Lord of the Flies by William Golding

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Why was Ralph chosen over Piggy and Jack to be leader in Lord of the Flies?

Why was Ralph chosen over Piggy and Jack to be leader in Lord of the Flies?

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D. Reynolds eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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From the start, the novel shows the thread of irrationality that motivates group behavior. Piggy would be, rationally speaking, the best choice as leader, because he is the most intelligent—but he also has odd speech patterns and lacks charisma. Jack is a natural leader and asserts, for such irrational reasons as his ability to sing, that he should be in charge:

“I ought to be chief,” said Jack with simple arrogance, “because I’m chapter chorister and head boy. I can sing C sharp.”

The boys, however, choose Ralph, because he most fully looks like a person of authority. He has an air of stillness or calm, he is tall, he is more attractive than Jack, and he has possession of the conch, which sits on his lap. This symbol of authority, repeatedly described as "delicate" (symbolizing the fragility of civilization) lends Ralph gravitas in the eyes of the other boys:

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.

Leadership in this novel, however, changes, and the battle between the rational form of authority represented by Piggy and Ralph and the irrational return to the id represented by Jack is a fraught one. Piggy and Ralph retain the self discipline to defer gratifying immediate desires. Instead, they concentrate on the future, which centers on tending the fire. This, they hope, will be the means of getting rescued. The other boys, however, move toward barbarism and Jack, willing to sacrifice the future to the present moment (though, ironically, their burning down of the jungle brings rescue).

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Gretchen Mussey eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In Chapter 1, Ralph and Piggy discover a conch shell in the lagoon. Piggy explains to Ralph that the shell is valuable and can be used to call the other boys. Ralph then blows the conch, and the other boys on the island begin to assemble. Ralph then lifts the conch and comments that they should have a chief. After Roger suggests that the boys vote on a chief, the general assembly elects Ralph. Despite the fact that Piggy is clearly intelligent enough to be chief, and Jack has a natural willingness to lead, Ralph is holding the conch. The beautiful conch appeals to the boys, and Ralph's calm demeanor while holding it suggests that he would be a leader with poise. Piggy is fat and ridiculed by the boys, which is why he is not elected, and Jack did not find or blow the conch. The conch symbolically possesses the power of civilization which initially appeals to the boys. Fortunately, Ralph happens to be holding the alluring conch while the boys are voting.

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litteacher8 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Ralph is chosen as chief because he blew the conch that led them all together, and it imbued him with power in the other boys’ eyes.

When the boys decide they should have a chief, Jack is convinced it should be him.

“I ought to be chief,” said Jack with simple arrogance, “because I’m chapter chorister and head boy. I can sing C sharp.” (ch 1)

As the head of the choir, Jack is tyrannically used to being obeyed.  He assumes the rest of the boys will listen to him too.  Roger, who is normally quiet, suggests a vote and curtails Jack’ self-appointment.

None of the boys can think of a good reason for Ralph to be leader.  Jack seems the obvious choice, and Piggy is obviously the most intelligent.  But Ralph is attractive, has a stillness, and has 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. (ch 1)

So despite lack of qualifications, Ralph is elected leader of the boys.  He is the one that brought them together, and he has the conch.  Somehow the conch seems to give him special powers.

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