The novel opens with a scene of two young boys on an island after a plane crash in the sea. These boys, Ralph and Piggy, make their way across the isolated island and find a small pool of warm water near a large, pink granite rock. After they find a conch, Ralph blows into it; the noise draws boys from all over the island who are also victims of the plane crash. The major characters include Jack, the leader of the choir, as well as Sam, Eric, Simon and Roger.
After an initial meeting, the boys decide that their group should have a leader, although this is more of a game than a means of organization: “This toy of voting was almost as pleasing as the conch” (22). The conch and the system of voting are both remnants of the English society the boys inhabited. Ralph defeats Jack after a vote, but Ralph places the choir, under the supervision of Jack, in charge of hunting. It is obvious throughout the novel, however, that this token position does not satisfy Jack and that he wants to become chief. Initially, however, Jack says that “[he] agree[s] with Ralph.
Almost immediately, the leadership is beset by a small boy who claims to have seen a nightmarish Beast. Ralph begins by assuring him that such a Beast does not exist, but the young boy insists that the Beast is real and demands to know when it will return. Jack interrupts Ralph to tell the boy, “There isn’t a snake thing . . . but if there was a snake we’d hunt and kill it. We’re going to hunt . . . and we’ll look for the snake too - “(36). Ralph is “annoyed and . . . defeated” (37) by Jack’s usurpation of his authority and is at a loss as to how to deal with it. For the moment, the group of boys waits for the pendulum of authority to swing one way or another. It happens to swing in Ralph’s favor as he assures the boys that they will be rescued. They believe his claim, “unbacked by any proof but the weight of Ralph’s new authority” (37), and he finds that the assembly “liked and now respected him” (37). Jack, however, merely smirks and claps half-heartedly.
One of the most poignant examples of the remnants of civilization occurs when a boy named Roger begins to throw rocks at a small child named Henry building sand castles. He throws stones, but purposely misses, because, “there was a space round Henry, perhaps 6 yards in diameter, in which he dare not throw. Here, invisible yet strong, was the taboo of the old life” (56). Even after his long time away from adults, he is still socially conditioned to avoid harming others. However, this civilization was declining rapidly: “Roger’s arm was conditioned by a civilization that… was in ruins” (56). The decline of civilization's hold is unnoticed by Ralph; he becomes fixated on the fire that is built to attract the attention of any nearby ships or planes. Encouraged by Piggy, Ralph feels that “the fire is the main thing” (102) and insists that a signal fire be kept up at all times. Ralph focuses on a return to civilization and normality. Jack, however, focuses on living by instinct - hunting pigs becomes his obsession. He has a...