Two separate illustrations of an animal head and a fire on a mountain

Lord of the Flies

by William Golding

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Extended Character Analysis

Jack is the antagonist of Lord of the Flies. He is set in physical contrast to the attractive Ralph, instead described as tall, thin, and “ugly without silliness.” Jack is the leader of a church choir, and his first appearance establishes his authoritarian approach to leadership: he marches the choir across the hot beach in their heavy robes, which leads Simon to faint. He attempts to convince the other boys that he is the most qualified leader, but he loses to Ralph in the election. Although Ralph attempts to appease Jack by making him the head of the hunters, the seeds of division, jealousy, and hatred are already sown, with Jack undermining Ralph at every chance he gets. 

As Jack becomes more obsessed with hunting, he loses sight of the goal of being rescued and instead devotes his time to killing pigs. When challenged by Ralph about his priorities, Jack becomes a demagogue, using fear of the beast to garner support for his causes. Eventually, Jack’s resentment towards Ralph grows to the point where he tries to have the boys vote him chief to replace Ralph. When this fails, Jack splits off to form his own tribe. However, he is not content with having partial power; he sets out to force all of the boys under his control, even if that means torturing or killing them. 

Despite Jack’s menacing persona, he also has moments of doubt and weakness. He is humiliated when he loses to Ralph in the election, and he often hesitates in the face of perceived danger. In order to overcome his civilized instincts, Jack takes to wearing fewer clothes and painting his face, obscuring his identity and freeing him from the expectations of the world of grown-ups. By painting his face, he becomes the fearless, conscienceless hunter that he wants to be. 

Whereas Ralph represents civilization and order, Jack represents savagery and chaos. He refuses to respect the democratic process embodied by the conch, and he especially hates Piggy, whose rationality and strict adherence to rules stand in direct opposition to Jack’s desire for authoritarian power and ruthlessness. Jack is not a good leader, and his society is not sustainable, as evidenced by his burning down the entire jungle in his attempt to hunt Ralph. However, he has something that Ralph does not: the ability to manipulate fear. His control over the boys is based in his ability to alternately scare them and free them from fear by making them feel powerful. Rather than building shelters and waiting for someone else to rescue them, Jack gives the boys the option to take things into their own hands and carve out a world that they can control. 

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