People keep telling me there is irony at the end of Lord of The Flies, specifically during the conversation with the captain of the ship.
What was ironic about that scene?
The ironies are of juxtaposition.
First, Ralph had created a signal fire in order to bring rescuers. However it is not this fire which attracts attention but the raging forest fire set to kill Ralph. So: a fire which is supposed to doom Ralph actually brings him salvation. And it is a fire set as a result of the boys' descent into barbarism that brings civilization back to the island.
There is then further irony in the "civilized" nature of the officer who comes to rescue them. In spite of his supposed intelligence and culture, he is unable to tell that the children are not playing, but engaged in brutal savagery. Furthermore, it then becomes clear that he is a serving naval officer. This angel of civilization is, in fact, a warlike killer himself.
The irony in these comparisons serve to remind the reader just how thin the veneer of civilization really is: the major theme of the book. Social order in civilization is kept by the threat of violence, and it may be that we have to adapt to our primitive roots in order to survive.
The naval officer represents man's woefully-misguided denial of evil. It's so far off the mark, it's tragic. His arrogance echoes that of the boys, whose abominable underestimation of evil took a novel to explain. 'Goodies' like Simon and Piggy pined for civilization, their last hope. Now they're dead, and the officer from the adult world is as flawed as than the savages who killed them. Ironic, isn't it?
..."man produces evil as a bee produces honey" (William Golding, The Hot Gates, 1965)
The naval officer has god-like qualities such as a 'crown' and an ability to tell 'when people were telling the truth'. The next irony comes in when we find out that despite these qualities, he would rather sulk about the boys' failure to operate sportingly, than show concern or sympathy about two murdered children. He says "Could have put up a better show than that?" and not much else, which is perhaps an indication that things and people aren't always what they seem, once again subverting the misconception that men are naturally good.
There's more. The reader has just endured a novel so deep and cataclysmic that Golding says
"I get letters from psychiatrists; psychologists, clergymen - complimentary, I am glad to say, but sometimes tinged with a fair bit of indignation that I should seem to know something about human nature without being oficially qualified" (William Golding, *The Hot Gates, * 1965)
I find it ironic that while my head is full of burning and barbarism as a result of how moved I am by this psychological critique, the naval officer's first reaction is "the kid needed a bath, a hair-cut, a nose-wipe and a good deal of ointment"! As if his first speculation wasn't obliviously ironic enough, the officer then says "Jolly good show, eh?", which is clearly untrue and perhaps serves as a juxtaposition: he has outlying qualities such as shrewdness about lies/truths, yet it turns out that his mental perceptions are naive (which corroborates the ironic concept that people are not what they seem).
The naval officer has a gun and wears an epaulette. This betrays him as a warmonger, but doesn't suss out the island violence when it's staring him in the face. Despite that Ralph is being chased by half-naked, dirty, masked teenagers with pointed sticks, it comes as a surprise that two boys were murdered - "Two? Killed?". He finds it hard to accept that a bunch of British children could descend into such upheaval - like Jack, he thinks "the English are best at everything". This arrogance escalates the existing irony, which is that that humans have no idea that they are evil despite evidence to the contrary.
Much like the British empire, their society breaks up, and the officer finds it hard to cope with the fact that being English doesn't automatically help people to subsist after all. This is implied when he shows incredulity at the fact that "a pack of British boys/couldn't put up a better show", and then proceeds to awkwardly stare towards the ship in the opposite direction! Yet he himself carries a gun, and has the power to cause a much more severe death toll. He's a hypocrite but he doesn't know it. That's ironic.