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Lord of the Flies

by William Golding

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In Lord of the Flies, how much do you think Ralph is to blame for what goes wrong on the island?

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Given the setting and circumstance of Lord of the Flies, it is actually somewhat difficult to place blame on any of the characters on the island, given that they have been put in a life-or-death situation for which even the most well-rounded of adults couldn't be prepared, and the oldest of them aren't even teenagers. This would hold true even if Ralph had proven to be a completely blunderous leader, which was not at all the case.

From the beginning, Ralph sought to create an environment of order and relative sustainability on the island. Unlike almost every one of his peers, he never once came close to indulging his more wretched and base impulses, and proved time and time again that his priority was to secure rescue for every boy on the island, even the ones that began to show blatant signs of psychopathy.

If at any point Ralph made a mistake, it was not restricting Jack's ability to influence and mobilize his followers. If anything, Ralph may have benefited from being a harsher leader, as some of the boys responded only to the influence of perceived strength. However, as stated before, it is incredibly difficult to assign guilt to a child with regards to the eventual tragedy that resulted from this mistake.

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Ralph's inability to enforce rules and form a cohesive group focused on the necessities of survival and rescue played a significant role in the demise of civility on the island. Ralph was unable to effectively impose consequences for breaking rules and not following through with tasks which allowed Jack to gradually influence the boys to dismiss the agreed upon assignments. Ralph also gave Jack control of his own group, the hunters, which encouraged Jack to seek further control. Ralph also never punishes Jack for his disrespectful behavior. He allows Jack to push the boundaries of his authority which creates a situation where Jack can openly defy Ralph's commands. In addition to Ralph's lack of authority, he does not provide the boys with any type of positive reinforcement. He gives them no incentive to complete the tasks which encourages the boys to look toward a seemingly more sympathetic, fun leader in Jack. Also, there are several scenes throughout the novel when Ralph himself engages in savage behavior. He becomes enthralled in the opportunity to kill a pig when he joins Jack's hunting expedition and willingly participates in Simon's murder. Ralph's uncivil behavior portrays him in a negative light, and further encourages the boys to act immorally on the island. Ralph's lack of leadership is a major reason as to why the situation on the island decays.

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The heart of the problem in Lord of the Flies lies in the poor leadership qualities exhibited by Ralph. To what extent is Ralph to blame?

It is important to remember that Lord of the Flies is about school boys ranging in age from about 6 to 12 or 13 years old. It is harsh to apportion blame to any of them, individually. Peer pressure is very real for children - especially the pre or early teens such as Ralph, Jack and Piggy.

Ralph calls on his upbringing...

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by his naval officer father in order to establish his leadership but the context on the island is so different from the context of his understanding that it is reasonable to expect him to make some seriously poor decisions.

Ralph lacks the ...strategic skills

and is sometimes not able to find

the right word to get their attention or galvanize them to action.

Piggy is the reason behind Ralph's decisions and, whilst Piggy has the intellect, he apparently lacks the social skills required to apply his good ideas successfully.  

For all his intellectual powers, however, Piggy is basically ineffectual without Ralph. Piggy is a man of thought, not of action, and he is physically weak..

Ralph would also not have been exposed to many unsavory characters like Jack in his protected home environment and so, being able to stand up to Jack - "a wily strategist"- is difficult. His  daydreaming does not help and does begin to lose his grasp:

"If faces were different when lit from above or below—what was a face?"

Ralph also shows contempt at times for Piggy's ideas

"and an airplane, and a TV set," said Ralph sourly, "and a steam engine."

as he is focused on only one thing - rescue -, without considering all the factors and the many things affecting the boys. A good leader should be mindful of these problems.  

However Ralph does take responsibility - which he accepts right through the novel - even when Jack has taken over and Ralph must therefore be 'blamed' (in part)for the fact that anarchy is the order of the day when the boys are rescued.

This will hopefully help you make a fair representation in your essay of Ralph's 'blame.' Navigate through the pages in the eNotes study guide for more.

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