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Although Ralph criticizes the boys for their lack of cooperation, does he bear some of...

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bogatoga | Student, Grade 10 | eNotes Newbie

Posted October 13, 2009 at 8:40 AM via web

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Although Ralph criticizes the boys for their lack of cooperation, does he bear some of the responsibility for the failures of...

the group to achieve its goals? What do his actions or lack of say about his character?

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MaudlinStreet | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

Posted October 13, 2009 at 11:48 AM (Answer #1)

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Ralph at first appears to be a natural leader. He is tall, good-looking, and he recognizes the ability to exploit Piggy for his advice, such as when he uses the conch. Also, in Chapter One, he is described as dealing with Piggy "with the directness of genuine leadership." So, in the beginning of the novel, Ralph seems a good choice to lead these boys. Yet this turns out to be far from the truth.

In fact, Ralph falls short of the ideal leader. He lacks the charisma and political skills he needs to get the other boys to recognize what the conch represents—order, authority, dialogue, democracy. These are the qualities that are necessary if the group is to keep its signal fire going long enough to attract a passing ship. Instead, he ends up pleading and arguing, fighting for his position as leader. Often, when Ralph is addressing the group, a "shutter" or cloud is described as coming over his mind, rendering him unable to get his point across. This cloud of imperfection makes Ralph a kind of everyman with whom the audience can identify, but it contributes to the gradual descent of the boys into a savagery to which Ralph himself succumbs by the end of the story.

Ralph's intentions are always good; he wishes to protect Piggy, he wishes to relight the fire, he wishes to return to civilization, but he is always derailed in his intentions. Sometimes it is Jack who manipulates him away from his responsibility. Other times it is his inability to express the importance of his decisions. No one really ever observes that it is Ralph who truly leads them, and Ralph, unlike Jack, is rarely distracted from his duties.

One final insight into Ralph’s character flaw as a leader is his own lack of insight. He knows he is not a good strategist (as can be seen in his own admission to being a poor chess player), but he is not truly observant either. When Jack hesitates to follow him up the mountain, Ralph notices the hesitation for the first time. Yet, in several instances earlier in the novel, Ralph had witnessed other instances of hesitating on Jack’s part. Most tellingly was when Jack hesitated to kill the first pig they encountered. However, he failed or chose not to notice. Thus his inability to judge others adds to the chaos engulfing the boys. Ralph continues to cling to responsibility, but is increasingly losing his purpose. He clings to the hope that understanding will come, never realizing that it is his own inability to see this that is the root of his problems.

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