Although Ralph criticizes the other boys for their lack of cooperation, does he bear some of the responsibility for the failure of the group to achieve its goals in William Golding's Lord of the...
Although Ralph criticizes the other boys for their lack of cooperation, does he bear some of the responsibility for the failure of the group to achieve its goals in William Golding's Lord of the Flies?
This is an excellent question. The characters in William Golding's Lord of the Flies are all English schoolboys between the ages of five or six and thirteen or so, and they have been deposited on a deserted tropical island. Two of the older boys, Ralph and Piggy, discover a conch shell, and when Ralph blows it all of the boys gather for the first time.
During that first gathering, Ralph rather casually suggests that they should have a "chief to decide things." Immediately Jack Merridew, the head choirboy, arrogantly says he should be the leader, but there is a conspicuous lack of enthusiasm for the idea. Ralph does not speak or put himself forward as the leader; however, the others quickly begin to call for him as their choice.
Nothing about Ralph has particularly demonstrated leadership capabilities, and in fact Piggy, who has been with him longest, does not vote for him because he has experienced Ralph's dismissiveness and lack of interest in anything substantial. Ralph is elected leader, but
none of the boys could have found good reason for this; what intelligence had been shown was traceable to Piggy while the most obvious leader was Jack. But there was a stillness about Ralph as he sat that marked him out: there was his size, and attractive appearance; and most obscurely, yet most powerfully, there was
the conch. The being that had blown that, had sat waiting for them on the platform with the delicate thing balanced on his knees, was set apart.
Because he does not possess leadership skills, Ralph has trouble getting anyone to follow him. He expresses his frustration that the boys are all willing to attend twice-a-day meetings and decide on outrageous plans but are not willing to do the practical things which would help them the most. In chapter three, he tells Jack
“I bet if I blew the conch this minute, they’d come
running. Then we’d be, you know, very solemn, and someone would say we ought to build a jet, or a submarine, or a TV set. When the meeting was over they’d work for ﬁve minutes, then wander off or go hunting.”
Despite the boys' short attention spans and ridiculous suggestions, Ralph should not be surprised that they are unwilling to follow him. He must shoulder some of the blame for being an ineffectual leader. In contrast, Jack is able to keep all of his choirboys (except Simon) as hunters, and he eventually manages to make everyone on the island, except for Ralph, part of his tribe. It is true that Jack's methods are not always appropriate, but he does know how to get people to do what he wants.
Ralph's motivations--keeping everyone safe, providing shelter from weather and "beasts," and being rescued--are much better than Jack's, but he is an ineffectual leader and must take the blame for these things remaining undone. He eventually recognizes his shortcomings and looks to Piggy for guidance, but by then it is too late.