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The setting for William Golding's novel Lord of the Flies is a tropical island, and the characters are English schoolboys who have been left there as a result of a plane crash. One of the oldest boys on the island is Ralph, and he has been elected leader by the boys despite demonstrating any leadership qualities. The only thing which prompts the other boys to vote for Ralph is his appearance; he is tall, straight, and strong.
Throughout the novel, many of the boys shed their uniform clothing and are now living naked, or nearly so, like savages; however, Ralph is still wearing his uniform. By chapter seven, though, he is quite unhappy with it as well as his general appearance, and his dissatisfaction with these things is a reflection of his unhappiness with everything that is happening on the island.
Ralph is disgusted with his shirt, which is no doubt stiff and crusty from the salt, sand and sun of the island. Then he thinks about what he would do if he were somewhere else (the novel says he "planned his toilet"). First he would cut his over-long hair, then he would take a bath with soap, and finally he would brush his teeth. When he considers his fingernails, he is surprised to discover that he has bitten them down to the quick, an indication of his concerns about the boys and his own inability to lead.
Ralph looks at the other boys, remembering what it was like to be clean, and this is what he sees:
They were dirty, not with the spectacular dirt
of boys who have fallen into mud or been brought down hard on a rainy day. Not one of them was an obvious subject for a shower, and yet—hair, much too long, tangled here and there, knotted round a dead leaf or a twig; faces cleaned fairly well by the process of eating and sweating but marked in the less accessible angles with a kind of shadow; clothes, worn away, stiff like his own with sweat, put on, not for decorum or comfort but out of custom; the skin of the body, scurfy with brine—
He discovered with a little fall of the heart that these were the conditions he took as normal now and that he did not mind.
Clearly Ralph must look like the other boys. Though he is personally uncomfortable being so deep-down dirty and unkempt, he has come to accept it both in the rest of the boys and in himself because they have no real choice.
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