How does Jack's character change from the beginning of Lord of the Flies to the end?

Jack's character changes from the beginning of Lord of the Flies to the end by becoming more violent and psychotic. Initially, he seems like a pretty normal young boy. Free from adult supervision, he just wants to enjoy himself on the island. Over time, however, he develops into a ruthless, sadistic bully who engages in a bitter power struggle with Ralph. Soon, Jack becomes a vicious tyrant, ready to destroy anyone who gets in his way.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

At first, Jack appears to be quite a normal boy of his age. Normal that is for someone of his elite, privileged background. Arrogant, lazy, and with an innate sense of his own superiority, Jack is not exactly the best advertisement for the English public school system.

For all of...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

At first, Jack appears to be quite a normal boy of his age. Normal that is for someone of his elite, privileged background. Arrogant, lazy, and with an innate sense of his own superiority, Jack is not exactly the best advertisement for the English public school system.

For all of Jack's negative personality traits, however, there's no real hint of what's to come later. He may not be the most pleasant of characters, but there's nothing to suggest that he'll develop into the crazed, psychotic dictator that he'll become later on.

Nevertheless, there are signs early on that Jack represents, at the very least, a danger to Ralph's rules-based system of order on the island. It's clear from the get-go that this island isn't big enough for the both of them. After Jack fails in his bid to be elected in Ralph's stead as leader, he realizes that the only way he can exercise power is through the establishment of a dictatorship.

Up until this moment, we've seen Jack become more and more enamored with violence, not just toward pigs but also the other boys. Once his growing penchant for violence is cemented by his becoming dictator, Jack is effectively unrestrained. Now there's no one to stop him from doing what he wants. He can, and does, institute a reign of terror which results in the tragic death of Piggy and the persecution of Ralph, who's hunted down by Jack and his thugs like an animal.

All in all, one could say that Jack's personalty combined with the environmental factors of life on the island have turned him into a monster.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Towards the beginning of the novel, Jack is portrayed as an arrogant, selfish boy, who craves authority and attention. He is upset that Ralph is elected chief and develops a grudge against him. Despite Jack's antagonistic nature and willingness to talk over others, he is not fully malevolent or savage. He is, in the beginning, still capable of acting civil and attempts to reconcile with Ralph several times.

Jack is enthusiastic about killing pigs and quickly finds his identity as he leads the boys on hunting expeditions. As the novel progresses, Jack begins dismissing Ralph's commands and chooses to hunt wild pigs instead of completing various tasks necessary for survival. Jack's refusal to comply with Ralph's directives leads to several heated arguments between the two boys after Jack refuses to help build the huts and dismisses Samneric from their signal fire duties. After Jack experiences his first successful hunt, he quickly descends into savagery. Jack begins painting his face and openly opposes Ralph as the leader of the group. Jack continually argues with Ralph and physically abuses Piggy.

Eventually, Jack attempts to usurp power from Ralph but fails. Jack then establishes his own tribe of hunters at the other end of the island, where he rules over his tribe of savages. Jack becomes a ruthless, tyrannical leader, who punishes his enemies and spreads false rumors regarding the beast. Jack leads his tribe on violent, exciting hunts and establishes his headquarters at Castle Rock. He then conducts two raids on Ralph's camp and threatens to harm anyone associating with him. Towards the end of the novel, Jack views himself as the unquestionable leader and commands his tribe to hunt Ralph. Essentially, Jack changes from being a civilized, albeit obnoxious child to a ruthless savage.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Lord of the Flies, Jack's character morphs from that of civilized choir boy to savage hunter.  At the beginning of the novel, Golding emphasizes Jack's clothing as defining his role as a leader.  Jack Merridew's body "from throat to ankle" is concealed by a black cloak with a "long silver cross on the left breast;" his golden cap badge denotes him as being a leader among the other choir boys (21).  Jack's status as head choir boy gives him authority and power over the other boys:

"'I ought to be chief,' said Jack with simple arrogance, 'because I'm chapter chorister and head boy. I can sing C sharp'" (22).

 

As his time on the island lengthens, Jack desires to maintain the feeling of authority and power that he enjoyed from his head boy position and replaces that civilized role with the role of being the best hunter.  From the very first tribal meeting, Jack made it clear among the other boys that he wishes to be chief, and he uses his influence as the best hunter in an attempt to supplant the boys' chosen leader, Ralph.  The scene in chapter four in which Jack paints a mask onto his face reveals much about his transformation from choir boy to savage:

"He looked in astonishment, no longer at himself but an awesome stranger. [...] He began to dance and his laughter became a bloodthirsty snarling" (64).

Hunting and the creation of the mask serves as a catalyst for Jack's descent into savagery on the island.  He goes from being a boy who could not stand the idea of blood, to one who relishes the kill.  Furthermore, wearing the mask "liberated" Jack from "shame and self-consciousness" (64).  By the end of the novel, Jack behaves as a true blood-thirsty savage, willing to kill any of those who would challenge his power.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team