Beast From Water (chapter from LORD OF THE FLIES): Exquisite from end to end! Rarely does a chapter read and feel sublime from start to finish, in this case summarizing the human condition by capturing its bare essence to expose its atavistic core.
Here is an abridged edition of Ralph’s speech, the speech that underlies everything:
‘We have lots of assemblies. Everybody enjoys speaking and being together. We decide things. But they don’t get done. We were going to have water brought from the stream and left in those coconut shells under fresh leaves. So it was, for a few days. Now there’s no water. The shells are dry. People drink from the river . . . Not that there’s anything wrong with drinking from the river. I mean I’d sooner have water from that place—you know, the pool where the waterfall is—than out of an old coconut shell. Only we said we’d have the water brought. And now not . . . Then there’s huts . . . You mostly sleep in shelters . . . Who built the shelters? . . . I mean, who built all three? We all built the first one, four of us the second one, and me ’n Simon built the last one over there. That’s why it’s so tottery. No. Don’t laugh. That shelter might fall down if the rain comes back. We’ll need those shelters then . . . There’s another thing. We chose those rocks right along beyond the bathing pool as a lavatory. That was sensible too. The tide cleans the place up. You littluns know about that . . . Now people seem to use anywhere. Even near the shelters and the platform. You littluns, when you’re getting fruit; if you’re taken short . . . I said if you’re taken short you keep away from the fruit. That’s dirty . . . That’s really dirty. If you’re taken short you go right along the beach to the rocks . . . And then: about the fire . . . The fire is the most important thing on the island. How can we ever be rescued except by luck, if we don’t keep a fire going? Is a fire too much for us to make . . . Look at us! How many are we? And yet we can’t keep a fire going to make smoke. Don’t you understand? Can’t you see we ought to—ought to die before we let the fire out? . . . The smoke is more important than the pig, however often you kill one . . . And another thing. We nearly set the whole island on fire. And we waste time, rolling rocks, and making little cooking fires . . . Things are breaking up. I don’t understand why. We began well; we were happy. And then—Then people started getting frightened . . .’
LORD OF THE FLIES
PS – Environmental reform, anyone? Culture, respect, political and economic unity? One hand washing the other? One person bringing the food, the other tending the fire, each providing what the other is lacking — an economy of specialized tasks, a complement-driven culture where everyone works toward a common goal in order to withstand life on an island of limited resources in a vast and hostile ocean? Quality of life, maybe? Incremental progress? Maintenance and improvement of all that has been achieved in times prior, building the future on strong foundations . . . or a return to whim and folly, dust and bones?
From the bays of Pearl Coast,
Fish a ton of oysters, be careful of the rotten ones.