eric.
The role of Ralph, Simon, and Piggy as caretakers is also developed in this chapter. It is almost an image of the shepherd caring for its sheep, an image that is often ascribed to Christ. Ralph and Simon carry the little ones to bed, much as Christ is portrayed carrying his "lost sheep" (or fallen man). Ralph is the comforter of the children, constantly trying to alleviate their fears about the beast (a symbol of the devil). When the other boys go in search of the beast, Piggy is left behind to care for the little ones (to protect them from the evil beast).
It is significant to note in this chapter that Ralph, the symbol of rational thought and hope for a return to civilization, still retains some small amount of power and authority, and appropriately the conch is still in tact and in his possession. When he calls a meeting to discuss the beast seen by the twins and decide a plan of action, the boys respond and attend. They even listen to his suggestion to search the island. At the cave and hill, the boys revert to their fun and frolic, and Ralph has to once again bring them back to the task at hand. At the end of the chapter, the boys have listened to him and have agreed to continue their search of the island and to light the signal fire once again.