Expert Answers

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

Ralph is a complex character because he reveals numerous character traits and qualities throughout the story and also experiences a significant transformation throughout the novel. Ralph symbolically represents order, civilization, and rational thought in the novel. He is the elected leader of the group of boys, he creates the rule regarding the conch, and he attempts to cultivate an organized, civil society on the island. Despite Ralph's positive qualities, his duality is revealed at various moments in the story, which exposes the darker side of his humanity. Ralph reveals that he is not confident in his abilities as a leader, he discovers his affinity for hunting during an expedition with Jack, he continually forgets about the importance of a signal fire later in the story, and even participates in Simon's brutal murder. Ralph also experiences a significant change in character from the beginning to the end of the story. At the beginning of the story, Ralph is a naive boy, who has faith that the group will be able to establish an organized, civil society on the island before being rescued. By the end of the novel, Ralph has lost his childhood innocence and mourns the death of his close friend, Piggy. Ralph's character flaws, duality, and transformation are what make him a complex character.

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

As the boys’ chief, Ralph relies on logic in attempting to effect their rescue from the island. He understands the critical importance of keeping the signal fire burning, despite the hard work and self-discipline required to maintain it. Ralph represents the voice of reason in civilized society, and he is unable to understand the rejection of logical thinking by the other boys.

Ralph’s character, however, is more complex than that of a sensible leader who knows how to think. He criticizes Jack Merridew’s obsession with killing pigs, but when Ralph confronts a wild boar and wounds it with a spear, he feels elated. On two other occasions, Ralph joins the boys in acts of violence, most significantly when Simon is murdered during a frenzy of dancing and chanting. For Ralph to succumb to savage behavior suggests that bloodlust lies at the heart of man’s nature, controlled but never eradicated by the constraints of civilized society. Even Ralph is not immune to the darkest impulses of humanity, nor is he immune to the instinct to survive. Hunted by the murderous Jack and his tribe, Ralph runs for his life, “screaming, snarling, bloody,” driven into an animal state by a biological imperative far more powerful than human intellect.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial