In the novel Lord of the Flies by William Golding, how does Ralph abuse power?

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Twelve-year-old Ralph is one of four central characters in William Golding's novel Lord of the Flies. He is elected leader by the younger boys on the island within minutes of their first gathering; however, he is an ineffective leader who is virtually ignored after the boys have been on the island for a short time. Ralph abuses trust, friendship, and information, but he does not abuse power because he does not really have any.

When Piggy meets Ralph for the first time, Piggy wants very much to be a friend to Ralph. Ralph, on the other hand, immediately tries to distance himself from the fat, wheezing, bespectacled boy. Piggy asks Ralph his name, but Ralph does not ask Piggy's name in return. When Piggy finally tells him, he explicitly asks Ralph not to tell anyone; but as soon as he has an audience and a chance to earn a cheap laugh at Piggy's expense, Ralph tells the entire group. When Ralph has a chance to reward Piggy for being "with him before anyone else was," he chooses Jack and Simon instead, giving them the chance to explore the mountain with him.

In chapter two, the boys all act on his suggestion that they make a signal fire on the top of the mountain in hopes of being rescued; however, he quickly loses control of the situation and the fire becomes a conflagration which consumes part of the jungle and one of the little boys. He does not abuse his power because his power is limited.

By chapter three, Ralph complains to Jack that no one but Simon will help him build shelter. While everyone is happy to attend the meetings Ralph calls twice a day, no one does what he asks them to do for more than a few minutes. Even Jack, who surely recognizes the need for shelters, refuses to offer his help because he is consumed with hunting.

At the end of the novel, Jack is the chief of every boy on the island except Ralph, and Jack commands his savages to kill Ralph. By then, Ralph has absolutely no power or authority; all he can do is try to save his own life. He would not even have been able to do that if another out-of-control fire had not been seen by a military vessel. 

In short, then, Ralph is not a very nice boy, especially in the beginning of the novel with Piggy, but he does not abuse his power as leader because he has none. 

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