Why do some boys choose to follow Ralph, while some choose to follow Jack?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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As the time on the island increases, the boys take sides.  In the process, divisions of power emerge.  One one side of the spectrum are the boys who follow Ralph.  Ralph, Piggy, Simon, Sam and Eric all stress the need for a sense of "order."  They represent the traditional notions of liberal government. This group stresses the need to keep a signal fire going, and to work towards being rescued off of the island.  This group of boys opts to follow Ralph as their leader, and to respect the power of the conch shell. Whoever holds the conch has the power to speak.  In this group, there is a sense of order and structure, a sense of progressive power focused on leaving the island.  In choosing Ralph as their leader, this group embraces the tenets that he has advocated. From a political perspective, they represent the belief that government works towards a direct end, and that its purpose is shared by those who respect it.  The sensibilities of shared decision making and progressive notions of the good that comes with power represents the reason why some of the boys follow Ralph.

On the other side of the political spectrum is the group of boys who follow the equally charismatic Jack.  Jack emerges as the hunter.  Jack and the boys that follow him are representative of a sense of power where exerting it becomes extremely important.  This group is more concerned with hunting and establishing itself as a force of power on the island.  Jack embraces the hunt and those that follow him learn to do the same.  This group is driven by the need to find  food sources of meat through hunting and protecting the group from "the beast" that they believe exists on the island.  Jack teaches his group that power comes from being able to demonstrate it in the form of killing.  For this reason, he stresses military tactics such as camouflaging, building forts, and establishing a military- type of presence on the island.  In choosing the follow Jack, the boys embrace the spoils of power in the form of meat, the desire to kill "the beast," and the advantage that comes with having control over others.  The cruel advantages that are associated with power become the lure for the boys that follow Jack.  

In establishing the purpose of the novel, Golding once suggested that "the moral is that the shape of a society must depend on the ethical nature of the individual and not on any political system."  It is in this light where the construction of who the boys choose to follow is of vital importance.  Choice represents the shape society takes.  In choosing the follow Ralph, one hopeful shape of society emerges and in the embrace of Jack, quite another reveals itself.

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