Witnessing Ralph’s efforts to effect the boys' rescue, it is easy to forget that he is a child, one of the older boys, a “bigun,” but a child nonetheless. When he first realizes the absence of adults on the island, Ralph’s response reflects the immaturity of childhood. “No grownups!” he declares with delight.
As life on the island becomes more and more ominous, however, Ralph desperately wants the authority and protection of grownups. Ralph’s longing for the security he had known while living in a world of adults is reflected in the memories of home he revisits at night before falling asleep.
Ralph’s initial relationship with Piggy further emphasizes Ralph’s immaturity. At first, like the other boys, Ralph treats Piggy with disrespect and rejects him as an equal. As he matures, Ralph grows to understand and rely on Piggy. He recognizes in Piggy a good mind, more capable of reason than his own, and a courageous spirit that defies injustice.
Ralph’s maturity and its tragic implications are evidenced in the novel’s ironic conclusion. Standing on the beach under the gaze of a naval officer from the ship that has come to the boys’ rescue, Ralph’s appearance is deceiving. The officer sees before him a sobbing child with a “filthy body, matted hair, and unwiped nose,” but in Ralphs’s tears lies the reality of what he has become. He weeps not as a child but as a soul now familiar with evil, its manifestations and its horrendous consequences. He weeps “for the end of innocence, the darkness of man’s heart, and the fall through the air of the true, wise friend called Piggy.”
Ralph suffers under the weight of metaphysical truth revealed, the knowledge of “mankind’s essential illness” imposed upon him by circumstances beyond his control and by events from which he will never be free.