What external conflict exists between Ralph and Jack in The Lord of the Flies? What do you think is the source of the conflict?

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Lynn Ramsson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The external conflict between Ralph and Jack over who shall lead has both a figurative literary value, as it symbolizes the age-old fight between good and evil, and a literal value as a plot device, as it heightens the suspense and the tension in the novel. The interpretations below explain two sources of the tension in more detail.

Ralph's genuine interest in leading has to do with doing the right thing in a moral sense, as well as his own human instinct towards survival. In contrast, Jack's competitive nature is selfish and representative of the dark side of humanity. Ralph is a do-gooder who is sensitive to the emotions and the fears of the littleuns, while Jack cares little for how anyone is feeling except for himself. Ralph tries to lead the boys to practical decisions that increase their chances of survival, while Jack tries to lead the boys toward violence and adventure that indulges the primitive, animalistic side of human nature.

As a plot device, the tension between Ralph and Jack heightens the suspenseful mood of the novel, functioning as both a way to characterize the boys and a way to move the action of the plot forward. With every argument and battle for the conch, the reader grows more and more anxious about the outcome: what will happen to the boys if there is a civil war? The fight for power could lead to death for all the boys, so as a literary device, the competition for power makes every interaction between Ralph and Jack one of very high stakes.

gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The external conflict that exists between Ralph and Jack concerns authority, influence, and fundamental differences regarding how the boys should spend their time on the uninhabited island. Jack is jealous that Ralph was voted to be the leader of the group and resents the fact that Ralph is in a position of authority. Jack craves power and influence, which is why he is initially at odds with Ralph. At the beginning of the novel, the boys get along, but Jack quickly illustrates his affinity for authority and power, which eventually ruins their relationship. Jack begins to undermine Ralph's authority by neglecting the rules of the conch, refusing to complete agreed upon tasks, and openly challenging Ralph's decisions regarding the signal fire and the huts on the beach. Jack also fundamentally disagrees with Ralph's desire to create a civil society. Jack would rather hunt pigs, play in the deep pool of water, and relax on the island. These fundamental differences, coupled with Jack's lust for power, create conflict between the boys. Jack and Ralph get into numerous arguments, physically fight each other, and Jack even attempts to usurp power. By the end of the novel, Jack rules his own tribe of savages and orders them to kill Ralph. Ralph is then forced into flight to survive.

MaudlinStreet eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Ralph and Jack are at odds over their mutual desire to lead the boys on the island. Ralph becomes the default leader through his possession of the conch. Jack, as the leader of the choir, thinks he should be in charge of everyone. Ralph tries to diffuse the situation by making Jack's choir the hunters, which works for awhile. Jack is happy being in power and providing the rest with food. However, this blows up when Ralph, Simon, and Piggy are the only ones building shelters. They almost physically fight, but both manage to pull it back together.

It essentially becomes a fight over responsibilities, & it threatens the very shaky truce established after Ralph was voted leader. It is the first time Jack and Ralph have voiced their dissatisfaction with one another, and it sets the tone for the rest of the novel. So this is the first wedge driven into their friendship, & their mutual respect quickly becomes mutual distrust and hatred. The true source of the conflict is Jack's inability to let anyone else have power. Ralph truly wants what's best in terms of survival, although he doesn't always behave according to those thoughts. Jack loves power, and only seeks to have more and more.

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Lord of the Flies

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