Who is a better leader in Lord of the Flies by William Golding, Ralph or Jack?

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The two leaders who immediately rise to leadership on the first day after the boys crash-land on the island in Lord of the Flies by William Golding are Ralph and Jack; however, it is clear that neither of them is in this position because he has proven himself to be a good leader. 

Ralph has everything it takes to look like a leader. He is tall, straight, good-looking, and strong; during the elections, he stays above the noise and tumult, and the younger boys see his as a leader.

Jack started to protest but the clamor changed from the general wish for a chief to an election by acclaim of Ralph himself. 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.

While Ralph looks like a leader, he is not a good thinker. He is interested in exploring and some of the more practical matters on the island, which is admirable; however, he is unable to motivate the boys to do anything they make plans to do. Piggy sticks with him (though he did not vote for him), but only because Piggy knows Jack hates him. 

Ralph eventually learns to listen to Piggy and comes to rely on him often; in fact, on his own he eventually comes to many of the same conclusions Piggy understood from the beginning. Unfortunately, a lot of valuable time is lost as Ralph tries to work with Jack instead of fighting against Jack's eventual takeover of the island. Ralph accepts his leadership role, but the role did not really suit him for some time. By the time he kind of figures it out, it is too late.

When Ralph is elected leader, Jack is deflated. He claims he should be chief because he was already the head choirboy (a position he got because he can sing a high C), but he is clearly not a good leader since his choir only votes for him under duress. Jack is consumed with his own desire to hunt and kill, giving little thought and no concern to any other necessary provisions, such as the shelters or the signal fire. He does get more boys to join his tribe, but that is not because he is a benevolent or wise leader; he either bribes them by providing food or takes them by force.

In the end, neither boy is a great leader. Ralph certainly has more concern for his followers and a more developed conscience. Though he makes mistakes along the way, he obviously has a clear understanding of right and wrong and has compassion for others. While Ralph is a good leader in terms of his humanity and morality, Jack might have to be considered a more effective leader for one simple reason: at the end of the novel, every boy but Ralph has joined his tribe. Whatever his methods, he commands his savages and, if the ship does not arrive to rescue the boys, he would have been sole leader of the boys on the island. He is chief of the savages, but he has a tribe. 

If "better" is based on numbers alone, Jack wins the title. If "better" is based on character and morality, Ralph is the clear-cut winner, though eventually he has no one to lead--which is rather the point Golding was trying to make.

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