In the novel Lord of the Flies, what are Jack and Ralph's ethical and moral decisions?

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rmhope eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Both Ralph and Jack in Lord of the Flies violate moral codes of conduct, but Ralph shows sorrow and attempts to correct his conduct while Jack continues unabated in his immoral ways. In the very first chapter of the book, Ralph violates Piggy's trust by mocking him about his nickname and telling it to others. When he sees that Piggy's feelings are hurt, he "hovered between two courses of apology or further insult." Even though his apology isn't as heartfelt as it could have been, at least he doesn't hurt him further. Ralph is genuinely troubled by having lost a littlun in the fire and makes attempts to control the fire and how the boys behave with it thereafter. He takes his role as leader seriously and tries to think about others rather than himself most of the time. Although Ralph takes part in the mock pig hunt where Robert gets beat up a little, he is uneasy about it afterward. Ralph's biggest moral failing is taking part in the wild dance where Simon dies. He is horrified afterward and calls it murder. To calm his burning conscience, he agrees with Piggy on an excuse, denying his part in it. The weight of the two deaths on his conscience may be a big reason for the changes in Ralph's mental capacity after Simon dies. He begins to have trouble focusing on being rescued. When Jack steals Piggy's glasses, Ralph determines to take the moral high ground and goes to confront Jack at Castle Rock. He refuses to paint himself like a savage, a sign that he is clinging to traditional behavior rather than the disdain for rules that the paint gives the boys. He tells Jack he is a thief and demands Piggy's glasses back. His argument to Jack is a moral argument. Because of his own morals, Ralph finds it hard to believe that Jack's group can be such savages that they want to harm or kill him when he has done nothing to them.

Jack shows less compunction about being cruel to others or neglectful of his duties. He mocks Piggy and shows contempt for the littluns, even joking that they could use a younger boy as a "real pig" so they can kill him. He lets the signal fire go out at a key time when they could have been rescued and then makes excuses for his actions. During a meeting he punches Piggy in a rage and breaks his glasses, and when Ralph calls him out on it, he apologizes, but it is insincere; he only does it so he can win the boys over to his side with his display of magnanimity. He sows dissension in the group, leading a rebellion against Ralph, and entices the boys away with promises of fun and hunting rather than taking an interest in the long-term welfare of the group. He leads the crazed feast where Simon is killed and seems to have no regrets about it. His band steals Piggy's glasses, and when Ralph confronts him about being a thief, Jack kidnaps Samneric and charges at Ralph, wounding him with a spear. When Piggy is murdered in front of him by one of his tribe, Jack simply warns Ralph that he will suffer a similar fate. By this time, it is clear Jack has abandoned all moral principles, being willing to steal, kidnap, maim, and kill for what he wants.

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Lord of the Flies

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