Over the course of Lord of the Flies, Ralph undergoes several changes. Each of these changes is related to not only his personal behavioral patterns, but to his understanding of what he sees as the inherent nature of man.
Ralph begins the story as the elected leader of the boys. Additionally, he serves as the main symbol of the social order and organization as they exist for the boys before they arrive on the island. As the other boys on the island begin the novel relatively civilized, they respect his authority and leadership style. This empowers him as a character and reinforces his fundamental beliefs in the basic goodness of man.
Over the course of the beginning and middle sections of the novel Ralph is forced to deal with the steady decline in the behavior of the other boys on the island and a subsequent decline in his own power and influence. Not only is he forced to deal with a weakening powerbase, he is also confused as to why the other boys would choose to turn their backs on what he perceives to be just and moral behavior. As a character, he remains hopeful, but is ultimately disheartened by what he begins to perceive as the inherently violent nature of all men.
By the later stages of the book, Ralph begins to come to unhappy conclusion that the barbaric behavior he is witnessing in the other boys is actually something inherent to all men. These feelings are further reinforced after his first wild boar hunt. The previously calm, thoughtful and controlled Ralph gives in to his most base impulses and gleefully murders the boar in brutal fashion. His transformation from a thoughtful reflective character to impulsive savage is completed when he takes part in the communal feast and subsequent killing of Simon.
The final stage for Ralph as a character is his period of despair and introspection following Simon’s murder. Ralph is fully aware of the evil of his actions. Not only is he forced to deal with the totality of his personal actions, but he is also forced, based on the actions of the group as a whole, to conclude that a propensity for violence and savagery exists in all men.
Ralph changes from an innocent boy to one who has seen too much. He is a symbol of civilization, and by the end he has been lost.
When the story begins, Ralph is unsure of himself and playful. Before long, he meets up with Piggy and since Piggy is a follower, Ralph becomes a de-facto leader. When he finds and blows the conch, the boys cannot imagine another leader. He seems like he should be the leader, because he is handsome and imbued with power from the conch.
Ralph has a “stillness” that sets him apart from the others. He is the finder and the blower of the conch, but has a quiet dignity that makes others follow him.
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. (ch 1)
Ralph acts very little-boyish at the beginning of the story. He starts the name Piggy, and he finds the conch because it’s pretty. He keeps the others from calling him Fatty, and he listens to Piggy’s ideas. Ralph also has some good ideas, like voting for a leader and drawing a map. He begins to show intelligence, wisdom, and leadership.
When Jack tries for a coup and breaks the boys into factions, what little civilization Ralph has managed to generate on the island is threatened. Ralph does not play Jack’s game. He refuses to create two warring tribes. Yet Ralph cannot control Jack, and the damage he causes to the boys and the island.
Ralph is the first to be found by the rescuers. His reaction is an example of how different he has become. He is no longer the playful, self-assured boy. Life has taken a dark turn for him.
The tears began to flow and sobs shook him. He gave himself up to them now for the first time on the island; great, shuddering spasms of grief that seemed to wrench his whole body. (ch 9)
Ralph cries for a loss of innocence. He cries because he knows that what happened to those boys on that island was a breakdown of civilization into savagery, and he couldn’t stop it.